Part one of a four-part story on Working Together for Effective Wildland Fire Management
Written in Cooperation with Luis Castillo, Assistant Center Manager, Silver City Interagency Dispatch Center

Silver City, NM, April 29, 2019— Part of the mission of the USDA Forest Service is to continue to manage for healthy forests on federal lands. Wildland fire management is important to this mission. Our partners, New Mexico State Forestry and Bureau of Land Management have similar missions and goals. While fire has helped shape our landscape, wildland fires today are often hotter, more destructive, and more dangerous to fight during drought or exceptionally hot summers. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and we aim “To safely and effectively extinguish fire when needed; use fire where allowable; manage our natural resources; and as a Nation, live with wildland fire.” -- The National Cohesive Wildland Management Strategy (2014)

Over the past few weeks, the Gila National Forest district rangers, fire management and natural resource staff have been evaluating landscape risk assessments for each of the six ranger districts. Part of Landscape Risk Assessment involves analysis of “exposure and effects, and on the estimation of wildfire likelihood, wildfire intensity…” (A Wildfire Risk Assessment Framework for Land and Resource Management,” Rocky Mountain Research Station Technical Report-RMRS-GTR-315, October 2013). In addition, staff review historical fire occurrence, historical weather and discussing wildland fire behavior in the varied ecological systems on the forest, and re-identifying the values at risk.

The Gila National Forest has a more than 20-year history of managing fire on the landscape and continuously working towards a healthier forest. In addition, district rangers and FS staff has met with many of our neighboring communities, volunteer fire departments, and fire response leaders to facilitate working together on community wildfire protection. The Gila National Forest is looking at the seasonal weather outlook and vegetation conditions for the next three months, and has been working with our stakeholders and staff on how we will continue to fulfill our mission of maintaining a healthy forest. We aim to share our story about the role of fire on the landscape and how managed fire assists in meeting land management objectives and desired conditions.

The Southwest Coordination Center Predictive Services gathers statistical data and shares a “2019 Fire Season Considerations and Outlook” with federal agencies in the southwestern region. This outlook looks at historical fire activity and what climatological factors can influence the occurrence of fire. The seasonal outlook for April, May, and June 2019 shows there has been an up and down pattern of mild to cooler temperatures. Dry conditions will take hold west of the divide, with continued higher moisture levels east of the divide. The expectation is for cooler and close to normal temperatures to continue through May into early June. This weather pattern can create a late onset to the southwestern regions fire season. It is also predicting a later than normal onset to monsoon season.

Considering the substantial precipitation during the 2018/19 winter and continued influx of moisture for this spring the Forest anticipates an average wildland fire potential. We may have opportunities for managing natural ignitions to help mitigate the risk of high-intensity wildfire, reduce the spread of insects and disease, improve habitat for wildlife, and promote healthy vegetation conditions.

Part two of this series will be in cooperation with New Mexico State Forestry and address creating defensible space and mitigating wildland fire vulnerabilities on private lands.

For information on the Gila National Forest, check out our website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/gila