Ruidoso > Improve Fire Prevention and SuppressionReduce Hazardous Fuels Reduce Hazardous Fuels(cont.)
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Overview


Located in southeastern New Mexico, the village of Ruidoso is a location mappicturesque mountain community surrounded by Lincoln National Forest. The area has a permanent population of about 9,500 which increases to three times that amount during the summer months. Texas provides the main influx of people who travel to the cool forested mountains of Ruidoso each summer. Small vacation cottages, rustic homes and grandiose starter castles pepper the steep, winding and heavily wooded canyons that place the community at risk of wildfire. According to the 2000 census, over 43% of the homes in Ruidoso are seasonally occupied. The average household income is $35,626 and the average home value is $106,544. At an elevation of 6,900 feet Ruidoso is located in ponderosa pine forests with an understory of pinon-juniper, gambel and shrub oak.

Wildland urban interface fires

Since 2000 Ruidoso has experienced a variety of interface fires. In March 2002, the Kokopelli fire burned almost 1000 acres and overran a subdivision destroying 29 structures. Ruidoso WUI During June 2001, the Trap and Skeet fire burned 463 acres on Ruidoso's west side and in May 2000 the Cree fire burned 6,500 acres, destroyed 3 homes and forced hundreds of residents on Ruidoso's east side to evacuate their homes. In 2001, Ruidoso was ranked the second most vulnerable community at risk for wildfire in the nation by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). New Mexico State Forestry (NMSF) named Ruidoso as number one on the state's list of communities most at risk of catastrophic wildfire. According to the USFS, Ruidoso will always be at risk because of the density of the forest and the inter-mixed nature of the community.

Addressing the threat

In 1999 New Mexico State Forestry's Twenty Communities Strategy called for stakeholders in each community to come together to address the wildfire threat. In 2000 Capitan District Forester, Barbara Luna, brought local agencies together and stressed the need for a collaborative effort in Ruidoso. As a result the Ruidoso Wildland Urban Interface Group (RWUIG) was formed. RWUIG is the main coordinating entity to address the wildfire threat facing Ruidoso. Composed of members from federal, state and local agencies from the public and private sectors, RWUIG prioritizes areas for treatment and coordinates the efforts of various organizations to achieve these prioritized objectives. RWUIG also serves as a forum to share perspectives and provides a regular point of contact among diverse members who otherwise might interact only on an ad hoc or one-on-one basis. The group is coordinated by Ruidoso's Urban Forester, Rick DeIaco.

National Fire Plan (NFP) Community Assistance Programs

In New Mexico, NFP Community Assistance Programs incentivize communities to address their wildfire threat through five grant programs; 1) 20 Communities Cost-Share Program, supports thinning on private land, 2) Economic Action Programs, develops economic opportunities related to traditionally underutilized wood products 3) Volunteer/Rural Fire Assistance, improves firefighting capabilities of rural fire departments 4) Four Corners Sustainable Forest Partnerships, promotes community development through forest restoration and 5) Collaborative Forest Restoration Program, supports projects to restore forests on public lands.

Ruidoso aggressively seeks monies under these programs. In 2001, Ruidoso was funded $1,331,975 through NFP Community Assistance Programs. In 2002, Ruidoso was allocated $942,699 in these grants.

 

 

Why does Ruidoso have such a high wildfire risk?

"Ruidoso will always be at risk (of wildfire) because of the density of the forest and the intermixed nature of the community."

-Jerry Hawkes, USFS, Smokey Bear District Ranger

Living in southeastern New Mexico's ponderosa pine forests means living with the threat of catastrophic wildfire. Historically, the ponderosa pine forest burned every three to seven years with a low intensity fire that cleared the forest floor of small trees and shrubs. Fuels were reduced which kept the risk low for catastrophic wildfire. Decades of aggressive fire fighting policies reduced or prevented these low intensity fires and the overcrowded forests of today are the result. Heavily wooded forests coupled with a decade of drier weather patterns have left the ponderosa pine stressed and vulnerable to disease and insects. Infestations of pine beetles and dwarf mistletoe contribute further to the declining forest health. As the forest health has worsened, the threat of catastrophic wildfire has increased.

 

ydwarf mistltoe & bettle damage

Dwarf mistletoe (top) and pine beetle damage (bottom) in Ruidoso's wildland urban interface.


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Copyright©2003 Toddi A. Steelman and North Carolina State University

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