After the Fire: Low Cost Flooding and Erosion Mitigation Strategies

By: Lindsey Quam, Santa Clara Pueblo Forestry Director and Gabe Kohler, Forest Stewards Guild Program Coordinator

Since wildfire is inevitable, the work to develop fire adapted communities is never done. This is why it’s so important that as a network we discuss strategies for adapting to wildfire before and after the fire. A recent Fire Adapted Communities New Mexico workshop in Santa Clara Pueblo focused on strategies for protecting our communities from flooding and erosion after a wildfire has occurred. Planning for after a wildfire may help shift conversation about wildfire potential from ‘if’ to ‘when’.

On May 24th, Fire Adapted Communities (FAC) leaders and partners from Santa Clara Pueblo in Northern New Mexico, gathered for an interactive workshop. It was a small, close-knit group  with representatives from 4 different organizations including Santa Clara Pueblo Forestry, The Santa Clara Office of Emergency Management, The Forest Stewards Guild, and Padilla Logging. The diverse group of partners and community members were able to productively identify lessons learned from the ongoing response and recovery efforts in Santa Clara Canyon following the 2011 Las Conchas wildfire.

A key goal of the FACNM network is to facilitate peer-to-peer information sharing to empower people to work toward wildfire adaptation in their communities. In addition to highly engineered, state-of-the-art erosion and flooding prevention structures, the pueblo implemented many low-cost structures. These low cost methods were part of a landscape scale effort to mitigate flooding and erosion after the Los Conchas fire, and are powerful tools for response and recovery that can be used to leverage the people-power in any community and make an impact against flooding and erosion before it occurs.

The project area is contained within the Santa Clara Creek Watershed and includes over 32,000 acres, 24 miles of stream, and 5,000 feet of elevation gradient.

The project area is contained within the Santa Clara Creek Watershed and includes over 32,000 acres, 24 miles of stream, and 5,000 feet of elevation gradient.

Stream-first Wildfire Recovery

The Las Conchas wildfire burned more than 150,000 acres adjacent to the community of Santa Clara, and created extreme flooding and erosion in Santa Clara Creek (more info here). Santa Clara Creek is regarded as a sacred source of life to the people of Santa Clara Pueblo,  so the Tribe took a ‘stream-first’ approach to prioritizing natural stream function. Its flood mitigation and restoration design emphasized the use of natural materials as infrastructure, which maximized ecosystem benefits and decreased the cost.

Erosion Control

Erosion control structures were installed in tributaries to stop sediment delivery upstream, minimize head cutting, and aggrade incised channels. The structures used were cost-effective, being built by hand and using on-site materials. The low cost of these methods allowed them to be used broadly throughout the project area, and over 5,300 structures were built in the 26 tributaries since 2014.

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Contour Felling

Felling trees along a horizontal contour is an easy and effective way to keep excess water out of a main drainage. These structures encourage lateral water flow and capture water to contribute to the water table.

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Rockdam

Rocks are positioned to counteract erosion by reducing the velocity of water flow. These structures raise the level of the streambed, and create viable habitat for plants.

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Log Drop

Similar to rock dams, the log acts as a footer that is anchored into the banks of the incised channel. Rocks and dirt are placed upstream of the log and sometimes grass transplants are installed into the structure. These materials collect sediment behind the log structure and provide grade control. The sediment collected often contains organic material and other nutrients needed for healthy plant growth.

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Flow Splitter

These structures divert water flow out of a main incised channel and encourage sheet flow across the surface. These designs are most effective in wide valley bottoms where flow has space to spread and dissipate.

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Zuni Bowl

These structures are constructed at the base of a head-cut. Zuni bowls (originally used by Zuni Pueblo) armor the substrate within the channel, preventing scouring action by water over the long term. The bowl shape acts as an energy dissipater as water flows into the structure, protecting the potentially erosive substrate. The bottom of the bowl also acts as a water harvesting feature which will maintain moisture for long periods.

In New Mexico, where wildfire season is immediately followed by monsoons, planning for flooding and erosion mitigation is crucial to the resilience of our communities in the face of wildfire. Waiting for emergency assistance and outside funding may not be the best strategy for protecting our communities from flooding and erosion. The lost cost methods and materials used in Santa Clara Pueblo may be an important part of your communities after-the-fire toolkit.  

For more information about recovery after-the-fire, check out:

1.   Story map of Santa Clara’s response and recovery efforts to the Las Conchas Wildfire

 https://arcg.is/0HGPHf

2. After the Wildfire NM

https://afterwildfirenm.org/

https://afterwildfirenm.org/post-fire-treatments/treatment-descriptions/channel-treatments

3. The Burned Area Learning Network (BALN) https://www.conservationgateway.org/ConservationPractices/FireLandscapes/FireLearningNetwork/RegionalNetworks/Pages/BALN.aspx

 

Greetings FAC Members!

My first prescribed burn at Fort Union Ranch!

My first prescribed burn at Fort Union Ranch!

