Fewer Trees = A Win-Win for Fire Safety & Water Conservation

Taos Ski Valley Tree Thinning Underway

Despite the recent reopening of Carson National Forest—thanks to the start of Monsoon Season—the need to reduce fire hazards in Taos Ski Valley while simultaneously building up the valley’s water supply remains.

That is why a group of experts—led by The Nature Conservancy’s New Mexico Associate Director Laura McCarthy—recently provided a look at the Rio Grande Water Fund's tree-thinning efforts on
30 acres around the Williams Lake Trail at Taos Ski Valley.

As one expert put it, “Having less canopy makes the forest less vulnerable.”

How are tree thinning and water conservation connected? When you reduce the number of tall trees, more sunlight and moisture get to the forest floor. This lets smaller plant life—or, as the experts put it, “herbaceous material”—to grow and thrive.

The herbaceous material slows the flow of water downhill, ultimately helping it get absorbed into the watershed instead of running off, making water flow more consistent.

In what has already become a big fire year, tree thinning is an important risk-reduction measure for other reasons, too. First, it helps put more distance between trees. This makes them more resilient to disease as well as the dreaded Spruce Beetle, which leaves entire mountainsides of dead trees that go up like kindling when there’s a spark.

Second, if you fell the more “fire-friendly” trees that have branches growing lower to the ground (e.g., fir trees) you allow more fire-resistant trees—such as aspen and ponderosa, that have long trunks devoid of low branches—to take their place.

U.S. Forest Service Fire Management Officer Ray Corral reports that running alongside the tree thinning is a push to link existing geographical features, such as avalanche paths and rocky ridges, that can serve as natural fire breaks to slow a fire.

Recognizing the importance of these efforts to both the health and security of the valley and its ecosystem, the Taos Ski Valley Foundation donated $250,000 to the Rio Grande Water Fund in March 2017.  As the foundation’s founder and owner of the Taos Ski Valley Resort, Louis Bacon, stated:

“This remarkable project will improve forest health, bolster local economies, and improve New Mexico’s water supply.”

Click on this hyperlink to support the Rio Grande Water Fund through The Nature Conservancy’s efforts in New Mexico.​


Williams Lake Trail
United States
36° 34' 15.1932" N, 105° 26' 5.1396" W