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2015

  • By Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board

    Playing tit for tat with an endangered species is not only unproductive; it’s petty. Yet that appears to be what the New Mexico Game Commission did last week when it declined to renew a permit that had been in place for 17 years allowing Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch in the Gila mountains to assist the federal Mexican gray wolf recovery program.

    Ever since the program began in 1998, the Turner ranch has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide pen space for holding endangered wolves being taken from the wild or being reintroduced into the wilderness. Turner raises bison commercially on the 156,000-acre ranch in Sierra County and maintains it as a habitat for endangered and threatened species and for ecotourism.

    Currently, there are just over 100 Mexican gray wolves in the wild – a species that once numbered in the thousands.

    In the past, the Game and Fish director routinely signed off on the Turner permit. However, in November, the commission adopted a rule requiring commission approval for permits to keep wolves and other carnivores on private land for purposes of recovery or reintroduction. It appears to target the wolf program, and last week’s action is likely to hamper its success.

    Mike Phillips, director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, said the commission hasn’t had a problem with the ranch and suggested “they are opposed to the Mexican wolf recovery program as currently constituted.”

    That may relate to a new Fish and Wildlife Service rule that greatly expanded the wolves’ range south to the Mexican border and north to Interstate 40 and broadened areas where wolves bred in captivity could be released. It also gave ranchers, who generally oppose the program, more authority to shoot wolves dead if they prey on livestock or domestic animals.

    Unlike the Bill Richardson administration, which supported the program, Gov. Susana Martinez has not been friendly to it – even though it has been popular with many New Mexicans. A 2008 survey by Research & Polling found 69 percent either strongly supported or somewhat supported the program. In 2011, the governor-appointed Game Commission suspended state participation.

    Landowner rights should not become as endangered as the wolf. Turner should be allowed to use his property as he wishes in cooperation with the federal government, and the commission shouldn’t flex its self-granted power to punish a private landowner to make a statement.

    This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

    CLICK HERE FOR ABQ JOURNAL

  • By Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board

    Playing tit for tat with an endangered species is not only unproductive; it’s petty. Yet that appears to be what the New Mexico Game Commission did last week when it declined to renew a permit that had been in place for 17 years allowing Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch in the Gila mountains to assist the federal Mexican gray wolf recovery program.

    Ever since the program began in 1998, the Turner ranch has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide pen space for holding endangered wolves being taken from the wild or being reintroduced into the wilderness. Turner raises bison commercially on the 156,000-acre ranch in Sierra County and maintains it as a habitat for endangered and threatened species and for ecotourism.

    Currently, there are just over 100 Mexican gray wolves in the wild – a species that once numbered in the thousands.

    In the past, the Game and Fish director routinely signed off on the Turner permit. However, in November, the commission adopted a rule requiring commission approval for permits to keep wolves and other carnivores on private land for purposes of recovery or reintroduction. It appears to target the wolf program, and last week’s action is likely to hamper its success.

    Mike Phillips, director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, said the commission hasn’t had a problem with the ranch and suggested “they are opposed to the Mexican wolf recovery program as currently constituted.”

    That may relate to a new Fish and Wildlife Service rule that greatly expanded the wolves’ range south to the Mexican border and north to Interstate 40 and broadened areas where wolves bred in captivity could be released. It also gave ranchers, who generally oppose the program, more authority to shoot wolves dead if they prey on livestock or domestic animals.

    Unlike the Bill Richardson administration, which supported the program, Gov. Susana Martinez has not been friendly to it – even though it has been popular with many New Mexicans. A 2008 survey by Research & Polling found 69 percent either strongly supported or somewhat supported the program. In 2011, the governor-appointed Game Commission suspended state participation.

    Landowner rights should not become as endangered as the wolf. Turner should be allowed to use his property as he wishes in cooperation with the federal government, and the commission shouldn’t flex its self-granted power to punish a private landowner to make a statement.

    This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

    CLICK HERE FOR ABQ JOURNAL

  • By Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board

    Playing tit for tat with an endangered species is not only unproductive; it’s petty. Yet that appears to be what the New Mexico Game Commission did last week when it declined to renew a permit that had been in place for 17 years allowing Ted Turner’s Ladder Ranch in the Gila mountains to assist the federal Mexican gray wolf recovery program.

    Ever since the program began in 1998, the Turner ranch has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide pen space for holding endangered wolves being taken from the wild or being reintroduced into the wilderness. Turner raises bison commercially on the 156,000-acre ranch in Sierra County and maintains it as a habitat for endangered and threatened species and for ecotourism.

    Currently, there are just over 100 Mexican gray wolves in the wild – a species that once numbered in the thousands.

    In the past, the Game and Fish director routinely signed off on the Turner permit. However, in November, the commission adopted a rule requiring commission approval for permits to keep wolves and other carnivores on private land for purposes of recovery or reintroduction. It appears to target the wolf program, and last week’s action is likely to hamper its success.

    Mike Phillips, director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, said the commission hasn’t had a problem with the ranch and suggested “they are opposed to the Mexican wolf recovery program as currently constituted.”

    That may relate to a new Fish and Wildlife Service rule that greatly expanded the wolves’ range south to the Mexican border and north to Interstate 40 and broadened areas where wolves bred in captivity could be released. It also gave ranchers, who generally oppose the program, more authority to shoot wolves dead if they prey on livestock or domestic animals.

    Unlike the Bill Richardson administration, which supported the program, Gov. Susana Martinez has not been friendly to it – even though it has been popular with many New Mexicans. A 2008 survey by Research & Polling found 69 percent either strongly supported or somewhat supported the program. In 2011, the governor-appointed Game Commission suspended state participation.

    Landowner rights should not become as endangered as the wolf. Turner should be allowed to use his property as he wishes in cooperation with the federal government, and the commission shouldn’t flex its self-granted power to punish a private landowner to make a statement.

