Silver City > Improve Fire Prevention and SuppressionReduce Hazardous Fuels
Restore Fire Adapted Ecosystems
Promote Community AssistanceSummary Related Links

Overview


Case study as text only PDF

Silver City, located in Grant County, lies in southwestern New Mexico at the base of the Pinos Altos Mountains. Location mapThe city borders the southern edge of Gila National Forest and is a short distance from the scenic Gila Wilderness Area. Silver City is designated one of the state's top twenty communities most threatened by catastrophic wildfire. At an elevation of just under 6,000 feet, the surrounding forests are composed of pinon-juniper and ponderosa pine with some mountain mahogany and scrub oak.

According to the 2000 census, the average household income is $25,661 and the average home value is $87,700. About 10% of the homes are seasonally occupied with over 10,000 people living in Silver City. The area has a staggering unemployment rate of 14% and recently lost another 700 jobs with the shut down of Stream, an international call center. The semi-arid climate with four mild seasons attracts a growing retirement population. In the past, the Silver City area depended on mining and ranching for employment and economic stability. A decline in the mining industry in recent years has seen an economic shift to tourism and retirement.

Silver City WUI

Addressing the threat

Silver City has not experienced a wildfire in its wildland urban interface, but has taken actions to address its threat. The response to the threat of wildfire has been coordinated through the National Fire Plan Implementation Team (NFPIT). NFPIT is composed of many agencies and organizations that have differing sets of responsibility for wildfire issues in Grant County and Silver City. The NFPIT mission statement says their goal is, "To create a community that is in continuous harmony with the regional environment-by integrating wildfire issues with the broader goals of ecosystem restoration and social and economic development".

NFPIT was founded in the fall of 2000 as a "multi-agency, community-driven effort on developing strategies and projects that address: fire planning, forest restoration, fuels reduction, public outreach and economic development". NFPIT emerged from a previous organization, the Local Emergency Planning Council (LEPC). Frank Kenney had coordinated LEPC beginning in 1999 and also heads NFPIT. Kenney is a retired police officer who is funded for part-time work on NFPIT through New Mexico State Forestry (NMSF).

NFPIT meetings are monthly and allow the multiple participants involved in the wildfire problem to meet and discuss current issues, problems and opportunities. Participants also have continuous situations of one-on-one interaction depending on the given issue or problem. Good coordination stems from the LEPC. Resident and agency workers involved in NFPIT tend to have worked in Silver City for long periods of time giving them a strong attachment and commitment to place. According to Doug Boykin, Soccoro District Forester (NMSF), "There are different agendas, but no hidden agendas" in NFPIT.

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Why are the forests surrounding Silver City at such high risk of catastrophic wildfire?

"Prior to the late 1800s, frequent low-intensity ground fires maintained the ponderosa pine and gambel oak forests. However, heavy grazing in the late 1800s followed by aggressive fire suppression altered the landscape from an open park-like environment consisting of single-story stands with continuous bunchgrass understory cover, to multistoried stands with dense, downed woody material and sparse live ground cover. "

-Grant County Wildland Urban Interface Fire Mitigation Plan

 

 

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.

Silver City aggressively seeks monies under these programs. In 2001, Silver City was funded $618,655 through NFP Community Assistance Programs. In 2002, the town received funding of $731,000 though these programs.

 

 

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

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