The Claunch-Pinto Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) in New Mexico is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) near wildfire-ravaged areas across the state through the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.
“It is a long, detailed process,” District Manager Dierdre Tarr said. “But worth the time and effort.”
“It’s a learning curve where you learn something every day,” she said. “It takes time and patience, but it’s another area we can find dollars to put on the ground. That’s the important thing.”
The initial FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant targeted 135 acres of privately-owned property for thinning, harvesting and slash chipping to help with moisture containment and erosion. The area is adjacent to lands burned by four major wildfires that took place between 2008 and 2016. During those fires, more than 44,000 acres were devastated, 80 homes destroyed, and nearly 100 other structures lost.
The scarred land that remains contains dense shrub regrowth that is ripe for fast-moving fires that could impact lands that have a higher population density than other areas in the county, a measure Tarr aims to prevent with the hazard mitigation project.
Though Tarr has worked with Claunch-Pinto SWCD in Torrance County for two decades, this is the first time she has partnered with FEMA.
She admits early on there were challenges.
Those findings meant contacting FEMA and, with its permission, revamping the parameters of the project in order to continue. While Tarr was altering the grant documents, FEMA announced it had additional funding that the Claunch-Pinto SWCD project was eligible to receive.
Although the conservation district was awarded the $149,000 Hazard Mitigation grant in 2018, Tarr had just completed phase two of the application process–writing for the implementation portion–in December 2019.
“If there are projects to get done, and we want to secure the funding, I’ll do what it takes,” Tarr said. “So it’s just another piece of the puzzle with all the partners we’re working with on the project. It takes a lot of patience, but it’s one step at a time.”
One piece of advice Tarr would give to other FEMA partner first-timers is to know and secure your procedural points, such as being identified as a go-to person on those teams and emergency plans.
“Work with your county’s Emergency Management Department, get to know them before an emergency, and get to know the people in the Mitigation Department for Homeland Security in the district’s area,” she said. “These people will help you with whatever steps you need to take.”
“Once we realized what we needed to do, everything has moved pretty fast,” Tarr said. “FEMA is great to work with. They’ve been very helpful.”
With the additional funding opportunity, the project area has grown from 135 acres to nearly 300. The project and goals have not significantly changed, though. The area borders the Cibola National Forest, so along with providing protection to more rural areas and improving the Estancia Basin Watershed, the project will thin the wooded area to slow potential fires before they reach national forest land.
The chipped slash will provide ground litter to promote soil moisture and allow for regrowth of native grasses and forbs. Larger pieces of thinned trees and branches will be available for local haulers.
“I think it’s a fantastic opportunity,” Tarr said. “It takes a lot of patience and listening and emails, but I’m positive about it.”