New Mexico forest restoration acreage rising

New Mexico forest acreage cleared to protect the state’s watersheds and water supply tripled this year:

The Rio Grande Water Fund was started in July 2014. In conjunction with its 45 investor partners, the water fund thinned 10,130 acres of forest during its first year.

That’s up from an average of 3,000 acres per year thinned in recent years.

Students in our UNM Water Resources Program have spent time looking at this because a) watersheds are so important to water supply, and b) overcoming the institutional difficulties of dealing with forest health are a great case study in the difficult governance and management problems the students will confront when they go out into the water management world to try to fix things.

This is, as much as anything else, an institutional issue. Forest lands are fragmented across many different ownerships – some private, some federal, some state, some local government. Laura McCarthy at The Nature Conservancy has been been building a new overarching public-private framework, the Rio Grande Water Fund, to try to cross those difficult boundaries.

Water fund partners are a diverse group. They range from Bernalillo County to Kellys Brew Pub, the U.S. Forest Service to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the LOR Foundation to the Taos Ski Valley Foundation, the last of which announced earlier this month that it was donating $125,000 to the water fund.

During the fund’s first year, this coalition put $1 million into actual on-the-ground restoration work in places such as the northern Manzano Mountains, south of Albuquerque, and the Tusas Mountains in Rio Arriba County.

“Every investor and agency has the opportunity to double or triple the impact of their money by coordinating their effort,” McCarthy said. “They see their money go farther because they see it being pooled with other people’s money.”