NMW Logo 20th CMYK tight crop

2013

  • FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Date: February 12, 2013

    Contact: Allyson Siwik, Executive Director
    Gila Conservation Coalition
    575.538.8078 office; 575.590.7619 cell
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; www.gilaconservation.org

    Response to Senate Finance Committee and Senate Conservation Committee Press Conference on Water Legislation

    Silver City, NM – The Chair of the Senate Conservation Committee, Senator Peter Wirth, and the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator John Arthur Smith, held a press conference this morning at the Roundhouse on water issues and current related legislation that include controversial proposals like piping Gila River water across the Continental Divide to Las Cruces and perhaps even on to Texas.

    “Water issues pose significant challenges for the state of New Mexico,” stated Gila Conservation Coalition Chairman, M.H. “Dutch” Salmon. “However, we can’t sacrifice healthy rivers that contribute to New Mexico’s significant outdoor recreation economy (47,000 jobs and $3.8 billion annually) for speculative growth that would destroy places that New Mexicans love.”

    “In the case of the Gila, New Mexico’s last free flowing river, there are responsible, cost-effective non-diversion alternatives that secure southwest New Mexico’s water future. We can have jobs and healthy rivers here on the Gila River,” said Salmon.

    “Piping Gila River water to the Rio Grande or even on to Texas as proposed by Senator John Arthur Smith in his $25 million capital outlay request is the latest example in ongoing attempts statewide to raid water from rural areas to quench the insatiable thirst of unsustainable urban growth and inefficient agriculture. Draining the Gila River to keep Texas happy just adds insult to injury,” Salmon added. “Moreover, these large-scale water transfers from rural to urban areas don’t serve or mitigate urban growth, they create it.”

    The Gila River is the last major free-flowing river in New Mexico. Riparian ecosystems comprise less than 1% of New Mexico’s arid landscape, and the Gila’s natural cycle of flows supports outstanding examples of southwest riparian forest, more than 300 species of birds, cold-water sport fisheries, intact native fish communities and a remarkable abundance of wildlife. The Gila provides significant economic value to the region with superb opportunities for outdoor recreation, nature-based specialty travel and wilderness experience.

    The Gila is under threat from a proposal to divert 14,000 acre-feet per year of water, enough to satisfy the needs of a city the size of Las Cruces.

    More information:

    Background on Senator John Arthur Smith’s $25 million capital outlay can be found at www.gilaconservation.org

    Costs of a Gila River Diversion Project 

    Solutions to Southwest New Mexico’s Long-term Water Needs

    The Active Outdoor Economy in New Mexico

  • The Taos News 

    February 19, 2013

    Federal legislation to create the Río Grande del Norte National Conservation Area has been reintroduced after efforts to protect the area through Congressional and presidential action failed last year.

    According to a news release from New Mexico’s Congressional Delegation, Sens. Tom Udall, D-NM, and Martin Heinrich, D-NM, and Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, introduced legislation in the U.S. House and Senate to permanently protect the 240,000-acre area in Taos and Río Arriba counties.

    Former Sen. Jeff Bingaman led the effort to create the Conservation Area for several years before retiring at the end of 2012.

    He and others called for President Obama to create a National Monument to protect the area after legislation stalled last year.

    “Some of Northern New Mexico’s most historically and culturally rich treasures can be found in these areas,” Udall is quoted as saying in the release. “The residents of Taos and Rio Arriba counties have joined us in an effort to protect their incredible landscapes and ensure the lands remain accessible for the benefit of locals and visitors. I was proud to take up this initiative with Jeff Bingaman and we will work to see that the preservation of the Río Grande del Norte is part of his lasting legacy.”

    The land is currently under the purview of the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

    The text of the newly introduced legislation was not available from the Library of Congress prior to publication. However, previous bills called for the establishment of wilderness areas around Ute Mountain and San Antonio Mountain, and the creation of a National Conservation Area along the Río Grande Gorge.

    Legislation has also called for traditional land uses, such as grazing, to be allowed to continue, garnering support from ranchers, land grant heirs and other groups.
    Proponents of the move frequently tout the public’s “overwhelming support,” according to the delegation’s release, listing among its backers the Taos County Commission, village of Questa, Taos County Chamber of Commerce, area businesses and others.

    Protecting this land should be a top priority, and Secretary Salazar’s visit to Taos in December of last year reinforced that there is overwhelming support by the local community to do so,”Luján is quoted as saying.

    A joint release from the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers praises the action.

    “Our congressional leaders’ commitment to sportsmen and Northern New Mexico is without question,” Max Trujillo, sportsman organizer for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, is quoted as saying. “This proposal has overwhelming local support but unfortunately has been tied up in a Congress that had no interest in protecting public lands.”

