NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A rocky road and many changes later, Senate Bill 21 is now waiting on the governor’s signature after winning final approval from lawmakers Tuesday night. It is also known as the “Prescribed Burning Bill.”
The bill would stop prescribed burns on days when the National Weather Service issues a red flag warning. The proposal comes after the state’s largest wildfire, the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire, was caused by two federal prescribed burns.
“When that thing occurred, these people were put out of their homes. There were 15,500 households displaced. It was a tragedy,” Senator Ron Griggs said. “My concern was what can the legislature do, and this is what the legislature ultimately did. It’s something they can do, we can do, that sits there says, ‘You know what? We got your back.'”
Griggs said there’s a lot of support for the bill, but that wasn’t always the case.
Conservation groups were against the bill in its original form. That’s when it banned all prescribed burns in the state during the spring months. One official said those burns are essential to stop wildfires before they get a chance to even start.
“We really need to do the prescribed fire in the spring in some areas of the state, especially if you’re trying to thin out pinyon-juniper because it requires that hot fire, and once we start getting any time of monsoon moisture, it’s too wet,” said New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Debbie Hughes. “It is one of the tools that we got to continue to use, and we just have to do a better job doing it.”
Hughes said after amendments changed the language from no burns at all during the spring to only on red flag days, they’re now backing it. “We think the bill now is using common sense and that we can work within those parameters and still be able to use prescribed fire.”
If the bill becomes law, the Federal Government would not be required to follow it since it’s at the state level.