    This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

    CLICK HERE FOR ABQ JOURNAL

  • Emily Yehle, E&E reporter

    Mexican wolves will have more room to roam under regulations announced today by the Fish and Wildlife Service that aim to triple the size of the species’s experimental population.

    The rules represent the first major update to the program since 1998. They set up a new framework, increasing the wolf’s boundaries tenfold and “clarifying” when landowners and state officials can kill problematic wolves.

    Federal officials say the rules strike a balance, giving wolves more space while also addressing concerns over their effect on ungulates such as elk and livestock. In a call with reporters this afternoon, FWS Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle described the updated program as a “foundation by which we will construct any recovery plan” for the wolves.

    “I think for the first time, we’re in a position to focus our efforts on the core population, build it up and then let the wolves tell us what they want to do,” Tuggle said.

    But environmental groups accused FWS of accomplishing the opposite, undermining broader recovery goals by setting a too-low population goal and keeping the population out of the Grand Canyon and New Mexico.

    “Allowing Mexican gray wolves to disperse over a broader area is a positive, but that positive is negated by an unfounded population cap and increased authorized killing — neither of which is based in the science that says what’s best for lobos,” Eva Sargent of Defenders of Wildlife said in a statement. “The rule is a classic ‘one step forward, one or two steps back’ and will ultimately hinder the recovery of these iconic and imperiled wolves.”

    The rules set a population goal of 325 wolves. If they exceed that number, Tuggle said the agency may consider whether they are having a negative impact on the ungulate population. If they are, FWS would likely “remove those wolves to captivity.”

    At last count, in 2013, the Mexican wolf population was 83. Thousands once roamed the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, before they were nearly wiped out in the early 1970s.

    Environmental groups say FWS has dragged its feet in drafting a new recovery plan, leaving a 1983 plan in place. They have also urged the agency to first update the recovery plan, then issue the rules for the experimental population (Greenwire, Nov. 25, 2014).

    FWS also announced today that the Mexican wolf will be protected under the Endangered Species Act as a subspecies, which paves the way for a new recovery plan. Tuggle said today it is now “within the sight of getting initiated.”

  • Emily Yehle, E&E reporter

    Mexican wolves will have more room to roam under regulations announced today by the Fish and Wildlife Service that aim to triple the size of the species’s experimental population.

    The rules represent the first major update to the program since 1998. They set up a new framework, increasing the wolf’s boundaries tenfold and “clarifying” when landowners and state officials can kill problematic wolves.

    Federal officials say the rules strike a balance, giving wolves more space while also addressing concerns over their effect on ungulates such as elk and livestock. In a call with reporters this afternoon, FWS Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle described the updated program as a “foundation by which we will construct any recovery plan” for the wolves.

    “I think for the first time, we’re in a position to focus our efforts on the core population, build it up and then let the wolves tell us what they want to do,” Tuggle said.

    But environmental groups accused FWS of accomplishing the opposite, undermining broader recovery goals by setting a too-low population goal and keeping the population out of the Grand Canyon and New Mexico.

    “Allowing Mexican gray wolves to disperse over a broader area is a positive, but that positive is negated by an unfounded population cap and increased authorized killing — neither of which is based in the science that says what’s best for lobos,” Eva Sargent of Defenders of Wildlife said in a statement. “The rule is a classic ‘one step forward, one or two steps back’ and will ultimately hinder the recovery of these iconic and imperiled wolves.”

    The rules set a population goal of 325 wolves. If they exceed that number, Tuggle said the agency may consider whether they are having a negative impact on the ungulate population. If they are, FWS would likely “remove those wolves to captivity.”

    At last count, in 2013, the Mexican wolf population was 83. Thousands once roamed the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, before they were nearly wiped out in the early 1970s.

    Environmental groups say FWS has dragged its feet in drafting a new recovery plan, leaving a 1983 plan in place. They have also urged the agency to first update the recovery plan, then issue the rules for the experimental population (Greenwire, Nov. 25, 2014).

    FWS also announced today that the Mexican wolf will be protected under the Endangered Species Act as a subspecies, which paves the way for a new recovery plan. Tuggle said today it is now “within the sight of getting initiated.”

  • Emily Yehle, E&E reporter

    Mexican wolves will have more room to roam under regulations announced today by the Fish and Wildlife Service that aim to triple the size of the species’s experimental population.

    The rules represent the first major update to the program since 1998. They set up a new framework, increasing the wolf’s boundaries tenfold and “clarifying” when landowners and state officials can kill problematic wolves.

    Federal officials say the rules strike a balance, giving wolves more space while also addressing concerns over their effect on ungulates such as elk and livestock. In a call with reporters this afternoon, FWS Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle described the updated program as a “foundation by which we will construct any recovery plan” for the wolves.

    “I think for the first time, we’re in a position to focus our efforts on the core population, build it up and then let the wolves tell us what they want to do,” Tuggle said.

    But environmental groups accused FWS of accomplishing the opposite, undermining broader recovery goals by setting a too-low population goal and keeping the population out of the Grand Canyon and New Mexico.

    “Allowing Mexican gray wolves to disperse over a broader area is a positive, but that positive is negated by an unfounded population cap and increased authorized killing — neither of which is based in the science that says what’s best for lobos,” Eva Sargent of Defenders of Wildlife said in a statement. “The rule is a classic ‘one step forward, one or two steps back’ and will ultimately hinder the recovery of these iconic and imperiled wolves.”

    The rules set a population goal of 325 wolves. If they exceed that number, Tuggle said the agency may consider whether they are having a negative impact on the ungulate population. If they are, FWS would likely “remove those wolves to captivity.”

    At last count, in 2013, the Mexican wolf population was 83. Thousands once roamed the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, before they were nearly wiped out in the early 1970s.

    Environmental groups say FWS has dragged its feet in drafting a new recovery plan, leaving a 1983 plan in place. They have also urged the agency to first update the recovery plan, then issue the rules for the experimental population (Greenwire, Nov. 25, 2014).

