We chose to work in the Jemez Mountains because of this landscapeís irreplaceable biological diversity; its traditional and contemporary cultural values; and because of the high degree of departure from natural/historical fire regimes in its forests and woodlands, and the threat that these departures pose to natural and cultural values. The large and severe wildfires of 2000 and 2002 caused public land management agencies to make fuel reduction and community protection their highest priorities. Unable to implement fuels reduction treatments in more than a small percentage of the land they manage, the agencies must identify the areas that have highest priority for treatment, design those treatments to maximize overlap between fire risk reduction and ecological restoration, and weigh the costs and benefits of management alternatives to rare and imperiled species, air and water quality, community safety, and other values.
The goal of our project is thus to develop a scientific foundation for collaborative, landscape-scale, multi-jurisdictional fire management. Our objectives are to (1) identify consensus desired future conditions for the Jemez Mountains that are quantified and measurable; (2) quantitatively describe and map the landscapeís current conditions; (3) identify a set of alternative fire management strategies; (4) identify and evaluate ecological outcomes of alternative management approaches; (5) describe and map short-term (3-year) treatment priorities identified by the land management agencies; (6) develop and implement a collaborative multi-partner ecological restoration implementation plan; and (7) develop and implement a multi-party monitoring plan.
To accomplish these objectives, we are currently working to identify reference conditions (i.e. historical ranges of variation) in fire regimes and successional/disturbance pathways via ecological models and expert workshops. We are developing maps of the current ecological conditions of the project landscape using a combination of existing data from field plots, interpretation of remotely-sensed imagery, and new fieldwork. We are interviewing land managers to identify alternative fire management strategies and priorities. We are developing quantitative ecological models of major fuels-vegetation types. Finally, we are using these models to identify and compare the outcomes of various management alternatives.
The projectís technical challenges are many, and include determining the current ecological condition (i.e. fuels condition and successional states) of a large, complex and dynamic landscape with multiple jurisdictions; determining the optimal geographic scale and resolution for analysis & planning; and developing defensible ecological models for identification of the natural/historical range of variation and departure from it (i.e. fire regime condition). Logistical and procedural challenges include organizing data for the landscape such that it is consistent and comprehensive; convening meetings with representatives of more than seven public agencies; and collaborating across organizational lines.