New Mexico to house federal database on wildfire research and information

Posted at 10:18 AM, Feb 14, 2022

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Throughout the last few years, we've witnessed firsthand the devastation that wildfires can do in this country. However, when the fires aren't active, there are people on the ground researching and studying ways to restore our forests, but also prevent devastation. Now, that information will be shared through a federal database based in New Mexico.

Alan Barton, the director of the Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute, says fires are meant to burn, but not in this destructive manner.

“You know people seeing these fires like the Dixie Fire in California. California, in the last five years, there have been eight or nine fires that have been over 250,000 acres. Huge fires," Barton said.

Years of fire suppression efforts have impacted the way our forests operate. Now, the federal government is getting involved, setting aside $3 billion in January to help contain these fires. Some of that money will go towards a national database, overseen by The New Mexico Forestry Institute. 

“The federal government is putting a lot of emphasis on really taking are of our forests. Managing our forests more ecologically and doing the treatments that are necessary to really restore healthy ecological conditions to the forests and reintroducing fire through prescribed burns," Barton said.

New Mexico, which created its database a few years ago, was ahead of the game. Katie Withnall, a GIS specialist with the New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration, is one of the architects of the project. Essentially, they are expanding the scale of the database that already exists in New Mexico.

“The idea was that all of these different agencies in new Mexico were looking at figuring out a way they can see what everybody else is doing on the ground," Withnall said. “We have data from the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, state land office, New Mexico Forestry Division, those are sort of the bigger ones but we also have a lot of data from tribes and municipalities from.”

Now, it will be expanded to include information and research from 49 other states. 

“This allows you to look at what everybody is doing across the fence line from your own ownership or just jurisdiction and really create a larger scale outcome," Withnall said.

Barton points out this database has the potential to change forest restoration by expanding access.

“It’s one piece of a big puzzle right," Barton said. “When you’re talking about wildfires, you kind of have to think about what are you going to do before there is a wildfire, what are you going to do during a wildfire and what are you going to do after a wildfire. I think this database will really help to develop the capacity that we have to be able to monitor forests in different ways.”