Wildlife conservation area celebrates annual Earth Day science fair despite recent wildfire damage

BELEN, NM – A wildfire in Belen earlier this month destroyed a home and threatened hundreds of people and animals in and near the bosque. Now a wildlife conservation group is assessing the damage.

The Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area didn’t let the Big Hole Fire stop its annual Earth Day event this weekend.

“I really appreciate my supervisory board who had the courage to say ‘hey, let’s continue’ and my staff too, of course. Let’s continue this event, it is too important to the community and now is the time, because of this unfortunate fire, to galvanize this conversation,” said Andrew Hautzinger, director of the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District.

The Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District manages the 96-acre conservation area, and Hautzinger says the damage is extensive and not just to the landscape.

“Unfortunately during the fire I found carcasses of frogs, toads, unidentified, lizards, a handful of rabbits, a few gophers so this fire was not kind to wildlife but they too are part of this dynamic system and they react,” Hautzinger said.

The Big Whole Fire damaged about 3/4 of the conservation area. But now the focus is on recovering and repairing the damage caused by the fire.

“So we’re probably not going to be doing a lot of restoration work this summer, we’re going to be in a row talking to the right people to figure out the right list of plants, we want it to be suitable for the climate, we want the replanting we do here to be sensitive to fire,” Hautzinger said.

He says that once the restoration process begins, the community is encouraged to be part of it.

“They’re going to be part of the conversation throughout, but I want them to come back here with dirt under their fingernails the next time you plant,” Hautzinger said.

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