    FWS also announced today that the Mexican wolf will be protected under the Endangered Species Act as a subspecies, which paves the way for a new recovery plan. Tuggle said today it is now “within the sight of getting initiated.”

  • http://www.aroundtheworldineightyyears.com/the-national-monument/

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  • Game panel delays decision on Mexican wolf appeal

     — The New Mexico Game Commission has delayed a decision on an appeal filed by federal officials who are seeking to release endangered Mexican gray wolves as part of recovery efforts in the Southwest.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initially sought three permits, including one to release a pair of wolves and their pups onto federal land in New Mexico and another allowing for up to 10 captive pups to be raised by foster wolves in the wild.
    The requests were denied in June by the state game and fish director.

    The Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional deputy director, Joy Nicholopoulos, told commissioners during a meeting Thursday in Santa Fe that delaying releases could compromise the genetics of the wild population in New Mexico and Arizona.

    The commission is expected to take up the matter again next month.

     

    Expanded NM cougar, bear hunting OK’d

    By
    UPDATED: Thursday, August 27, 2015 at 10:56 pm
    PUBLISHED: Thursday, August 27, 2015 at 1:43 pm
    SANTA FE — The state Game Commission on Thursday unanimously approved expanded hunting of bears and cougars — including cougar trapping on 9 million acres of state lands – over the fierce objections of critics who said the decision was rooted in politics, not science. The vote was followed by an outburst from some opponents in the packed meeting room, with cries of “Shame on you” and “You’re a disgrace” directed at commission members. The new rules, effective in the license year beginning in April 2016, allow a 26 percent increase in the number of bears that can be killed statewide each year by hunters, from 640 to 804. The per-hunter limit for shooting cougars in most areas of the state will double from two to four, although the statewide limit of about 750 will remain. lobo2 dryheatphotography 640x640The requirement to obtain permits to trap cougars on private land will be lifted. And for the first time – at the request of Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn – cougar leg-hold trapping and snaring will be allowed on the trust lands that are managed by the State Land Office. The trapping will be allowed annually from November through March.
     
    The Game and Fish Commission today approved expanding cougar and bear hunting in New Mexico. The Game Commission said in a statement after the voice vote that the changes are “based on sound science and research,” relying on current estimates of population densities, how much habitat is available, and other research data. “The only thing we can truly rely on is the scientific data,” Commissioner Elizabeth Ryan said at the meeting. Ranching, farming and livestock groups endorsed the expanded hunting as a means of predator control, and hunting guides and outfitters backed the new rules as well. “The lion and bear populations, at least in my part of the state, are on the increase,” Ty Bays, a third-generation rancher from Silver City, told the commission. But critics of the new rules – most of the roughly 250 people at the meeting – questioned the validity of the research data the Game Commission relied on. And they said that even if the populations are up – for which they said there is no supportive data in the case of cougars – commissioners hadn’t provided any economic or ecological reasons to justify expanded hunting. “We don’t know how you get from ‘We have more’ … to ‘We need to kill more,’ ” said Kevin Bixby of the Southwest Environmental Center.
     
    Opponents said trapping is cruel and indiscriminate, with the potential of snagging unintended wildlife – including cougar kittens and nursing mothers – as well as humans and their dogs. And they said that although the new bear research data collected by the commission indicate there are more bears than previously thought, there was a 28 percent drop in the number of bears killed by hunters last year, with no accompanying decline in licenses. Members of the commission, who were appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez, said they were inundated with thousands of emails from supporters and opponents of the rules change. Commissioner Bill Montoya said some critics apparently believe the Game Commission and the Department of Game and Fish want to destroy species. “Our intent is not to eliminate any species. … Our intent is to manage, correctly manage, with all the biological information we can put together,” Montoya said.
     
    Opponents of the new rules who rallied before the meeting, however, said the Martinez administration is anti-predator and is catering to the livestock industry while ignoring the wishes of most New Mexicans. The commission “has chosen to blow off the conservation community,” said Dave Parsons, who coordinated the federal Mexican wolf recovery program for nine years. “The New Mexico Game Commission is pathetically political,” Parsons added. Commissioners on Thursday also heard an appeal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the commission’s earlier denial of permits for the federal agency to release more Mexican wolves this year as part of the ongoing recovery program. The commission could vote on the appeal next month. The department said it rejected the permit requests because the federal agency’s 1982 wolf recovery plan has not been updated. But Joy Nicholopoulos told the commission that a revised recovery plan “is not required to continue Mexican wolf recovery efforts in any state, including New Mexico.”
     
    The federal agency will have a new recovery plan by the end of 2017, she said. In the meantime, it’s critical for the health of the wolf population – now at least 110 in Arizona and New Mexico – that genetic diversity be increased by releasing additional wolves from the captive population, she said. That includes a plan for “cross-fostering,” in which wolf pups less than two weeks old are taken from their captive, biological parents and placed in dens of wild wolves to be raised by wild parents. Nicholopoulos also said that if releases are curtailed, the federal Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility – where the wolves are being held – won’t have the pen space to take in problem wolves that have to be removed from the wild.
  • By Ken Cole, Chairperson Mark Allison, Executive Director / New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
    PUBLISHED: Friday, April 17, 2015
    Albuquerque Journal

    On March 26, a feature article about the Gila River diversion project noted that the Interstate Stream Commission “voted last year to pursue a diversion project, although the amount of water realistically available each year, the cost of construction, the cost of the water, who would pay for it and who would use it, remain under debate.” The article says that according to the Bureau of Reclamation, the cost of the project could be up to $1 billion.

    On March 27 the Albuquerque Journal published an article reporting that the California Legislature approved a plan to spend $1 billion on drought-relief efforts. Prior to the approval of the related bills, there was public discussion in the state about the various measures being proposed. It is clear from the legislation that benefits will be widespread in the state and that the details of the many projects are known to the public.

