Agencies and universities selected a site in Mora to host a new multimillion-dollar center to replant millions of trees across the state.
A board in charge of siting the New Mexico Reforestation Center determined last week that the center will be built at the current John T. Harrington (JTH) Forestry Research Center in the northern New Mexico community.
The center is jointly operated by an agreement between the state’s forestry agency and three universities: New Mexico State University, New Mexico Highlands University and the University of New Mexico.
Climate change fueled by burning and extracting fossil fuels is driving hotter weather and more intense fires across the Southwest’s drought-stricken forests. With the absence of trees sprouting, shrubs and grass regrowing is reshaping New Mexico’s ecology.
The state needs far more trees to meet the goals in its 2020 Forest Action Plan, said Matthew Hurteau, a biology professor studying forest responses to climate change at UNM.
Reforestation Center aims to replant trees in northern NM burn scar
“We’re trying to reestablish forests in those burn footprints that are going to be able to cope with the additional changes in climate we’re going to experience in the future,” Hurteau said.
Forests are important lungs which store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, prevent erosion, clean water, and provide habitat for wildlife and native plants, according to the state forestry division.
Wildfires have burned more than 5.45 million acres over the past 20 years. The state’s forestry agency estimates New Mexico would need between 130 million to 390 million seedlings to replant even half the land that burned. Federal agencies sparked two forest fires in 2022, the Cerro Pelado fire and the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon fire.
The seedling site in Mora isn’t expected to fully open until late 2026, said George Ducker, a spokesperson for the New Mexico State Forestry Division.
The program has $8.5 million to spend on land and engineering fees for the new center, which was appropriated by state lawmakers during the 2023 session. The New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department oversees the forestry division.
This year, state forestry officials and the three universities plan to ask lawmakers for an additional $47.5 million for the second phase of the project.
According to a fact sheet from the New Mexico Reforestation Center, the vast majority of the money will be spent on construction of greenhouses to support 1.25 million seedlings.The remainder will be used to pay staff for the next five years.
The U.S. Forest Service will also provide a $10 million-dollar down payment to New Mexico State University to help with construction on the center in Mora, according to a press release.
There are plans to request further funding for construction. The most recent fact sheet for the reforestation center estimates the total project will cost $99 million. The agency will need to request $26 million in the 2025 legislative session and a final $17 million ask in 2026 to meet that funding estimate.
Upon full completion, the center would provide an estimated 5 million seedlings per year to reforest burned areas across the state.
“The space will be designed in such a way that it can be expanded upon in future years, even decades down the road,” Ducker said.
Highlands University estimated the center could generate more than $1.25 billion in economic impact and support more than 400 jobs over the next 30 years, according to a preliminary economic analysis.