SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s energy and natural resources agency is putting its support behind legislation that it says would clear the way for more prescribed fires as the state deals with climate change.
The measure would clarify liability for private landowners who conduct prescribed burns and create a certification program for conducting such burns safely. Officials with the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department say that would make it easier and more affordable for landowners to get insurance.
Supporters say similar legislation in other states has resulted in increased prescribed burning — one of the main tools used by state and federal land managers to clear out dead and overgrown vegetation as a way to reduce the threat of more severe wildfires.
“This summer’s lengthy and intense fire season underscored the need to act now,” said Rep. Matthew McQueen, the Santa Fe Democrat who is sponsoring the legislation. “By expanding the ability to conduct prescribed burns, the state will be able to take proactive measures to have a healthier and more resilient forest.”
Officials pointed to a fire last summer in the mountains near Santa Fe, saying a prescribed burn in the area the previous year kept the fire from expanding into the ski basin and provided a barrier that firefighters used to better fight the flames.
If the legislation is passed, state officials said New Mexico would join nearly two dozen other states that have implemented prescribed burning laws or policies.