Fueling Community Resilience: A Partnership for Firewood Security in Northern New Mexico

Three volunteers sort a large pile of cut wood

By Ralph Vigil, Northern Organizer for New Mexico Wild

New Mexico Wild, the State Land Office, and the NM Land Grant Council joined forces this winter to improve woodland resiliency and provide firewood for land grant communities. The project was initiated due to the closure of the Santa Fe National Forest during the 2022 Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, which prompted concern about where communities that depend on the Santa Fe National Forest for heating their homes would obtain their firewood for the upcoming winter. Additionally, concerns arose about the elderly facing high costs to buy firewood, especially amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Two men standing in front of large wood pile
Ralph Vigil and Louis Gallegos, Secretary of the San Miguel del Bado Land Grant

I have had past discussions with Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard about how we can work to improve the health of our watersheds within New Mexico’s State Lands, especially after the lessons the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history had just taught us. Meetings between the State Land Office, the NM Land Grant Council, San Miguel del Bado Land Grant, and New Mexico Wild began to organize a project on 40 acres in the Sacatosa area just south of Villanueva. The project was concluded this past winter yielding 49 cords of wood paid for by New Mexico Wild. The communities of the Land Grant came together to process the wood at the San Miguel Senior Center and then distributed it to seniors in need throughout the community.

“State lands are so versatile. On top of generating billions of dollars in revenue for our public institutions, they help meet the basic needs of communities like fuelwood to warm homes during the colder months,” said New Mexico Land Commissioner Garcia Richard. “This partnership shows that we can make a real impact in people’s lives by using the lands around us in a responsible way. As a bonus, our thinning efforts are going to make our forested state lands better equipped to withstand New Mexico’s aggressive fire seasons. It’s really a win-win for all involved. I’m grateful for the continued collaboration between the State Land Office, land grants, and our nonprofit partners across the state. We have a bunch of similar projects in the works, and I’m excited to see this partnership grow in the coming months and years.”

Claresse Romero, President of the San Miguel del Bado Land Grant Board of Trustees, remarked that “as Land Grant Trustees, we understand the importance of protection and stewardship of our natural resources, and we support your unending efforts to protect our land and waters. We also take note of your efforts to enrich the well-being of our communities, as the wood program has done. One of the recipients said she wanted to thank you from the bottom of her heart, and we echo those sentiments. Thank you for giving us an opportunity to provide a measure of comfort to our indigent and elderly. We hope that this program can continue in the years to come.”

I want to thank the NM Land Grant Council, Commissioner Garcia Richard, and her team for uniting to assist communities in need while improving the health of our watersheds. This project is an example of how we can all unite to do good work instead of being at odds over the future of our public lands.