Lincoln NF, tribe restore ski slopes

A harvester machine lifting logs.
A piece of Ponsse equipment is shown removing downed logs from the slopes of Ski Apache. Forest Service photo by Denise Ottaviano.

NEW MEXICO—Smokey Bear Ranger District on Lincoln National Forest is the location of popular ski destination Ski Apache, which draws skiers from southern New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. Many of the forest strips that separate ski runs were burned in the 2012 Little Bear Fire, and the forest is still pursuing restoration work.

Some initial work was done with Burned Area Emergency Response funds, but due to steep slopes, the project proved to be very difficult to implement and posed significant risk to workers. The machinery and resources available at that time were not what was needed to accomplish the work. 

In early 2017, many things came together to create a proposal to remove approximately 150 additional acres of hazard trees. With assistance from regional forest engineer Bob Rich, who came to Ruidoso and visited the ski area, the ranger district outlined a proposal that would be completed by steep slope logging technology.

The Lincoln National Forest completed an environmental analysis and decision notice to analyze the effects of the proposal, which also required a site-specific amendment to the Lincoln Forest Plan, which prohibits the use of heavy equipment on slopes greater than 40 percent. 

The site is operated by the Mescalero Apache Tribe under a special use permit, and that led to partnership opportunities. The tribe and Lincoln National Forest entered into an agreement to spend Reserved Treaty Rights Lands funds, which are available to tribes for forest restoration activities and can be used within or adjacent to reserved treaty right land.

The grant proved to be a perfect fit for the work at the ski area. The tribe put out a request for bid package in. The tribe awarded the bid to Miller Timber Services of Oregon, which uses Ponsse equipment. Ponsse equipment can safely operate on slopes up to 80 percent, a far steeper grade than traditional logging equipment.

Due to the ski area operations as well as concerns with various plant and animal species on this island mountain, there was a limited window to operate. The equipment showed up in October and operators worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. They hope to finish by mid-November.

This partnership project with the use of the Ponsse equipment is the first of its kind in New Mexico. Its success will hopefully open the door for other project opportunities in the southwest where steep slopes limit the options available for traditional forest restoration efforts.

The tribe and the Lincoln National Forest will continue to work collaboratively to restore the ski area landscape with tree planting, addressing a spruce beetle outbreak, and aspen restoration work.

Ski slopes full of downed trees.
The slopes of Ski Apache are shown here, along with downed and damaged trees. The steep terrain has made this restoration project difficult to begin, but work is on track now, thanks to one specialized company willing to tackle the challenge. Forest Service photo by Denise Ottaviano.
Ponsse equipment in situ.
A piece of Ponsse equipment is shown rigged for work on the steep slopes of Ski Apache. Forest Service photo by Denise Ottaviano.