June 12, 2015

Udall, Heinrich Welcome Nearly $1.3 Million in New Wildfire Prevention Funds for Valles Caldera and Santa Clara Pueblo

Funding from new program to help treat vulnerable forests, build resilience to prevent damage from future fires

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich welcomed news that Valles Caldera National Preserve and Santa Clara Pueblo will receive funding under a new national program aimed at restoring the health and fire resilience of iconic landscapes. Valles Caldera will receive $883,000 to improve the resilience of ecosystems to wildfires and other natural disturbances to better sustain healthy forests and watersheds for future generations. Santa Clara Pueblo is receiving $400,000 to complete restoration of the natural fire regime — the natural frequency, intensity, size, pattern, season and severity of fire — on the mesa top lands, protecting ancient cliff dwellings, cultural sites, traditional food sources and watershed health. Both the Pueblo and the Caldera suffered significant damages from the catastrophic Las Conchas fire in 2011, which burned more than 150,000 acres in northern New Mexico. Two years later, heavy summer rainstorms caused severe flooding and erosion where the fire had burned protective ground cover.

The funding comes from the Wildland Fire Resilient Landscapes Program, which Udall and Heinrich helped create as part of a bill to fund the government. Today, U.S. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell announced $10 million for the first 10 selected projects, including the two in New Mexico. Valles Caldera is eligible for the funding because of Udall and Heinrich's successful effort to transfer its management to the National Park Service.

"Valles Caldera and Santa Clara Pueblo are two of New Mexico's gems, but both are still working to recover after devastating wildfires and storms that caused erosion and put watersheds at risk," Udall said. "This investment supports collaborative projects that will help strengthen their natural ecosystems by building their resistance to future wildfires, droughts and other environmental threats. I'll keep working to make sure these iconic landscapes are protected for future generations, and restoring their natural ecosystems is an important step forward."

"These two grants will support critical work to restore forest health in northern New Mexico," Heinrich said. "At Santa Clara Pueblo, this funding will aid the effort to return the natural fire regime to watersheds devastated by catastrophic fire over the last two decades. The funding will also allow the Valles Caldera National Preserve to continue its great work of improving forest health started under the Southwest Jemez Mountains Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration project. The Caldera sits at a key location in the Jemez landscape, and restoring the forests, grasslands, and wetlands on the Preserve is a critical part of making the Jemez more resilient to wildfire, climate change impacts, and other disruptions. I am glad to see the Department of Interior maintaining these important restoration projects and I will continue supporting efforts to restore landscapes impacted by catastrophic forest fires."

The Valles Caldera National Preserve's natural ecosystems are highly vulnerable to wildfires, climate change and outbreaks of disease. This new funding will help the area restore its ecological resilience through forest thinning, wildland fire management, wetland restoration and other methods. The project aims to sustain healthy forests and watersheds for future generations, and will foster collaboration between 35 organizations over 10 years to achieve the project goals.

Santa Clara Pueblo has experienced severe wildfire in recent years, burning the Pueblo's commercial timberland and threatening the Santa Clara watershed and the Rio Grande River. Protecting the area will help ensure the watershed remains stable long-term, and restore the Pueblo's timber harvest which is crucial to the local economy. The funding announced today will help reduce an additional 2,000 acres of hazardous vegetation through thinning, and improve the health of 7,000 more acres through planned burns of the mesa landscape.

Details on the New Mexico projects, along with a full overview of projects being funded through the Wildland Fire Resilient Landscapes Program, can be found here.