    This contrasts starkly with the secrecy that characterizes the work of the ISC. The ISC has for 10 years or more been studying ways to use the Gila River water consistent with the terms of the 2004 Arizona Water Settlement Act. All it has come up with is the vague plan referred to in the article. The total cost is not clear, and the latest estimates possibly do not include such costs as the engineering, economic, legal and environmental studies that will be needed to get the project ready for bids or the cost increases between now and whenever the project might actually begin.

    New Mexico also needs to take into account the damage to the last free-flowing river in New Mexico that will result from these intensive construction activities. And let’s not forget that even after the expense of constructing the diversion infrastructure, New Mexicans would still have to pay Arizona for the actual water at a premium price. Moreover, we would be able to buy the water only when the river is near peak flow, which is not every year and not for extended periods. Silver City has said it doesn’t even want or need the water.

    What about the need and benefits? This, too, is unclear, and the limited information released by the ISC has been vague. A few years ago some data was shared with the Bureau of Reclamation, and we understand that the informal response was that the proposed diversion makes no sense from an economic standpoint. Let’s insist that serious economists take a look at the costs and benefits of the project, and that the public be provided information needed to evaluate the proposal.

    At a minimum this would include coming up with cost-benefit ratios, financial rate-of-return analysis and sensitivity analysis of the basic data used in the calculations. The Bureau of Reclamation and other federal agencies have basic guidelines to determine the economic viability of public works projects, as no doubt do various New Mexico agencies that deal with public works.

    Let’s also assume that the project will be financed with public funds, in all likelihood bonds or other instruments issued by the state. Much of the payment of the eventual debt and financial charges would come from us … taxpayers from all over the state. We need to ask how else the state of New Mexico could spend $1 billion and how widespread might the benefits be from other forms of investment. Certainly there is potential to benefit people all over the state with big investments in education, health, public security, public works etc. There must be a better way to invest this kind of money than to direct it to a limited number of users in one area of the state.

    “Any drop of water at any cost” is not the way to manage our natural or financial resources.

  • Editorial: Goal now is to get the most from monument

    Las Cruces Sun-News

    POSTED:   05/15/2015 01:00:00 AM MDT

    There was so much bitter debate leading up to the decision, that it seems hard to believe a full year has passed since President Barack Obama used his powers under the Antiquities Act to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument on May 21, 2014.

    The year since then has not brought the calamity monument opponents had warned that it would. The Potrillo Mountains have not been turned into a corridor for illegal drug smuggling. Nor has the year brought us much in terms of tourism growth or enhanced economic development, as had been promised by supporters. Those benefits will come in time, we believe.

    There has been some work done on the monument in the past year. New signs were erected by the Bureau of Land Management to designate the new national monument. But, we won’t fully know about the monument’s impacts and benefits until the BLM completes its land use plan, and that is still expected to be years away.

    In the meantime, a number of celebrations have been planned for next week to mark the monument’s anniversary. This Saturday and Sunday, the BLM will waive day-use fees at Aguirre Spring Campground and all fees, excluding the group site fee, at Dripping Springs Natural Area/La Cueva. The $7 campsite fee will remain in effect.

    Tonight, a celebration will be held at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum with a tribal blessing and the unveiling of the OMDP Achievement badge for Girl Scouts. On Saturday, a hike will be held at the Dripping Springs Natural Area, followed by a big game cookout at the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park. An interfaith service is planned for Sunday at Dripping Springs.

    The Las Cruces City Council is expected to declare today through May 22 as OMDP Celebration Week at its meeting Monday. Other events include a safety talk Tuesday, fiesta at the Mesilla Plaza on Wednesday, art show Thursday at the West End Art Depot and OMDP Monumental Opening Night next Friday for the opening game of the season for the Las Cruces Vaqueros baseball team.

    There will also be a focus throughout the week on the potential economic opportunities the new national monument may bring for local businesses, said Carrie Hamblen of the Green Chamber of Commerce.

    It took a lengthy effort to persuade the president to declare the monument, and the process was often quite contentious. We appreciate that not everybody in our community will be celebrating next week.

    But the monument has been declared. The goal now should be to make the most of it.

  • Editorial: Goal now is to get the most from monument

    Las Cruces Sun-News

    POSTED:   05/15/2015 01:00:00 AM MDT

    There was so much bitter debate leading up to the decision, that it seems hard to believe a full year has passed since President Barack Obama used his powers under the Antiquities Act to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument on May 21, 2014.

    The year since then has not brought the calamity monument opponents had warned that it would. The Potrillo Mountains have not been turned into a corridor for illegal drug smuggling. Nor has the year brought us much in terms of tourism growth or enhanced economic development, as had been promised by supporters. Those benefits will come in time, we believe.

    There has been some work done on the monument in the past year. New signs were erected by the Bureau of Land Management to designate the new national monument. But, we won’t fully know about the monument’s impacts and benefits until the BLM completes its land use plan, and that is still expected to be years away.

    In the meantime, a number of celebrations have been planned for next week to mark the monument’s anniversary. This Saturday and Sunday, the BLM will waive day-use fees at Aguirre Spring Campground and all fees, excluding the group site fee, at Dripping Springs Natural Area/La Cueva. The $7 campsite fee will remain in effect.

    Tonight, a celebration will be held at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum with a tribal blessing and the unveiling of the OMDP Achievement badge for Girl Scouts. On Saturday, a hike will be held at the Dripping Springs Natural Area, followed by a big game cookout at the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park. An interfaith service is planned for Sunday at Dripping Springs.

    The Las Cruces City Council is expected to declare today through May 22 as OMDP Celebration Week at its meeting Monday. Other events include a safety talk Tuesday, fiesta at the Mesilla Plaza on Wednesday, art show Thursday at the West End Art Depot and OMDP Monumental Opening Night next Friday for the opening game of the season for the Las Cruces Vaqueros baseball team.

    There will also be a focus throughout the week on the potential economic opportunities the new national monument may bring for local businesses, said Carrie Hamblen of the Green Chamber of Commerce.

