The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, in cooperation with other local and state agencies, is imposing new fire restrictions in the middle Rio Grande bosque due to extreme fire conditions.

Effective immediately, the paved trails and levee roads alongside the bosque will remain open, but the wooded bosque area between the river and the levee roads will be closed to public use until further notice.

This action stems from the recent fires in the bosque and dry conditions throughout the state.

“Now is the time to take this measure,” Subhas Shah, chief engineer for the conservancy district, said in a news release.

The conservancy district board of directors voted Monday night to impose these restrictions in the bosque outside pueblo lands in Sandoval, Bernalillo, Valencia and Socorro counties.

The tightening of existing fire policy is based on three factors.

“First, we evaluated the weather conditions. It is very dry now, and that makes fire danger high, in spite of occasional rain showers. We looked at the unfortunate recent occurrence of fires apparently caused by arson and carelessness. With the upcoming holidays, citizens need to be advised to be extra careful in bosque areas in order to minimize fire danger,” Shah said.

He emphasized the need for all citizens who love the bosque to help prevent fires that destroy the woodlands and threaten the homes and property of neighbors.

“We call on all citizens to watch out for any conditions that could lead to a fire. If you see a fire, immediately call 911 or your local fire department.”

The new fire policy includes the following rules that apply to conservancy district property. As conditions change, these rules could be tightened or relaxed.

The rules are:

  • Fires of any kind are prohibited anywhere in the bosque.
  • Smoking is allowed only in enclosed vehicles or buildings.
  • Use of fireworks or explosive devices of any kind is prohibited.
  • Recreational activities are limited to established trails outside the bosque.
  • Maintenance, scientific, special projects and supervised group educational activities specifically authorized by the conservation district may be allowed.
  • Violators are subject to applicable fines and/or prosecution.

“We will be stepping up the patrols with the bosque patrol officers having orders to enforce the ordinance,” said Richard Jaramillo, Belen division manager for the conservancy.

“They will be enforcing that people are to stay on the level and ditch roads and not in the woods.”

Individuals who have received permission to extract downed deadwood may collect the wood during the upcoming weekend.

“We will have our staff and Bureau of Reclamation staff working with the people to ensure accidental fires do not occur,” Jaramillo said.

The incidence of catastrophic fires is increasing on conservancy district property, including the bosque, the release said.

Over the last three years, fire has destroyed more than 3,000 acres of bosque in the middle Rio Grande area.

Nearly all bosque fires are caused by humans, either by arson or neglect, according to the release. Current fuel conditions in the bosque and frequent dry periods make the use of fireworks, uncontrolled campfires and smoking serious public safety hazards.

Over the course of this year, News-Bulletin records show that only .04 inches of rain has fallen in the county as of Monday.

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Jane Moorman