Hello Everyone,  

I am relatively new to this work, and would like to introduce myself. My name is Gabe Kohler and I am a recent addition to the Forest Stewards Guild as a program coordinator. As part of my work with the Guild, I am committed to increasing engagement of current FACNM members as well as outreach to new members. I hope my passion and enthusiasm for this work can be a resource to you all. I recently moved to Santa Fe in October from western Oregon where I finished graduate school at the Oregon State University (OSU) College of Forestry. I am fascinated by the deep connections between humans and their natural environment in the face of climate change and forests shaped by the legacy of past management. It is a privilege to work with you all, and I look forward to meeting each of you.

Thank you all for your continued support and engagement with the Fire Adapted Communities network. Some of you have been with this effort from the beginning and have been critical to advancing our relationship with wildfire for decades.

Fire Adapted Communities New Mexico (FACNM) is gaining diverse membership and support across the state and this reflects the ongoing efforts in each of your communities. In both human and natural systems, networks hold potential for adaptation, resilience, and creative problem solving that is greater than the sum of their parts. The FACNM network is no different, and by fostering relationships amongst motivated individuals we hope to catalyze and empower wildfire adaptation in our communities.

If there is anything that FACNM can do to amplify the work you all are doing in your communities of place or interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. I can be reached on my cell at 509-844-3048 or by email at gabe@forestguild.org.

Keep up the good work,

Gabe

Video about how one community's actions to prepare for wildfire stopped the 416 Fire


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In June 2018, when the 416 Fire raged north of Durango, scorching tens of thousands of acres, the Falls Creek Ranch neighborhood, a Firewise USA community, was ready. Residents had prepared for the worst through several years of fire mitigation efforts such as clearing brush and overly dense trees, led by a Neighborhood Ambassador from Wildfire Adapted Partnership based in Southern Colorado and guided by a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. As a direct result of their efforts, firefighters could safely combat the eventual arrival of the fire. No structures were lost!

Watch the video here!


Wildfire Guides for Fire Chiefs and County Officials up on the FAC NM Website.

Two new resources to boost your wildfire preparedness are now up on the FAC NM website.

Fire Chief Wildfire Guide

The WUI Chief’s Guide was designed by fire chiefs for fire chiefs to help provide a better understanding of the wildland-urban interface and the necessary information to help prepare, mitigate, respond, and recover from these events. This guide was put together by a committee of fire chiefs led by Santa Fe New Mexico’s own fire chief Erik Litzenberg.

 

County Leadership Wildfire Guide

The County Leadership Guide to Help Communities Become More Fire Adapted and Learn to Live with Wildland Fire is great resource from our partners at National Association of Counties, Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, Firewise USA, and Western Region National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy.

This resource provides tips for county leadership, talking points for county leadership pre, during and post fire season, and customizable social media suggestions.



Forest Bound: Free native plant and conservation training

The Santa Fe and Cibola National Forests, in collaboration with the Institute for Applied Ecology, have a great opportunity for youth to learn about native plants in New Mexico.

Ages 13-18

This fun, immersive program examines native plants through a botanical, environmental, and cultural lens. Students enjoy daily, hands-on experiences in the Santa Fe National Forest or Cibola National Forest. They will gain skills such as seed collection and cleaning, plant monitoring, identification, and ethnobotany. They will learn about conservation careers through conversations with professional conservationists and environmental leaders. At the end of the course, students will receive a certification of completion in basic native plant ecology.

Session dates

Santa Fe:

June 17-21

July 22-26 (session full)

Albuquerque:

June 3-7

July 8-12

For more information visit: www.appliedeco.org/get-outdoors

 
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Fire Adapted New Mexico Calendar - Find & post wildfire related events!

Hello all!

We’re populating the FACNM calendar on the website with all the Fire Adapted Communities related events that are happening around New Mexico. Click the link below to see the what’s your partners around the state are planing for this year.

https://facnm.org/events/

This is a place to find and post local, regional, and statewide events that are related to wildfire response in any way such as, movie showings, community events, CWPP meetings, fire service conferences, home hazard assessment trainings, etc.

But I can use your help! If you are hosting or know about an event that you think FACNM members would be interested in please let me know and I’ll post it to the site.

All I need is a:

  • What is the event called?

  • When is it?

  • Where is it?

  • A quick explanation of the event.

  • A website or contact information.

Email all of the above to sam@forestguild.org

Thanks!

$500 awards available to support Wildfire Community Preparedness Day! Applications due March 1st

Wildfire Community Preparedness Day is an annual campaign that encourages people to come together on a single day to take action to reduce their wildfire risk. On May 4th this year communities and organizations across the county will engage in huge variety of activities from community chipper days to potlucks and discussions about reducing fire risk. For more information, ideas of events, and resources click below:

Wildfire Community Preparedness day page at NFPA .

To support Wildfire Preparedness Day NFPA and State Farm are offering $500 grants to fund wildfire risk reduction activities. Check this link below for information about applying. On the NFPA website there are tips about how to apply and examples of past projects that have succeeded, and see our previous blog post about ideas for events!

MINI GRANT APPLICATION

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Goats help to mitigate wildfires

Krys Nystrom, executive director of the Wildfire Network, and Amanita Thorp of Horned Goat Landscaping, are using a unique approach to reduce fuels in the foothills of Albuquerque. We often focus on removing trees to prevent fires, but reducing fine fuels like grasses and shrubs can be just as important, especially if that is the main type of fuel that will carry fire in your neighborhood.