    It took a lengthy effort to persuade the president to declare the monument, and the process was often quite contentious. We appreciate that not everybody in our community will be celebrating next week.

    But the monument has been declared. The goal now should be to make the most of it.

  • Editorial: Goal now is to get the most from monument

    Las Cruces Sun-News

    POSTED:   05/15/2015 01:00:00 AM MDT

    There was so much bitter debate leading up to the decision, that it seems hard to believe a full year has passed since President Barack Obama used his powers under the Antiquities Act to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument on May 21, 2014.

    The year since then has not brought the calamity monument opponents had warned that it would. The Potrillo Mountains have not been turned into a corridor for illegal drug smuggling. Nor has the year brought us much in terms of tourism growth or enhanced economic development, as had been promised by supporters. Those benefits will come in time, we believe.

    There has been some work done on the monument in the past year. New signs were erected by the Bureau of Land Management to designate the new national monument. But, we won’t fully know about the monument’s impacts and benefits until the BLM completes its land use plan, and that is still expected to be years away.

    In the meantime, a number of celebrations have been planned for next week to mark the monument’s anniversary. This Saturday and Sunday, the BLM will waive day-use fees at Aguirre Spring Campground and all fees, excluding the group site fee, at Dripping Springs Natural Area/La Cueva. The $7 campsite fee will remain in effect.

    Tonight, a celebration will be held at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum with a tribal blessing and the unveiling of the OMDP Achievement badge for Girl Scouts. On Saturday, a hike will be held at the Dripping Springs Natural Area, followed by a big game cookout at the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park. An interfaith service is planned for Sunday at Dripping Springs.

    The Las Cruces City Council is expected to declare today through May 22 as OMDP Celebration Week at its meeting Monday. Other events include a safety talk Tuesday, fiesta at the Mesilla Plaza on Wednesday, art show Thursday at the West End Art Depot and OMDP Monumental Opening Night next Friday for the opening game of the season for the Las Cruces Vaqueros baseball team.

    There will also be a focus throughout the week on the potential economic opportunities the new national monument may bring for local businesses, said Carrie Hamblen of the Green Chamber of Commerce.

    It took a lengthy effort to persuade the president to declare the monument, and the process was often quite contentious. We appreciate that not everybody in our community will be celebrating next week.

    But the monument has been declared. The goal now should be to make the most of it.

  • Jennifer Yachnin, E&E reporter
    Published: Monday, February 9, 2015

    CLIFF, N.M. — M.H. Dutch Salmon stood on a recent morning on the Iron Bridge, the distinctive red structure that spans the Gila River here, and recalled his 220-mile journey along the waterway more than three decades ago.At that time, state and federal officials were mulling the construction of the Conner Dam, and Salmon was planning to ride the river in what was expected to be its final years of free-flowing water.

    “The Conner Dam was a sure thing, so I thought, ‘Well, I want to see the river before it’s gone,'” recalled Salmon, who arrived in New Mexico in 1982. He set out with his dog Rojo, added a cat for “comic relief” and later wrote about it in the book “Gila Descending.”

    Salmon, who speaks in a slow and measured tone, jokes now that his trip was “premature.” Within a decade, the Conner Dam project would fall victim to environmental and budgetary worries, and a subsequent effort to create a diversion project on Mangas Creek tributary failed in the 1990s.

    But efforts to claim water from the river continue, and Salmon, who founded the Gila Conservation Coalition in 1984, now finds himself in opposition to the latest effort: a diversion project that by some estimates could cost as much as $1 billion to build and maintain.

    New Mexico’s Interstate Stream Commission (ISC), an executive body appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez (R), voted in November to pursue a new Gila River diversion project aimed at claiming another 14,000 acre-feet of water a year. The proposed diversion would draw water from the river during high flows, store it in canyon reservoirs and pipe it to communities as it’s needed.

    While no guarantee the project will be built — it merely notifies the Interior Department the state intends to proceed with planning — the ISC vote did trigger a provision that will grant the state $62 million in federal funding for the project.

    New Mexico would have lost access to those funds, part of a $128 million pot Congress set aside in 2004, had state officials failed to make a decision before the end of last year.

    But the ISC vote, and discussions leading up to it, exposed sharp divisions in the state, as conservation and sportsmen’s groups citing concerns over the project’s potential environmental impact and price tag run head-on into state officials ready to press forward.

    Project foes note that much of the federal funding now going to studies and consultants’ fees for the diversion could be used for conservation projects, water reuse and infrastructure in four drought-prone counties in southwestern New Mexico.

    Salmon blames the repeated efforts to tap the Gila River on a mindset that sees “water is wasted in the stream” whenever the resource is allotted but not consumed by so-called upstream users.

    “That’s the prevailing attitude, and you’ll hear it at public meetings,” said Salmon, an avid outdoorsman who served on the ISC himself in the mid-1980s and spent six years on the state Game and Fish Commission beginning in 2005. He has also written numerous fiction and nonfiction books about the region, including “Gila Libre! New Mexico’s Last Wild River.”

    Lowering his voice to imitate a growl, he added: “People say, ‘That’s our water.'”

    ‘Discovering gold’

    The latest bid to divert water from the Gila River, which flows west into Arizona, is tied to the Arizona Water Settlements Act, a 2004 federal law aimed at settling water rights disputes along the river.

    The law gave New Mexico the right to pull an average of 14,000 acre-feet of water from the river annually over 10-year periods, although it must ultimately “buy” any water it removes via payments to Arizona.

    For comparison, an acre-foot of water is 326,700 gallons of water, and the average person uses between 80 and 100 gallons of water per day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    New Mexico state Rep. Dianne Miller Hamilton (R), whose 38th District seat includes both Grant and Hidalgo counties in the state’s southwestern corner, is among the proponents of claiming those water rights, seeing billions of gallons of water as a boon to her region.

