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June 2024

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Courtesy Photo A view of the area where mitigation treatments were conducted from January through April of this year

West Latir Ditch Association Awarded $8.1 Million for Forest and Watershed Restoration

Courtesy Photo Tom Esgate

Big news for one northern New Mexico acequia association in Taos County: The West Latir Ditch Association (WLDA) has been awarded $8,121,663 to fund their Collaborative Forest Fuel Reduction and Watershed Protection initiatives. The grant was designated from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a part of President Biden’s Investing in America initiative.

“The Biden-Harris administration is putting historic resources into efforts to confront the wildfire crisis, which is threatening people, communities and resources across the nation,” said Deputy Agriculture Secretary Xochitl Torres Small. “The Community Wildfire Defense Grants are just one of many ways we are helping communities adapt to larger, more complex and more frequent wildfires,” she continues. In total, the program is poised to invest $1 billion over five years to assist at-risk communities through grants to local and Tribal communities.

In the aftermath of the Calf Canyon/Hermit Peak Fire, the West Latir Ditch Association became proactive in the acquisition of funds to restore its watershed and protect the community from wildfire. The project has been led by Mayordomo Tom Esgate, a 25-year career forest and watershed restoration specialist.
“Our acequia is excited to be taking a lead role in what may be one of the largest forest and watershed restoration projects ever undertaken in Taos County,” says Esgate. “We look forward to working with our partner, Latir Volunteer Fire Department, and the El Rito-Latir community.”

In addition to the most recent $8.1 million grant, over the last year WLDA and partner landowners have acquired over $1 million to implement watershed restoration treatments in the El Rito/Latir community. Partner and funding sources to date include: The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), New Mexico State Forestry (NMSF), New Mexico State Land Office, U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Among previous WLDA awards is a $400,000 U.S. Forest Service Non-Federal Land Grant. Most of those funds will be available for treatments on private land.

An example of how the association is working to reduce dangerous fuels includes a project which was funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Services. From January to April of this year, the association worked to mulch dead trees where they stood, breaking the dead trees into mulch which was then spread across the ground. This process returns carbon to the soil and provides a seed bed for native grasses and forbs, effectively mitigating the wildfire risk.

Soon, WLDA will begin a landowner sign-up for additional work in the grant’s designated project area. Landowners interested in participating can fill out and submit an application. The applications will then be ranked for funding priority based on several factors that will include the level of treatment that a landowner is willing to have implemented on their land. It is anticipated that work under this grant will begin in November or December of 2024.

“WLDA has a keen interest in restoring and protecting our watershed as it provides irrigation water for our parciantes. Returning the forests in our watershed to a healthy condition will not only make our forests more resilient, it will also reduce our wildfire risk,” said Esgate.

To read more about the USDA’s Wildfire Mitigation grant program and how to apply, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/managing-land/fire/grants/cwdg/how-to-apply.