Conservationists Raise Concerns Over NM Gila Forest Plan

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico residents have two more days to comment on a plan that will guide resource management in the Gila National Forest for the next 20-30 years.

The forest-management plan, which has not been updated in 34 years, will determine how wilderness, wildlife, water and other natural resources are managed for decades. Nathan Newcomer, Gila grassroots organizer with the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, said the Forest Service is considering including far fewer acres in its expansion than conservationists recommend.

“The preferred alternative is only recommending 110,000 acres of additional recommended wilderness, and there is way more than that that’s out there,” Newcomer said. “It’s about 745,000 acres.”

The comment period on the proposed Gila National Forest management plan ends Thursday. A requested extension in light of the current health crisis was rejected.

Conservationists also are alarmed about a plan provision that would allow the Forest Service to use herbicides across the Gila as “restoration” tools.

Joe Trudeau, conservation ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said he believes any proposed herbicide use in the Gila should go through its own analysis and public process.

“We were told that this is a forest plan revision, not a herbicide proposal for forest-wide use,” Trudeau said. “So, put the herbicide proposal on the shelf. Let’s finish the forest plan and then let’s get to the herbicide proposal when the public has the capacity to look at that.”

Newcomer said when wilderness is protected, there are more opportunities for recreation and tourism, but climate change is an even greater consideration.

“We’ve got to protect as much of our forests as we possibly can, protect as many streams and rivers as we can so that we can adapt to climate change,” Newcomer said. “It’s staring us right in the face.”

The Gila is home to more than 2,000 plant and animal species, including 13 threatened or endangered animals.

This article appeared in Public Service Network.