    “The water is better than oil in our state. It’s like discovering gold,” Hamilton enthused last month during the annual Grant County Prospectors reception in Santa Fe, marking the end of Grant County Day at the state Legislature.

    Like many of the advocates for building a new diversion, Hamilton, who has served in the state House since 1999, believes the state would be remiss not to take advantage of additional water resources.

    “We have so many more people on this Earth than we had before. It’s important to take care of them,” Hamilton said.

    Grant and Luna counties have grown in recent decades. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Grant County, home to Silver City, increased to 29,000 residents in 2013, down from its peak of 32,000 in 1998 but still a 12 percent uptick since 1980.

    Luna County, home to Deming, claimed a much larger increase from 1980 to 2013, growing from 16,000 residents to nearly 25,000 in that time, but also down from its 2009 peak of 27,000.

    That kind of steady growth is a key factor for the Gila San Francisco Water Commission, the authority for irrigation and municipal water interests, which has likewise backed a new diversion.

    Commission Chairman Anthony Gutierrez didn’t return an interview request for this article, but he has publicly endorsed the project as an investment in the region’s future.

    “If we need water 30 to 50 years from now, what would that cost be at that time?” Gutierrez said at a commission meeting early last year, according to the Silver City Sun-News. “It could be multiplied by millions, billions even.”

    Gutierrez also disputed criticism that his agency — which is vying to become the official entity charged with recommending a final plan and serving as the contact for a series of federal studies — has not considered alternatives to a new diversion project, such as reuse and conservation efforts.

    “We’ve always been a proponent of conservation projects,” he said. “People think of us as the bad guys up here, but we’ve never not supported conservation.”

    At a recent Santa Fe forum on drought sponsored by the Western Governors’ Association, ISC acting Director Amy Haas suggested efforts to focus on conservation rather than pursuing the water it is permitted to take could actually prove more difficult for the state — although she later clarified her remarks to say such efforts were “not incompatible at all.”

    “In my opinion, conservation necessarily means reducing consumptive use, and if you are an upstream state on a compacted river, that can be problematic,” Haas said. “Because it affects, ultimately, if you’ve got an interstate stream compact that has a delivery requirement attached to it and you are conserving water and reducing consumptive uses in your state, I think that return flows may be affected or mainly those deliveries that you might otherwise make to downstream states.”

    She added, “It’s something that we need to be really thoughtful about. Conservation may have these benefits, but we also again need to think regionally about it.”

    Big price tag

    Opponents of the diversion argue there are a host of factors state officials have brushed aside as they press ahead on plans for a diversion: primary concerns about the project’s costs and funding, as well as whether it will yield any water at all.

    “My concern all along — whether it was free-flowing, partial diversion or full diversion — is questions aren’t being answered about the budget and how it’s going to be paid for,” state Sen. Howie Morales (D) told Greenwire after the Grant County Prospectors event.

    Although federal sources could contribute up to $128 million for the project — about half of which is designated specifically for diversion, while the rest can be used for a range of water-related infrastructure, conservation or other plans — Haas said current estimates put the total cost of building the diversion at $600 million. Opponents argue maintenance and payments to Arizona will bump that figure as high as $1 billion.

    In remarks at the governors’ association forum in Santa Fe, Haas acknowledged the funding gap could be a challenge, stating that it will likely require “creative solutions” to pursue the development such as “private-public partnerships.” Haas later said such partnerships are being discussed by the Gila San Francisco Water Commission, directing questions about those plans to the commission.

    Given the project’s long timeline — a “horizon” Haas put at 10 to 15 years — she said finding funding sources should not be impossible: “We’re talking about yeas and years and years before ground will be broken on any sort of development on this water.”

    But Morales expressed concern that the project could ultimately represent a “huge tax increase” for residents in his region.

    According to a 2014 study published by Western Resource Advocates, costs for the diversion could increase water bills in the region from an average of $200 per year to more than $670 per year.

    In his interview, Morales acknowledged that with a Republican governor and a divided state Legislature — Republicans won control of the House for the first time in decades in November, while Democrats control the Senate — attempts to block the project via legislation could be difficult.

    “We need to be realistic as far as the political landscape,” he said, adding that he wants to avoid seeing the existing federal funds go to legal fees and court battles over the project.

    Morales introduced a bill this week that would mandate that at least $77 million of the federal funds be used by the state for “nondiversion alternatives” such as forest and watershed restoration, municipal and agricultural conservation, and infrastructure improvements.

    In an interview in his office at the Roundhouse, as New Mexico’s Capitol building is known for its distinctive shape, state Sen. Peter Wirth (D) voiced similar skepticism about the diversion’s costs.

    “The price tag has just skyrocketed. Just in the past year, the number has gone from $300 [million] to $500 [million] to $1 billion,” lamented Wirth, who is chairman of the Senate Conservation Committee. “The big issue moving forward is and will continue to be, where’s the money going to come from to build the diversion, and is the project viable from an engineering perspective?”

    Wirth later added, “If the request is to spend hundreds of millions, potentially $1 billion in state taxpayer money for 7,500 acre-feet [annually], that should cause every state legislator to pause.”

    Late last month, Wirth said he was still deciding what legislation to introduce this session but noted his options included a bill to require the ISC to check back with the Legislature as it proceeds with steps like selecting a local water authority and engaging in federal surveys.

    Similarly, state Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D) introduced a bill last week that would require the ISC to provide a report on the “financial viability” of the diversion before the local water authority can enter any agreements with the Interior Department.

    How much water?

    Debate over the diversion has also leaked into an ongoing discussion about how New Mexico’s state commissions and boards are appointed.

    State lawmakers also plan to take aim at the ISC, said Wirth, who this week introduced legislation to restructure the commission, providing for half of the eight-member panel to be appointed by the governor while the New Mexico legislative commission would appoint the other four members. Currently, the governor appoints all members of the panel.

    “The tension is between the Legislature and the executive branch,” Wirth said last month. “I think we need to look at the structure of the ISC itself.”

