Highlands Forestry Institute Joins Forces With Alamo Navajo School Board
The New Mexico Forestry and Watershed Restoration Institute and the Alamo Navajo School Board created a successful ongoing partnership in 2010 that combines job creation with forest restoration.
The Institute trained an Alamo Navajo forest crew to thin pinon and juniper forests near their remote reservation 57 miles southeast of Socorro, N.M.
Thinning improves forest health and helps reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. The forest worker jobs are helping reduce poverty on the Alamo Navajo Reservation.
The Institute is federally funded through the Wildfire Prevention Act of 2004 and is housed at New Mexico Highlands University.
“The overall goal of this partnership with the Alamo Navajo community is to combine economic opportunity with forest restoration and health,” said Andrew Egan, who joined the institute as its director in August 2010. “The idea is to teach people to be skilled forest workers who are independent entrepreneurs participating in a forest restoration-based enterprise.”
Egan said the Alamo forest workers are very motivated, able individuals who work hard and take a great deal of pride in their work.
Through the partnership, the Institute provided on-the-job training in forest worker safety, harvesting lumber, firewood processing, lumber manufacturing, and forest restoration monitoring.
The institute provided all the equipment needed for the enterprise, including firewood processors, a 30-foot self-loading trailer, and a portable sawmill.
The Alamo Navajo forest crew is shipping firewood and wood flooring products to customers like Old Wood, LLC in Las Vegas, N.M. and as far away as Illinois.
“With the commitment and help from the Institute in training and collaboration, we now have a crew of 16 forest workers doing hand thinning projects on state, federal and private land,” said Bill Ferranti, resource management specialist for Alamo Navajo School Board. “Now we’re in the process of creating a marking crew and the institute will train them for work in the Cibola National Forest.”
Ferranti, who was on the ground with the Alamo forest crews, said the partnership with the institute is a model for cutting-edge southwestern reforestation.
Lynda Middleton is the administrative director for Alamo Navajo School Board and worked with Egan to develop the partnership.
“It has been a wonderful partnership in terms of expanding the horizon of our forest crew members,” Middleton said. “One of our goals was for them to not just learn how to run chainsaws, but to develop folks with an interest in natural resource management and preservation on the reservation.
“Our relationship with the institute is ongoing, and Andrew is very committed to helping us be successful. He and his staff offer diverse resources and technical assistance. We’re working on a resource management plan for the reservation and the Institute is part of our team,” Middleton said.
“In tight budget times, programs like this partnership with Alamo Navajo help build capacity for forest reforestation that federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and BLM don’t always have the budget to do in-house,” Egan said. “This project was also a collaboration with the forest service and other agencies.”
Egan earned his Ph.D. in forest science from Penn State University and an M.S. in forest science from the University of New Hampshire. The Senior Fulbright Scholar is an expert in silviculture, the science, art and practice of caring for forests with respect to human objectives.
Egan has taught at several universities in the U.S. and Canada, most recently as a professor and dean of the School of Forestry and Natural Resources at Paul Smith’s College in New York.
He began his forestry career as a logger in New Hampshire running a chainsaw, felling trees, and using a skidder to drag the trees out.
“Working for nearly five years as a professional logger gave me a better appreciation for harvesting trees as a science and a practice,” Egan said. “Now the Alamo loggers fell trees with as much skill as anyone I’ve ever worked with. They’re professionals.”
Egan and his New Mexico Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute staff are working now with the Ramah Navajo Reservation to train a forest crew. Angelita Apocito, one of the new Alamo Navajo forest workers, is helping with outreach.