In a unique collaboration of public, private, and state agencies Philmont Scout Ranch has embarked on a $1.3 Million restorative thinning project for sustainable forest management.
Philmont Scout Ranch, Cimarron, NM – May 31, 2023, marks the five-year anniversary of the start of the devastating Ute Park Fire. The fire consumed over 36,000 acres of mountain forests, including over 26,000 acres on the world famous Philmont Scout Ranch. Philmont announced today that they have initiated the first phase of an aggressive Forest Restoration project utilizing state-of-the-art mechanical thinning. This thinning process allows for a one-pass treatment of overgrown forests with a focus on the restoration, protection, and sustainability of the landscape and watersheds for future generations.
This current project is Philmont’s latest action in efforts to mitigate the devastation of wildfires and overgrown forests. Immediately following the Ute Park Fire, Philmont developed short term and long-range plans to address mitigation. These successful efforts have included extensive handwork to create a thousand-acre shaded fuel break. This facilitates safe ingress and egress and serves as a fire break to help protect watersheds.
Other immediate responses to mitigate post-wildfire damage from the Ute Park Fire included the construction of sediment catchment basins, contour felling of burned trees to slow erosion and runoff, and reseeding of key areas in watersheds. Philmont also embarked on an on-going project to create defensible spaces in key areas to help prevent the advancement of wildfires in the future.
This work is critical to the welfare of surrounding communities and the Philmont operation itself, a major economic driver for Northern New Mexico. The scope of the work performed has been monumental including over 300,000 hours of labor by staff, volunteers and participants working together and demonstrating the Boy Scouts of America’s commitment to land stewardship and conservation.
The Philmont Conservation Department states that with an additional 62,000 acres of treatment, the ranch could be returned to fire neutral status, reducing the chances of scorched earth that is the result of devastating crown fires and fuel overload. To achieve this goal, the ranch has turned the corner relative to speed, “the shift of going from days per acre to acres per day, makes the goal realistic,” said Dave Kenneke, Philmont’s Director of Ranching and Conservation.
The first phase, a 600-acre Restorative Thinning Project began in mid-April and will be completed by the end of June 2023. The treatment area will serve as an anchor point between Philmont’s backcountry camps of Crater Lake and Miners Park and connects to the 1,000-acre fuel break.
Philmont’s project focuses on selectively removing excess vegetation, strategically thinning dense areas, and restoring the natural balance within its forest ecosystems. Through this process important objectives will be achieved:
1. Mitigating Wildfire Risks: By reducing fuel loads consistent with the ponderosa savannahs creating resilient forests. Restorative thinning helps prevent the rapid spread of wildfires, safeguarding not only Philmont but also surrounding communities.
2. Promoting Biodiversity: By creating more open spaces and diverse forest structures, restorative thinning encourages the growth of native plants, enhances habitat for wildlife and supports a healthier and more resilient ecosystem.
3. Improving Forest Health: Removing excess vegetation reduces competition for resources, allowing a spectrum of species in the remaining forest to thrive and grow stronger. This fosters a healthier forest that can better withstand pest infestation and diseases.
4. Restoring Water Sheds: Reducing tree numbers per acre allows for increased growth of grasses and forbs which in turn minimizes erosion and induces percolation of precipitation
back into the water table.
5. Educating Scouts and Visitors: Philmont will welcome over 20,000 Scouts and visitors from across the country and around the world in the next three months who will see the thinning project in action and will discuss its purpose and process with Philmont staff. This will foster a sense of environmental responsibility and conservation that they will take back to their local communities and lend itself to stewardship of natural resources wherever they call home.
Philmont’s restorative thinning project is supported by Kenneke, Director of Ranching and Conservation, led by Lee Hughes, Director of Conservation and led by Philmont’s Forester Marty Parsons. Collaboration with the State of New Mexico Forestry Division through Cimarron District Forester Mary Stuever has allowed Philmont to work with Miller Timber Services. Miller uses state-of-the-art thinning machinery, processes of working in steep southwestern forests. They are treating approximately ten acres per day.
Most of the material generated through the project is transported to Blanca Forestry Products located in Blanca, CO., in addition to several local mills in New Mexico. Blanca is dedicated to producing high quality lumber and forest products backed by the sustainable harvest of Miller Timber Services. Revenue generated from the project is reinvested into treating additional acres.
Thanks to U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and New Mexico State Forester Laura McCarthy who were instrumental in securing the 1.3 million dollars needed to initiate this project. Philmont is grateful to the thousands of staff and volunteers who put time, energy, labor, and passion into this project. A special thank you to the thousands of Philmont donors across the country who gave and continue to give to Philmont’s Fire Mitigation and Restoration Fund.
Philmont Scout Ranch leads the way in demonstrating how private landowners can collaborate with neighbors, corporations, state, and federal agencies to address the critical concerns of wildland fires. This project will serve as a model for those entities to work together towards the common goal of a healthier landscape and how it can be accomplished successfully!
Philmont Scout Ranch
Director of Business Operations/Marketing and Media