    In addition to questions of cash flow, debate over how much water the project will ultimately generate also remains a major point of contention for opponents of the project.

    In a scathing report published in July, former ISC Chairman Norm Gaume slammed his modern-day successors over a “flawed and deceptive planning process.”

    “The ISC’s public statements deceptively describe the project as if it would yield the authorized 14,000 acre-feet per year on average of consumptive use,” Gaume wrote. “It won’t.”

    At a November meeting in Albuquerque, ISC officials acknowledged the actual yield would likely be lower because of issues like evaporation and seepage. An ISC aide reported the expected yield is between 6,000 and 8,000 acre-feet annually, the Albuquerque Journal reported at the time.

    Audubon New Mexico freshwater program manager Sharon Wirth explained that based on historical flow records of recent decades, the river’s flows would not be high enough to divert at all in some years.

    “Half of the time, there’s no diversions occurring at all,” said Wirth, who is a distant relative of the state senator.

    Wirth also said plans for a series of small reservoirs are flawed, citing ISC data showing that the diversion would likely face significant losses not only from evaporation but also via seepage: “Even if all things worked perfectly … they’d lose about 50 percent of the water to leakage,” she said.

    In his report, Gaume also points to likely issues with sediment and other debris that occur in the river following forest fires or floods, the period when the river would be available for diversion.

    Gaume’s criticisms also extended to the state court, where he sued the ISC in October over allegations that it had violated the state’s open meetings laws on its discussions about the Gila River.

    Although Gaume received a temporary restraining order to stop the ISC from issuing its decision on the diversion, a judge dissolved that order in November, allowing the commission to move forward.

    The case is scheduled to go to trial in April, but last month the ISC filed a countersuit against Gaume. The agency argues Gaume should pay damages because he brought his suit in order to prevent the ISC from meeting its December deadline.

    Gaume did not return a telephone call for this article but told the Albuquerque Journal last week that the American Civil Liberties Union will represent him in the case. “Their response to that is to try to intimidate me. I think that that’s the kind of behavior that a citizen needs to stand up against.”

    Next steps

    In the next year, state officials must approve a local entity to oversee the project known as a New Mexico Central Arizona Project entity — the Gila San Francisco Water Commission is a likely candidate — and the proposal must also undergo a series of federal studies that will stretch over five years, including a National Environmental Policy Act review.

    Recalling the failures of earlier projects that faced difficulties over the Endangered Species Act as well as budgetary issues, Salmon said he believes that long window could magnify similar problems in the newest iteration: “The whole program could unravel in the next year or two; that’s my hope.”

    But many opponents of the diversion project see another hope: the governor herself.

    Martinez has remained all but silent on the subject — while the ISC serves at the governor’s behest, she has made no public comments on the diversion — and her office did not return a request for comment. Martinez was scheduled to speak at last month’s WGA drought forum but canceled her appearance due to an illness.

    According to Audubon New Mexico’s Wirth, the governor has been inundated with nearly 22,000 appeals, the number of signatures on a variety of petitions to date, to put an end to the project and focus on alternatives.

    The New Mexico Wildlife Federation has likewise run a series of online ads on state media websites targeting the governor and focused on how the project will be funded.

    “We’re not saying don’t dam it and don’t do anything because it’s a pristine place that shouldn’t be touched,” said New Mexico Wildlife Federation Conservation Director Michelle Briscoe. “We’re saying put the $80 million into some legitimate infrastructure.”

    She later added, “But the clock is ticking, and they are hemorrhaging money that could be used on this.”

  • By Nick Streit, Toby Basil, and Rafael Gomez, Jr. For The Hill

    A sportsman, veteran and tribal council member walk into a national monument.

    The sportsman looks around and says, “I bet this is a great place to hunt.”

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    The veteran looks around and says, “I would love to come here and reconnect with my family and friends.”
    The tribal council member looks around and says, “I would love to bring my grandchildren here to see our native lands and waters.”

    While we all come from different places with diverse backgrounds, we all have something in common: We want to safeguard our cultural, historical, and natural treasures for future generations to enjoy. As our country celebrates the 109th anniversary of the Antiquities Act this month, we are telling our stories because each of us has a unique and special bond to a national monument created through the Antiquities Act.

    But the sad truth is that a time-honored tradition of setting aside public land for its natural or cultural significance is under attack in Congress.

    As a business owner and sportsman in northern New Mexico, I – Nick Streit – value national monuments for the quality wildlife habitat they protect and the tourism and recreation dollars that they bring to my community. The Río Grande del Norte National Monument is prime wildlife habitat for bears, cougars, elk, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep. But let’s not forget the fish, and big fish, to boot. That is my bread and butter. The waters of the Rio Grande are home to wild brown, rainbow and Rio Grande cutthroat trout – an angler’s paradise. Luckily for me and the thousands of small business owners who depend on protected public lands, national monuments are proven economic drivers for local communities.

    Being a veteran, I – Toby Basil – view national monuments as place to find strength and resilience. Places like Pullman National Monument in Chicago connect us to our national past and future. It tells a story about who we are as a nation, how far we’ve come, and where we can go from here. As someone who fought for our country, I feel strongly about what makes America great, and our conservation ethic is a big part of that. Preserving our shared natural and cultural heritage is patriotism and democracy at its best. Our service does not end when we come home, which is why I fought to protect Pullman for future generations to enjoy. I am proud to stand up for the Antiquities Act and fight for places like Pullman in Illinois, Browns Canyon in Colorado, and Fort Monroe in Virginia.

    As a tribal council member of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in West Texas, I – Rafael Gomez, Jr. – can tell you that many tribes have a special love for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument and are humbled by its natural and cultural gifts. Our new national monument recently marked its one-year anniversary, but its role in Native American history extends well beyond that. This is where our Pueblo ancestors walked, and raised their families, and these sacred lands are critical for our future. That is why our community of sportsmen and ranchers, small business owners and elected officials, and Native Americans and Latino groups came together to make sure that this special place was conserved for future generations.

