A giant Caterpillar tractor rumbled and growled in the background as Cañoncito residents questioned State Land Office representatives Wednesday about why it’s necessary to remove countless trees in a wooded grazing land.
“At one point, we had to move forward so we could hear each other,” area resident Sandy Anderson, 69, said.
The Caterpillar has ground up piñon and juniper trees — which are classified as invasive species — on 400 acres in this rural community south of Santa Fe. The state’s plan calls for thinning trees on 122 more acres.
Known as the Ojo de la Vaca Meadow Restoration Project, it aims to turn a dense woodland into a “mosaic” of tree-clumped fields to create a “savanna-like” landscape.
A warming climate and livestock grazing have fostered unnaturally thick stands of junipers and piñons on the land, the project’s report said.
Several State Land Office scientists came to explain in more detail the rationale behind the tree thinning.
Reducing tree density lowers wildfire risks and allows more grasses to grow, which is better for curbing erosion, they said.