The Carson, Cibola, and Santa Fe National Forests and Kiowa National Grasslands will begin restoration work in riparian, wetland and aquatic ecosystems in northern New Mexico. Projects will include improvements to aquatic and terrestrial habitat, watershed health, and water quality across the three national forests.
Although wetlands or riparian areas make up less than 200,000 acres of the 4.8 million acres of National Forest System lands in northern New Mexico, they provide essential ecological functions far beyond their small footprint. Riparian zones support the highest plant, bird, insect, reptile-amphibian, and mammal biodiversity on the forests by providing nesting habitat, movement corridors, and safe harbor from unfavorable conditions. They also enhance popular human uses of the forest, including recreation, sightseeing, and grazing.
Riparian, aquatic and wetland areas have been significantly impacted by climate change, uncharacteristic wildfire, agriculture and grazing, urbanization, groundwater pumping, recreational use and invasive species. Nearly 60% of the subwatersheds across the three forests are impaired or at risk.
“When the three forests launched this project in 2019, we enlisted our public and private sector partners to help us develop a truly innovative approach to restore one of our most valuable resources, our watersheds,” Santa Fe National Forest Supervisor Debbie Cress said. “The signed decision is a true milestone in public land management.”
“In New Mexico, we know that ‘el agua es vida.’ So it’s a special thing when land stewards work together to develop opportunities to sustain life,” Carson National Forest Supervisor James Duran said.
Cibola National Forest Supervisor Steve Hattenbach said, “We look forward to continuing to work with our partners, including the New Mexico Forestry Division and the Department of Game and Fish, to implement riparian restoration… [it] will provide quality wildlife habitat and help secure sustainable sources of clean water for New Mexico.”
Stewart Liley, Chief of the Wildlife Management Division of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, praised the three-forest riparian restoration proposal. “The Department is excited to partner with the Forest Service to enhance and restore riparian areas across the state.”
The three forests worked together to increase the pace and scale of riparian ecosystem restoration by identifying a broad range of projects to promote watershed health, species recovery, and sustainable human uses, including hunting and fishing. Following an environmental assessment (EA) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that reflected public comments in 2019 and 2020. The final EA and a draft decision notice were released in December 2020. The final decision notice supports a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) under NEPA and is consistent with all three forests’ current and proposed forest plans.
The signed decision notice opens the door for the forests to use project-specific design criteria and a flexible toolbox approach to begin implementing five primary types of projects:
• Projects to improve passage for aquatic species
• Instream, side-channel and floodplain projects
• Riparian vegetation treatments
• Road and trail erosion control, relocation and decommissioning
• Restoration of seeps and springs
Proposed projects range from channel reconstruction and streambank restoration to planting riparian species and restoring beaver habitat to relocation and decommissioning of roads and trails. Additional information on the northern New Mexico riparian, aquatic, and wetland restoration project, is posted on the project webpage: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=56975