    It does not matter that we are from New Mexico, Texas, or Illinois. The work to safeguard the places we love – be it through legislation or the Antiquities Act — has always started with us, an engaged citizenry.

    But recently some members of Congress have introduced proposals that would undermine the Antiquities Act. This goes against what our communities want and worked for, and would silence our voices. National monuments are designated to preserve our public lands so that every American can benefit from their protection. As a nation, we should not be abdicating our responsibility to act in the best interests of our country by allowing state and local officials to veto decisions to protect places that matter to entire cultures and our nation as a whole.

    Whether we walk into Río Grande del Norte, Pullman, or Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monuments, we know these are special places that belong to all us. Likewise, local communities are asking Congress and the President to set aside places like Basin and Range in Nevada, Boulder-White Clouds in Idaho, and the Birthplace of Rivers in West Virginia.

    So for us, this really isn’t a joke. The sportsman, veteran and tribal council member would simply end their story by saying, “Thank God these monuments are protected. Let’s leave the Antiquities Act alone.”

    Streit owns Taos Fly Shop in Taos and The Reel Life in Santa Fe New Mexico. Basil is a veteran from Springfield, Illinois. Gomez is a Tribal Council member of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in West Texas.

    CLICK HERE FOR BLOG

  • For Immediate Release
    March 5, 2015

    NM Wilderness Alliance turns attention to legislation that would oppose new wilderness around the Pecos

    Albuquerque—March 5, 2015—NM HB 291 sailed through its first committee two weeks ago, but a strong push from the conservation community helped table this bill on Monday.

    Conservationists were heard loud and clear by the New Mexico House Judiciary Committee, who Monday voted 8-4 to table HB 291, which would have created a study commission to look into the transfer of public lands to the state.

    Now, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) turns its attention to Senate Memorial 40, which opposes any new wilderness in the Pecos. The organization also contests HB 457, which would make oil and gas New Mexico’s official state resource. Both Senate Memorial 40 and HB 457 will be heard in committee Friday, March 6.

    On Monday before the vote, NM Wild’s members from across the state rallied to send hundreds of messages to members of the committee saying that this legislation was a bad idea.

    “Because of our members efforts in calling and e-mailing representatives, the bill was voted down by both political parties, and was a win for New Mexico and the rest of the country,” said Mark Allison, executive director of NM Wild.

    Aside from being unconstitutional, HB 291 was unnecessary and unwanted by New Mexicans.

    “Had this bill been passed, New Mexico would have spent years wasting valuable time and resources pursuing an idea which would undoubtedly be litigated relentlessly by both sides, and which would, in the end, be ruled unconstitutional by a Federal court,” said NM Wild Staff Attorney Judy Calman.

    ###
    The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) is a non-profit 501(C)(3), grassroots, environmental organization dedicated to the protection, restoration, and continued enjoyment of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. The primary goal of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is to ensure the protection and restoration of all remaining wild lands in New Mexico through administrative designations, federal Wilderness designation, and ongoing stewardship.

  • For Immediate Release

    NM Wilderness Alliance turns attention to legislation that would oppose new wilderness around the Pecos

    Albuquerque—March 5, 2015—NM HB 291 sailed through its first committee two weeks ago, but a strong push from the conservation community helped table this bill on Monday.

    Conservationists were heard loud and clear by the New Mexico House Judiciary Committee, who Monday voted 8-4 to table HB 291, which would have created a study commission to look into the transfer of public lands to the state.

    Now, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) turns its attention to Senate Memorial 40, which opposes any new wilderness in the Pecos. The organization also contests HB 457, which would make oil and gas New Mexico’s official state resource. Both Senate Memorial 40 and HB 457 will be heard in committee Friday, March 6. 

    On Monday before the vote, NM Wild’s members from across the state rallied to send hundreds of messages to members of the committee saying that this legislation was a bad idea.

    “Because of our members efforts in calling and e-mailing representatives, the bill was voted down by both political parties, and was a win for New Mexico and the rest of the country,” said Mark Allison, executive director of NM Wild.

    Aside from being unconstitutional, HB 291 was unnecessary and unwanted by New Mexicans.

    “Had this bill been passed, New Mexico would have spent years wasting valuable time and resources pursuing an idea which would undoubtedly be litigated relentlessly by both sides, and which would, in the end, be ruled unconstitutional by a Federal court,” said NM Wild Staff Attorney Judy Calman.

    ###
    The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) is a non-profit 501(C)(3), grassroots, environmental organization dedicated to the protection, restoration, and continued enjoyment of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. The primary goal of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is to ensure the protection and restoration of all remaining wild lands in New Mexico through administrative designations, federal Wilderness designation, and ongoing stewardship.

  • By Alison Oatman

    Imagine a swath of land swarming with biodiversity and untouched by modern civilization. A place where people can go “unplugged” to contemplate life far away from their multiple electronic gadgets and hectic schedules. A powerful example for young students who have grown up divorced from nature. A necessary source of clean water and a protected home for many species of plants and animals.

    Now picture 958,751 acres of public land protected in its pristine state in New Mexico alone. The state of New Mexico has 57 Bureau of Land Management-managed Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs). Two groundbreaking laws determined the criteria for a plot of land to be deemed an official WSA: the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. These laws insisted that the area of public land must be at least 5,000 acres, that it be as pure from human touch as possible, and that it offer opportunities for solo and group recreation that do not disturb the area (everything from hiking and photography to canoeing and bird watching).

    Because the WSAs will not be included in National Wilderness Preservation System until the United States Congress passes wilderness legislation, it takes a delicate balance to maintain the unspoiled areas so that they will be determined worthy of further protection when Congress acts. So please leave your SUVs and mountain bikes at home. It is vital that these public lands remain preserved in their natural state for both present and future generations.

  • Click here for PDF: Wolf Advisory Letter

    Wolf Advisory Letter Page 14

    Wolf Advisory Letter Page 22

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