Ski Apache is a popular destination for skiers in Southern New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico. The ski area is located on the Lincoln National Forest and operated by the Mescalero Apache Tribe under a special use permit.
Much of the green forest strips that separate ski runs were burned in the Little Bear Fire in 2012. Some work was done with Burned Area Emergency Response funds, but due to the steep slopes, the project proved to be very difficult to implement and posed significant risk to workers. The machinery and resources available at that time were not what was needed to accomplish the work.
Many things came together to create a proposal in early 2017 to remove approximately 150 additional acres of hazard trees. With assistance from Regional Forest Engineer Bob Rich who came to Ruidoso and visited the ski area, we outlined a proposal that would be completed by steep slope logging technology.
The Lincoln National Forest completed an environmental analysis and decision notice to analyze the effects of the proposal, which also required a site-specific amendment to the Lincoln Forest Plan, which prohibits the use of heavy equipment on slopes greater than 40%. The Tribe and the Lincoln National Forest entered into an agreement to spend Reserved Treaty Rights Lands funds that are available to tribes for forest restoration activities that can be used within or adjacent to reserved treaty right land.
The grant proved to be a perfect fit for the work at the ski area. The Tribe put out a request for bid package in August after the forest went through the required objection period. One contractor made a site visit and that bid was awarded by the Tribe to Miller Timber Services of Oregon that uses Ponsse equipment, made in Finland. It can safely operate on slopes up to 80 percent, far above what any traditional logging equipment can do. Miller has 13 teams of this type of equipment and has been doing this kind of work for over 20 years.
Due to the ski area operations as well as concerns with various plant and animal species on this island mountain, there was a limited window to operate. The equipment showed up in October and worked 12 hours shifts, 7 days a week. They are wrapping up their work and hope to leave by the end of next week (November 16, 2018).
This partnership project with the use of the Ponsse equipment is the first of its kind in New Mexico. Its success will hopefully open the door for other project opportunities in the southwest where steep slopes limit the options available for traditional forest restoration efforts.
The Tribe and the Lincoln National Forest will continue to work collaboratively to restore the ski area landscape including tree planting, addressing a spruce beetle outbreak, and aspen restoration work.
For more information about this project, contact the Smokey Bear Ranger District at (575) 257-4095. For more information about the Lincoln National Forest like us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/LincolnNF, visit www.fs.usda.gov/lincoln, or follow us on Twitter @LincolnUSForest.