Major project underway to prevent wildfires in the East Mountains

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - A major project is underway in the East Mountains to thin 500 acres of forest. The goal isn't just preventing devastating fires, but protecting water for everyone.

There is a very loud rumbling in the Cedro Creek area off Highway 337 and Juan Tomas Road where a masticator is literally eating through the forest, trying to get it back to a healthy state.

The biggest benefit is preventing catastrophic fires, like last year's Dog Head Fire, which burned just miles away, but there's much more to the project than that.

"It helps restore habitat for wildlife, it improves places that people like to hike and bike and camp, and most important, it's upstream of the Rio Grande, so a wildfire in this area would affect everybody's water supply downstream," said Laura McCarthy with the Nature Conservancy.

This is being accomplished thanks to the Rio Grande Water Fund, a public-private partnership comprised of 60 organizations. That includes the Albuquerque Water Utility Authority, which contributed money because it protects the headwaters that supply water to Albuquerque.

The big goal is to restore 600,000 acres over 20 years. This project is just 500 acres of that.

"What you see here in Cedro is prevention. We want to restore the forest so it's resilient to natural fire and people living in places with trees and forests without being threatened," McCarthy said.

Ironically it was a masticator that sparked the Dog Head Fire back in 2016.

The U.S. Forest Service says it has routinely used the machine over the years and since the fire with no problem, but crews are taking extra precautions.


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