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Ruidoso News - OPINION: Only common-sense forest management can prevent forest fires

Extreme environmental policies can cause them


There is no phrase more frightening than “Ready, Set, Go” when the context is our fire evacuation system. Not knowing the whereabouts of loved ones and pets and not knowing whether the devastation burned your home are long-enduring traumas.


Just three weeks ago, I was in Ruidoso. It was a peaceful, beautiful day. Ruidoso is a place you visit for a day and long to return to for a lifetime.


While asking many questions, I learned something from everyone I met. I heard how people in Ruidoso feel fortunate to live in an area the Mescalero Apache Tribe regards as the homeland of their four sacred mountains.  


On this day, I wasn’t there as a tourist but as, potentially, the next U.S. Senator. I listened to the challenges facing a resort town whose population grows from about 7,800 in the off season to 25,000 in the high season. I heard about the workforce shortage and the lack of affordable housing.


Perhaps foreshadowing the coming events. I heard about the need to revive logging to thin the forest to minimize the threat of fire. I heard about the shortage of companies willing to insure homes and businesses because of wildfire threat. I heard from our country’s first conservationists, the cattle growers. I heard how their work and land-management practices help prevent or mitigate wildfires. Ranchers have a long list of harmful federal land-use policies, which undermine their efforts.


Everyone understood the need for forest thinning but expressed frustration that it wasn’t being done.  Martin Heinrich’s and the environmental extremists’ position has been: Don’t thin old growth forests, aka mostly dead trees, because species like the Spotted Owl preferred them; Don’t clean out the flammable fuel on the forest floor because it might disturb the Meadow Jumping Mouse ­– a critter no one has seen around Ruidoso since 2015.       

Shortly after my visit, the threat of fire turned into reality. Homes and property were destroyed. Human life was lost. The extreme environmental policies also destroyed the very wildlife habitat these misguided policies were designed to protect.


A week later I was in Las Vegas, New Mexico, hearing from the victims of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire. It has been more than two years since the federal government set fire to their land.  Their stories are heartbreaking. The bureaucratic runaround infuriating. The incompetence incomprehensible. They are still waiting for their claims to be paid.

We cannot let that happen in Ruidoso.


It isn’t sufficient for your elected officials to merely refer you to a website or give you a number to call – especially during a disaster when there is no electricity, internet, or cell service. This was Martin Heinrich’s response and it was useless.


A mismatch of state and federal paperwork requirements must not be allowed to bottle up vital funding for Community Wildfire Defense Grants designed to lower the risk of future wildfires. Ruidoso received a grant, but the distribution of funds stalled for months.


Why are newly developed wildfire sensors being tested in Hawaii and not New Mexico? As your U.S. Senator, New Mexico will be at the front of the line for receiving new technologies.


A Senator must take action. As soon as the evacuation orders were issued, my team was on the road to deliver supplies to the people who have been devastated by the South Fork and Salt Fires. The following day we joined many others helping, and returned to the Roswell and Alamogordo Evacuation Centers to deliver more supplies, and to thank the firefighters, national guard, local law enforcement officers, volunteers, and health care workers who are working around the clock.


I will not tolerate FEMA giving victims a bureaucratic runaround.


I will meet with agency heads often to demand progress. I will assign staff to constantly monitor that agency.  I will visit victims to check on their wellbeing and to learn if anything further is needed.  And I will ensure that programs to rebuild homes, communities, and local economies are adequately funded.


New Mexicans should demand more from their Senators.  I will deliver more.


Nella Domenici is running for U.S. Senate against Martin Heinrich. Her father, Pete, served as one of New Mexico’s U.S. Senators from 1973-2009.

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