    Garrett VeneKlasen, director of the Southwest Region of Trout Unlimited, also said protecting the Río Grande del Norte area is a top priority.

    “We support this legislation, and our representatives introduced it because it is the result of years of work by local stakeholders,” he is quoted as saying in the release. “We are pleased to see a strong show of support from New Mexico’s congressional delegation and eagerly await action. We as a diverse community have come together, we’ve done our homework, and have come up with a plan to keep this hunting and fishing paradise as it is now.”

    Udall and Heinrich have also reintroduced legislation to make the Valles Caldera National Preserve a National Park.

    For more information about the Río Grande del Norte, visit www.riograndedelnorte.org.

  • The Taos News 

    February 19, 2013

    Federal legislation to create the Río Grande del Norte National Conservation Area has been reintroduced after efforts to protect the area through Congressional and presidential action failed last year.

    According to a news release from New Mexico’s Congressional Delegation, Sens. Tom Udall, D-NM, and Martin Heinrich, D-NM, and Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, introduced legislation in the U.S. House and Senate to permanently protect the 240,000-acre area in Taos and Río Arriba counties.

    Former Sen. Jeff Bingaman led the effort to create the Conservation Area for several years before retiring at the end of 2012.

    He and others called for President Obama to create a National Monument to protect the area after legislation stalled last year.

    “Some of Northern New Mexico’s most historically and culturally rich treasures can be found in these areas,” Udall is quoted as saying in the release. “The residents of Taos and Rio Arriba counties have joined us in an effort to protect their incredible landscapes and ensure the lands remain accessible for the benefit of locals and visitors. I was proud to take up this initiative with Jeff Bingaman and we will work to see that the preservation of the Río Grande del Norte is part of his lasting legacy.”

    The land is currently under the purview of the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

    The text of the newly introduced legislation was not available from the Library of Congress prior to publication. However, previous bills called for the establishment of wilderness areas around Ute Mountain and San Antonio Mountain, and the creation of a National Conservation Area along the Río Grande Gorge.

    Legislation has also called for traditional land uses, such as grazing, to be allowed to continue, garnering support from ranchers, land grant heirs and other groups.
    Proponents of the move frequently tout the public’s “overwhelming support,” according to the delegation’s release, listing among its backers the Taos County Commission, village of Questa, Taos County Chamber of Commerce, area businesses and others.

    Protecting this land should be a top priority, and Secretary Salazar’s visit to Taos in December of last year reinforced that there is overwhelming support by the local community to do so,”Luján is quoted as saying.

    A joint release from the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers praises the action.

    “Our congressional leaders’ commitment to sportsmen and Northern New Mexico is without question,” Max Trujillo, sportsman organizer for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, is quoted as saying. “This proposal has overwhelming local support but unfortunately has been tied up in a Congress that had no interest in protecting public lands.”

    Garrett VeneKlasen, director of the Southwest Region of Trout Unlimited, also said protecting the Río Grande del Norte area is a top priority.

    “We support this legislation, and our representatives introduced it because it is the result of years of work by local stakeholders,” he is quoted as saying in the release. “We are pleased to see a strong show of support from New Mexico’s congressional delegation and eagerly await action. We as a diverse community have come together, we’ve done our homework, and have come up with a plan to keep this hunting and fishing paradise as it is now.”

    Udall and Heinrich have also reintroduced legislation to make the Valles Caldera National Preserve a National Park.

    For more information about the Río Grande del Norte, visit www.riograndedelnorte.org.

  • Phil Taylor, E&E reporter

    With months of speculation ended over whether Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will stay for President Obama’s second term, the former Colorado senator must now decide which of many policy initiatives he wants to finish before he leaves in March.

    There is no shortage of high-profile decisions Salazar could make in the coming months, ranging from a final rule governing hydraulic fracturing to the designation of national monuments on scenic lands throughout the West.

    The Colorado native yesterday announced that he intends to leave the agency by the end of March to return to his family, though his exact departure date is unknown (Greenwire, Jan. 16).

    Although Salazar, 57, did not discuss his next steps, speculation was rampant over whether — and where — he might land in the private sector, and whether he plans to re-enter politics (Greenwire, Jan. 16). His future political ambitions, if he has any, could inform the decisions he makes in the coming months.

    Some observers expect Salazar to use his final months in office to burnish his conservation legacy.

    He is expected to sign a record of decision greatly expanding protections for wildlife and subsistence hunting in Alaska’s 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve.

    Salazar unveiled the final proposal in December, promising that it would protect significant caribou herds, migratory bird habitat and sensitive coastal resources, while allowing the future construction of an oil pipeline from the Chukchi Sea, a key priority for oil and gas interests.

