Written by: Jan-Willem Jansens, Ecotone Landscape Planning, LLC
If you want to protect your home and backyard woodland or forest, taking the first step yourself may help mobilize collaborative support sooner than you may have thought! This story describes how two landowners separately took initiative and mobilized the support of neighbors and local partners of the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition.
Wilderness Gate: A Woodland Restoration Project
During the late summer of 2016, a landowner in the Wilderness Gate neighborhood got the feeling that his property was possibly not quite safe in case of a wildfire. He reached out to the Santa Fe Conservation Trust, Santa Fe’s local land trust organization. The Trust works with a network of partners and consultants and suggested that the landowner contact me, Jan-Willem Jansens of Ecotone Landscape Planning, LLC (Ecotone). Ecotone is a local, small consulting firm specializing in land health planning and ecological restoration.
I am landscape planner by training with nearly 25 years of work experience in northern New Mexico. I first did a preliminary assessment of the landowner’s property in order to develop an action plan. This confirmed the landowner’s hunch about fire hazard and advised him to have a detailed fire and woodland health assessment done. The woodland health assessment was necessary because I discovered widespread drought stress in the trees, combined with an infestation of dwarf mistletoe and needle scale in the piñons as well as juniper mistletoe. There was also unchecked runoff and erosion affecting more land than just the property.
The landowner invited me to conduct a full assessment and present a prioritized treatment plan. I have worked with Krys Nystrom of the Wildfire Network in the Tesuque Valley Firewise program; so, I contacted Krys and brought her to the project to conduct Santa Fe County’s Wildfire Hazard Assessment. This assessment focuses on conditions in the defensible space zone of about 30-100 feet around the home site. The landowner appreciated Wildfire Network’s approach and hired the organization to implement Ecotone’s thinning plan. Wildfire Network operates a crew and works with YouthWorks of Santa Fe to implement thinning for wildfire protection.
The landowner understood that his property would be safer if neighbors would follow his example; so, I suggested that he reach out to the neighbors and explore financial support through the Forest Stewards Guild as part of the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Fuels Reduction project. The Guild informed the neighbors about funding options and public education events at REI. After that, Ecotone, Wildfire Network and the Guild organized a neighborhood meeting to expand the woodland restoration work to the surrounding properties.
La Barbaria: Woodland and Wildfire Management
In the late summer of 2016, a landowner with a home at the mouth of La Barbaria Canyon contacted District-4 County Commissioner Kathy Holian to get advice about assessing and reducing the fire hazard around her home. Commissioner Holian recommended several people, including Ecotone.
The landowner contacted Ecotone, and I conducted a site assessment, including Santa Fe County’s Wildfire Hazard Assessment in the defensible space zone around her home. The landowner had already accomplished a significant amount of thinning and soil conservation work on her own. The assessment revealed that the immediate fire hazard was moderate, but that certain patches of her piñon-juniper and ponderosa pine woodland were overly dense and prone to wildfire.
I also indicated that work on neighboring properties would be very useful. I then contacted the Forest Stewards Guild to assess whether support from the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition would be an option. After a site assessment, the landowner and a neighbor signed up for this program. I also connected the landowner with Wildfire Network and helped the landowner sign up with the Pojoaque Soil and Water Conservation District Fuel Reduction program.
I finished a woodland assessment and conceptual thinning plan. With this plan in hand, the Forest Stewards Guild directed implementation of a first phase in June 2017. The landowner is interested in thinning more in a future second phase as well.
These two stories indicate how landowner awareness and initiative are critical in the success of the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed Coalition’s work. Landowner initiatives often lead to collaborative projects and neighborhood-level solutions to fire risk reduction. In addition, with help from a land restoration expert even more can be accomplished and the risk of beetle outbreaks and erosion can be addressed as well, with benefits to the entire community.