Friday, March 15, 2013

Bill would benefit NM forests

By Brent Racher 

The U.S. Forest Service has announced a new wildfire management policy that provides for prioritizing which wildfires to suppress and which to let burn. The option to allow fires to burn has evolved, in part, because past forest management practices have resulted in overly dense forests that, when ignited by natural or human causes, produce fires so intense, they are extremely costly and hazardous to attempt to suppress.

Public funding is increasingly scarce to allocate toward deployment of fire management resources, and prioritizing wildfire suppression is a logical need as the size and intensity of wildfires has increased. 

The suppression costs are only a drop in the bucket, though. 

From 2009 through 2012 in New Mexico alone, our wildfires have cost the state a midpoint estimate of $1.5 billion, with the brunt of this being carried by the state, county and local governments, and by private individuals and businesses. 

These costs are from rehabilitation, infrastructure losses, structures burned and other direct and indirect costs not including the suppression costs borne by state and federal governments. 

With the forecast of increasing risk of wildfires in New Mexico and shrinking state and federal public funds to apply toward forest fire suppression and restoration, it is time to give the private sector the incentive to thin out the New Mexico forests and utilize the materials for public and entrepreneurial benefit. 

Senate Bill 204 proposes an amendment to existing state statues that would encourage private industry to construct energy producing facilities that specifically use, in a responsible and controlled manner, the volatile materials that have built up in New Mexico’s forests.

The incentivization and implementation of the energy producing facilities that use hazardous forest material as proposed by SB 204 would provide the public multiple benefits. 

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