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Heinrich Presses Forest Service Chief on Wildland Firefighter Housing, Fencing to Keep Trespass Cattle out of Valles Caldera National Preserve, Re-opening of Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area

WASHINGTON – Today, during a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to review the Fiscal Year 2025 (FY25) Budget Request for the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) pressed U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore on the inadequacy of housing for wildland firefighters, the need to complete fencing in the Santa Fe National Forest to prevent trespass cattle from entering the Valles Caldera National Preserve, and reopening Sitting Bull Falls National Recreation Area in the Lincoln National Forest.

ENR Forest Service Hearing

VIDEO: U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich questions Chief Randy Moore during a hearing on the Fiscal Year 2025 Budget Request for the U.S. Forest Service, May 16, 2024.

On Wildland Firefighter Housing:

Heinrich asked, “The Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission at the GAO found that there is not enough affordable, available, and adequate housing to recruit and retain wildland firefighters…These are the folks that families count on to protect them from these catastrophic wildfires. Is the funding that you requested in this Budget enough to clear the backlog on firefighter housing maintenance?”

Chief Moore responded, “No sir, not by a long shot.”

Heinrich followed up, “What scale of progress are you going to make in terms of making sure that our firefighters have access to adequate and well-constructed housing?

Chief Moore replied, “I think we have about $25 million that we’re planning to put toward improving the housing situation. In fact, we’re looking at completely redoing one of the barracks and then making a lot of necessary changes to many of the other barracks and houses.”

On Santa Fe National Forest Fencing:

Heinrich asked, “When we last talked, the Forest Service was finalizing a contract to repair the Santa Fe National Forest fence that keeps cattle from trespassing onto the neighboring property, which is the Valles Caldera National Preserve. What is the status of that contract at this point?”

Chief Moore responded, “So we’ve agreed to put up a million dollars toward the construction of the fence, and we’ve also agreed to go halves on the maintenance of the fence once it’s done.”

Heinrich followed up, “Is that contract, not the maintenance contract but the repair contract, has that been executed?”

Chief Moore replied, “We have a meeting with the Park Service. We have an agreement in place, but we have not signed off that agreement. But the agreement would be halves on both the actual construction of the fence and the maintenance of the fence.”

Heinrich responded, “This has been a long time coming. So I would just urge you and Park Service Director Chuck Sams to figure this thing out because it’s a continual source of friction in the area.”

On Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area Closure:

Last week, the Lincoln National Forest posted a notice that Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area, historic recreation site located in the Guadalupe Ranger District, “will be closed at the access point due to ongoing staffing shortages.”

During the hearing, Heinrich brought this to Chief Moore’s attention, asking,“Last week, the Lincoln National Forest shut down Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area. It’s a popular spot about an hour from Carlsbad that families enjoy in the summer in particular. Why is Sitting Bull Falls closed? And what’s the Forest Service’s plan to get it reopened.”

Chief Moore responded, “So my information says that it is not closed. Even though there is some staffing challenges. But the facility is open. And there’s also maintenance needs for that facility.”

Heinrich responded, “It’s my understanding, at least from what I’ve heard from the public, is that it’s closed. So we need to get our staff together on that and figure out what the plan is to make sure that, especially as we get into the summer season when demand is particularly high, we maximize that facility.”

Chief Moore replied, “In fact, my information tells me that they are ready for Memorial Day weekend. I will double check that.”

Heinrich replied, “That would be a pleasant surprise. So let’s work on that. Thank you, Chief.”