ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – For years, federal land managers in New Mexico have allowed many forest fires to burn to keep the land from growing into a tangled mess. This season is different.
Now firefighters are trekking deep into the Gila National Forest with pack horses and one overriding goal: snuffing out all fires, no matter how small or remote. The U.S. Forest Service says its decision is a temporary move to save money because it's cheaper to put out fires than to spend weeks monitoring them as they burn.
But after using fire to clean up the landscape for so long, the agency's about-face has drawn criticism from watchdog groups and some scientists who fear the practice might set the stage for an even more destructive season next year.