Lincoln National Forest Overview
The Lincoln National Forest spans approximately 1.1 million acres across three ranger districts in south-central New Mexico – the Sacramento District east of Alamogordo, the Smokey Bear District stretching north from Ruidoso, and the Guadalupe District west of Carlsbad. It is home to the 47,061 acre White Mountain Wilderness and the 35,067 acre Capitan Mountains Wilderness as well as the 21,000 acre Guadalupe Escarpment Wilderness Study Area (WSA) and 158,000 acres of Inventoried Roadless Areas. The Lincoln boasts a unique collection of landscapes and habitat - both above and below ground - from high alpine terrain in the Sierra Blanca Range to limestone caves in the Guadalupe Mountains. It was also home to the original Smokey the Bear - a bear cub rescued from a fire in the Capitan Mountains in 1950.
Lincoln National Forest Plan Revision
The Forest Plan guides management of all lands managed by the Lincoln National Forest over the next 15 to 20 years, so it’s important to get it right. Public input is an integral part of ensuring the new plan meets the needs of local communities and all Americans.
The Lincoln National Forest (LNF) began their plan revision process in Summer of 2015 with the “Assessment” phase of Forest Planning. (Go to the LNF planning homepage here). This phase includes data gathering, analysis, creation, review and release of a ‘need for change’ document, and public meetings throughout each step of the process. The Forest is currently undergoing the analysis portion of the assessment that will inform the ‘need for change’. The initial data gathering for this phase included a public comment period which ended on July 31, 2016. Comments submitted before this deadline will be used to inform the need for change document. Comments submitted after will still be considered in the planning process.
The initial plan revision timeline has a final plan revision scheduled for Fall of 2019 (see timeline here). It is important to note that these timelines often change. We will attempt to keep updated information on LNF planning timelines here, but you can also sign up to receive newsletter updates from the Lincoln National Forest planning team to stay abreast on changes and deadlines.
Guadalupe Escarpment WSA
The Guadalupe Escarpment WSA spans approximately 21,000 acres on the southern end of the Guadalupe District along the Texas – New Mexico border, but is just a portion of a much larger interstate and interagency wildlands complex. The terrain here is unique with serpentine canyons cutting through layers of sedimentary rock that once formed an ancient barrier reef. To the south lies Guadalupe Mountains National Park and the Guadalupe Mountains Wilderness. To the east, the WSA shares a boundary with Carlsbad Caverns National Park and the Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness.
Permanent protection of this wilderness study area as designated wilderness would effectively link the Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness with the Guadalupe Mountains Wilderness, creating almost 100,000 acres of contiguous permanently protected land. Several BLM wilderness study areas bordering this WSA and/or the Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness further contribute to this large swath of potential wilderness lands. Together, these two wilderness areas and five wilderness study areas – spanning National Park Service, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management lands – create a 132,000 acres of wild lands in Texas and New Mexico. As the Permian Basin continues to be developed for oil and gas, permanent protection of these last remaining wild lands is of critical importance.
Wilderness Inventory and Inventoried Roadless Areas
The last roadless area assessment, completed in 2001, documented 158,000 acres of Inventoried Roadless Areas on the LNF. The USDA Forest Service defines Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRA) as, “undeveloped areas typically exceeding 5,000 acres that met the minimum criteria for wilderness consideration under the Wilderness Act and that were inventoried during the Forest Service’s Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE II) process, subsequent assessments, or forest planning.” Under the 2001 Roadless Rule, IRAs are protected from heavy logging and construction of new roads under all but rare circumstances, in order to preserve their roadless and undeveloped character.
With completion of new planning guidelines in 2012, a required part of the forest plan revision process is to document any areas that meet the criteria for wilderness under the Wilderness Act. The agency is required to document these areas but is not required to recommend them for wilderness designation. Once identified, each area will undergo a thorough evaluation to determine whether it is a candidate for designation as wilderness. The agency can recommend wilderness designation, but only Congress can designate wilderness. Wilderness inventoried areas that are not recommended for wilderness designation may still receive protective management by the agency, but this is not a guarantee.
Need for a Strong Public Voice
A strong public voice for protection of wilderness-quality lands and other important areas will be needed as this planning process continues. To stay tuned on action opportunities and other events, add your name to our Lincoln National Forest Action List.