USA — A battle to battle wildfires is smoldering between the U.S. Forest Service and Otero County over who should manage the forest.
Commissioners in Otero County say the Lincoln Forest is in the worst shape it’s been in for 60 years.
An 11-year-old state law says the county can go in and thin the forest if the feds don’t, but U.S. Attorney Ken Gonzales says New Mexico’s law is unconstitutional.
Forest fires have been a part of life for years in Otero County. County commissioners say the Lincoln Forest is No. 1 in terms of forest-fire risk in the country.
In 2001, then-Gov. Gary Johnson signed Senate Bill 1 allowing counties to manage national forest lands at certain times when U.S. forest service personnel don’t have time or money to thin the forest.
Now the feds want to prevent the counties from managing the forest.
Otero County Commissioner Ron Riordan said the Feds
“They’re trying to line this up where we can help them manage this timber, because they aren’t doing a good job,” Otero County Commissioner Ron Riordan said. “They think they are, but you can look at the fires in New Mexico and say is that a good job?”
In Otero County many people have cleared their own property, and the county did some clearing too. Now the U.S. Attorney on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service is suing Otero County to stop doing it from doing its own forest management.
According to a statement from U.S. Attorney Gonzales states,
“The U.S. Constitution forbids New Mexico and Otero County from supplanting the federal government’s fire-management regime with its own state- and county-specific policies,” U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzales said in a statement released by his office.
The thought is this disrupts the federal government’s fire-management plans.
Riordan said the lawsuit is actually a good idea to clarify the law and that the county is prepared for it.
Otero County is now working with the Forest Service to thin 450 acres southwest of Cloudcroft, and that is scheduled to begin in the next month or so.
The case will eventually go to U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, but no date has been set.