New Mexico’s Largest Wildfire – Effects on Norteño Communities

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New Mexico’s Largest Wildfire – Effects on Norteño Communities

Date: 10/12/2022     State: NM     Issues: Climate, Fire     Partner: Mora County Airport Origin : Las Vegas, NM    


Fly the burn scar of New Mexico's largest wildfire to obtain aerial imagery and video for a documentary aimed to educate the public on wildfire's disastrous effects on Norteño communities. Create a platform to educate Mora County electeds on the challenges Norteño communities face when trying to utilize disaster relief programs due to traditional ways of living.

In April, 2022 two prescribed fires in New Mexico became out of control due to dry conditions and seasonal winds. The fires erupted and converged into the largest and most destructive wildlife in New Mexico's history. The Canyon/ Hermit's Peak Complex Fire began April 6, grew until June 24, and was not fully contained until August 21. It burned over 340,000 acres.

The fire had disastrous effects, destroying buildings and displacing thousands of people throughout Mora, San Miguel, and Taos Counties, burning largely within the historic boundaries of La Merced De Santa Gertrudis de lo de Mora - the Mora Land Grant. The Mora Land Grant was an area formalized by the Mexican government in 1835, and supported a complex of Mexican and Native American families. The land was integral to the Norteño's traditional way of life, supporting agriculture, grazing, timber, food, and medicine. These Latinx regions have continued to live on shared property and care for the landscape. However, their land was largely taken by the US Forest Service in 1916, disrupting traditional economic activities and agricultural practices. The heirs of the Mora Land Grant lifted up their concerns about the prescribed burns that were taking place in April, and were largely overlooked. Now, the Norteño communities in Mora County bear the effects of the disastrous fires that disrupted farming, hunting, timbering, and wildcrafting.

Federal and State disaster relief programs have proven challenging for Norteño communities to utilize, as Norteño ways of life like shared and communal property do not fit neatly into these highly structured and automated systems. The relief these agencies provide to others does not extend to many communities in Mora County.

EcoFlight's partners are working to educate the general public, land-managers, and policy-influencers to understand different traditional ways of life and reform disaster relief programs to accommodate shared property living. The system needs immediate reform. Mora County communities recovering from the catastrophic effects of the mega-wildfire are now at risk of intense flooding from projected monsoonal rains.

Groups are also working to allow the direct heirs of Spanish and Mexican Land Grants - like the Mora Land Grant - to have direct natural resource management. These land heirs have long cared for and properly managed their lands, using generations of traditional knowledge. The US Forest Service must allow the Norteño's expert knowledge to help manage lands in the American Southwest.

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