The Western New Mexico University (WNMU) Division of External Affairs was awarded a $5 million five-year grant project that plans, designs, plants, and maintains a set of urban forests across southwestern New Mexico. The project supports expanded and ecologically sound urban forests in the communities of Silver City, Santa Clara, Bayard, Hurley, Deming, and Lordsburg.
“We are pleased to help support the fulfillment of WNMU President Dr. Joseph Shepard’s vision of 1,000 trees planted in the region through a grant-funded project that simultaneously supports our Provost Dr. William Crocker’s focus on offering accelerated, competency-based degrees that fast-track students to in-demand and higher-paying jobs regionally and beyond,” says Dr. Magdaleno Manzanárez, Vice President for External Affairs.
“This is a critical breakthrough step for WNMU and our efforts to offer experiential learning opportunities that lead to immediate jobs connected to our environment that open up pathways to science, technology, entrepreneurship, and sustainability,” says S. Otto Khera, Director of Grants and Rural Initiative and organizer of the project. Together with Marivel Medel who is Program Manager within External Affairs, Khera is committed to the region’s workforce and economic development through external funding. Together, Khera and Medel have competitively garnered over $8 million in grants and external funding over the past year.
According to Medel who co-leads the WNMU Con Ganas/Title V (Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions) project, “We are eager to work with all the communities served by this project to offer ecologically appropriate urban forests that help boost economic development. According to our research, a hands-on higher-education program such as in arboriculture, as defined in this project, is something that our high-school learners are seeking, and it ties into our dual enrollment strategies.”
The $5 million “Rural Southwest New Mexico Integrated Urban Forestry Project” includes the Gila Resources and Information Project (GRIP) as critical community partner. Led by Allyson Siwik, GRIP partners with the Town of Silver City, businesses, and community organizations in implementing improvements to tree removal and pruning, erosion control, water harvesting, tree planting and maintenance. Its team of experts are implementing two NM Environment Department-funded River Stewardship projects within the Silver City town limits to reduce riparian fire risk and to improve water quality and wildlife habitat.