Ecological impacts after wildfire: Santa Clara Field Trip

In areas affected by high severity fire and post-fire flooding, why do we choose to act—or not to act—beyond initial emergency stabilization? How do we make informed decisions about how much action to take and when? On a warm day in early May, a group of over thirty environmental and conservation professionals gathered to discuss these questions in the context of restoring integrity to ecosystems and landscapes after wildfires as part of the Burned Area Learning Network (BALN). This New Mexico learning exchange was a partnership between the Forest Stewards Guild, The Nature Conservancy, and East Jemez Landscape Futures. Santa Clara Pueblo graciously hosted the field trip, sharing lessons learned from years of restoration efforts and providing the context for a learning exchange between environmental professionals seeking to improve post-fire response on our landscapes.

Four stops in Santa Clara Canyon highlighted efforts undertaken in different ecological and topographical contexts--these included wetland restoration, channel attenuation, reforestation, and alluvial fan restoration. Throughout the day, participants explored together several guiding questions around how much restoration action to take and when to take it. In thinking about strategic approaches to restoration after a wildfire, the group considered the types of goals and objectives to be met, as well as how these objectives are informed by time frame, jurisdiction, and other factors. Beyond initial emergency stabilization in areas affected by high severity fire and post-fire flooding, it is difficult to decide when and how to take action. Another key element for strategically addressing post-fire objectives is identifying funding sources beyond the initial three-year window after a fire. 

In bringing together actors from a range of agencies and organizations, the field trip also presented the opportunity to consider shared learning objectives. The goal of the BALN is to accelerate learning by peer-to-peer knowledge sharing to improve social and ecological outcomes following wildfire. Through collaborative efforts, the BALN seeks to improve the accuracy and utility of short- and long-term post-fire risk assessment; increase worker safety during burned area assessment and restoration; improve inter- and intra-agency relationships; and develop new science-based cooperative strategies for post fire response. Through peer to peer networking, lessons learned are shared, improvements in practice are developed and an adaptive feedback mechanism is created that can most efficiently incorporate new information into landscape planning and post-fire response.