    Bud Cribley, the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska state director, was scheduled to visit Alaska Native communities on the North Slope this month to discuss the final contours of the plan.

    Also in Alaska, it’s possible Salazar will oversee the release of a final conservation plan for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In August 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service preliminarily recommended expanding wilderness protections in the oil-rich coastal plain, a decision that the state’s oil backers condemned.

    While largely symbolic — only Congress can declare wilderness, which essential forbids oil and gas development — an affirmative recommendation on the coastal plain would be a major victory for environmentalists because it would mark the first time Interior has ruled that the area is deserving of wilderness protections.

    “Over the next two months, we are hopeful that Secretary Salazar will leave a legacy that includes conservation of Alaska’s wild lands,” said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “Both of these plans have received significant public support with nearly 1.5 million comments.”

    Neither of those decisions would endear Salazar to Alaska lawmakers, who have fought hard to ensure both NPR-A and ANWR are opened for drilling.

    National monuments, oil shale

    While both plans would be temporary — lasting about 15 years — Salazar may also seek permanent protections through the designation of national monuments, which could only be undone by Congress.

    Such designations are the prerogative of the president, but Salazar may pressure the White House to designate a national monument in a rugged river canyon in northern New Mexico or on BLM-managed islands off the coast of Washington state, among other locales.

    Such moves, perhaps more than any others, would burnish Salazar’s conservation legacy in the minds of environmentalists — at the risk of inflaming some Western Republicans.

    Conservationists are also hopeful Salazar will follow through on a legal settlement requiring him to issue a revised rule governing royalty rates for oil shale, a political flashpoint in Salazar’s home state.

    The oil shale settlement, struck in early 2011 with a coalition of green groups, gave Interior until last May to re-evaluate a George W. Bush administration royalty rate that was set intentionally low to entice investments.

    Plaintiffs thus far have been flexible about the timing of its release — it has been under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget for several months — but that may change in light of Salazar’s departure.

    “Secretary Salazar should be commended for restoring order to a flawed oil shale program,” said David Abelson, an oil shale policy adviser for Western Resource Advocates in Boulder, Colo., and one of the plaintiffs. “His work, though, is unfinished, and it remains imperative that he release the revised draft commercial leasing regulations before he leaves office to remove the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over the program.”

    Salazar has long been a skeptic of oil shale, which, unlike shale oil, has yet to be commercially developed and currently requires vast amounts of water and heat to turn into marketable crude. Salazar would be expected to take a more pro-conservation approach to royalties than any successor.

    There is little doubt that Salazar will seek to advance more renewable energy projects in the Southwest and perhaps in the Atlantic Ocean before he leaves office. An announcement advancing a project to site solar panels on previously degraded lands in Arizona is expected as soon as tomorrow, and more records of decision authorizing solar plants would further establish Salazar as a pioneer in the country’s expansion of clean energy.

    Wilderness, fracking

    Many of Salazar’s conservation goals also depend on help from Congress.

    As a senator, Salazar was credited with pressuring Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to pass a sweeping public lands package early in the 111th Congress, which included Salazar’s legislation to protect the Dominguez Canyon in southwest Colorado.

    It would not be surprising to see the former senator make another strong push to jump-start the passage of wilderness or parks bills that the 112th Congress failed to approve.

    With new leadership at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, of which Salazar was a member, there is renewed hope for bipartisan agreements on public lands packages.

    If that happens, look for Salazar to target protections for backcountry areas his agency highlighted in a November 2011 report where designation as wilderness, conservation areas or parks carries strong local or bipartisan support.

    On Capitol Hill, Salazar may also advocate strongly for lawmakers to more fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which Salazar as secretary said had been “robbed” over the years. Funding for the program, which is the government’s main vehicle for acquiring lands, conserving private lands and supporting urban recreation, was proposed for doubling in the Senate’s version of a transportation bill, but the provision was later removed.

    A big uncertainty is whether Salazar will seek to finalize a rule to require drilling firms to disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing.

    BLM issued a draft rule last spring that would have required disclosure, in addition to strengthening reporting standards for well integrity and management of wastewater, but it was fiercely opposed by the oil and gas industry.

    Industry sources have suggested the draft rule has undergone significant changes, though details are scarce.

    A coalition of oil and gas groups last September asked Interior to withdraw the proposed rule, arguing that the controversial technique that has led to an oil production boom in places like North Dakota and Texas is already adequately regulated by the states.

    Environmental groups have pushed strongly for protections since even before Salazar first pledged to update BLM’s rule in the fall of 2010, arguing that the protection of wildlife habitats and water supplies is at stake.

    Any final rule is likely to spark intense controversy, something the secretary may want to avoid in his final months in office.

  • FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 13, 2013

    SATURDAY: Udall, Heinrich & Luján to Visit Taos County
    Will Meet with Local Leaders to Discuss Columbine-Hondo & Rio Grande del Norte Conservation Efforts

    Albuquerque, N.M. – U.S. Sens. Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich and Congressman Ben Ray Luján will be in Taos on Saturday to meet with community stakeholders and discuss their efforts to protect the Río Grande del Norte. Sens. Udall and Heinrich will also highlight upcoming legislation to protect the Columbine-Hondo.

    The meeting will take place at Rivers and Birds in Arroyo Seco and is being hosted by Roberta Salazar, Founder and Executive Director of Rivers and Birds, and John Olivas of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

    The gathering will serve as an opportunity for local leaders to share why the protection of these areas is important for the local communities and for the delegation to provide an update on their legislative efforts.

    Last Thursday, the federal lawmakers reintroduced a bill to establish the Río Grande del Norte Conservation Area to protect more than 240,000 acres of BLM-managed lands in Taos and Rio Arriba Counties. They have also joined community leaders in asking President Obama to consider designating the area a national monument in order to protect the land, wildlife habitat and to preserve existing uses such as hunting, fishing and grazing.

    In the last Congress, Udall sponsored legislation to grant the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area permanent wilderness status – the highest federal protection available. The Columbine-Hondo borders the Wheeler Peak Wilderness within the Carson National Forest, and was designated a “Wilderness Study Area” in 1980. It serves as a major water source for New Mexico rivers and acequias, provides exceptional recreational opportunities for local residents and boosts ecotourism for the community. The bill, which Udall plans to reintroduce in the 113th Congress, would provide the area permanent protection.

    Efforts to protect the Columbine-Hondo and Río Grande del Norte areas have enjoyed strong local support as members of the Congressional delegation, including retired Sen. Jeff Bingaman, worked closely with community stakeholders to craft the original legislation.

    Saturday, February 16, 2013

    WHAT: Udall, Heinrich and Luján Discuss Conservation Efforts With Taos Community Leaders
    TIME: 10:45 a.m. – noon MST
    WHERE: Rivers and Birds
    480 State Highway 150
    Arroyo Seco, NM

    The following community stakeholders are expected to give brief statements at the meeting:

    Sam Gomez, Taos Pueblo War Chief
    David Arguello, President, Arroyo Hondo Arriba Land Grant
    Erminio Martinez, Livestock Permittee
    Larry Sanchez, Taos County Commissioner
    Darren Cordova, Taos Mayor
    Esther Garcia, Mayor of Questa
    Neal King, Mayor, Village of Taos Ski Valley
    Linda Calhoun, Mayor Town of Red River
    Peggy Nelson, Amigos Bravos
    Stuart Wild, Outfitter
    Eric Patterson, Water Sentinels, Sierra Club
    Bobby Ortega, Questa Livestock Rancher, Acequia Commissioner
    Chuck Howe, Village of Angel Fire Veterans Center
    Doug Pickett, Taos Cycling Coalition
    Cisco Guevara, Los Rios River Runners

    Representatives from the The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and NM Wildlife Federation, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) are also scheduled to attend.

    Media RSVP to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to attend.

    ##########

    Contacts: Marissa Padilla (Udall) 202.228.6870 / Whitney Potter (Heinrich) 202.228.1578 / Andrew Stoddard (Luján) 202.225.6190

  • FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 13, 2013

    SATURDAY: Udall, Heinrich & Luján to Visit Taos County
    Will Meet with Local Leaders to Discuss Columbine-Hondo & Rio Grande del Norte Conservation Efforts

    Albuquerque, N.M. – U.S. Sens. Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich and Congressman Ben Ray Luján will be in Taos on Saturday to meet with community stakeholders and discuss their efforts to protect the Río Grande del Norte. Sens. Udall and Heinrich will also highlight upcoming legislation to protect the Columbine-Hondo.

    The meeting will take place at Rivers and Birds in Arroyo Seco and is being hosted by Roberta Salazar, Founder and Executive Director of Rivers and Birds, and John Olivas of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

    The gathering will serve as an opportunity for local leaders to share why the protection of these areas is important for the local communities and for the delegation to provide an update on their legislative efforts.

    Last Thursday, the federal lawmakers reintroduced a bill to establish the Río Grande del Norte Conservation Area to protect more than 240,000 acres of BLM-managed lands in Taos and Rio Arriba Counties. They have also joined community leaders in asking President Obama to consider designating the area a national monument in order to protect the land, wildlife habitat and to preserve existing uses such as hunting, fishing and grazing.

    In the last Congress, Udall sponsored legislation to grant the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area permanent wilderness status – the highest federal protection available. The Columbine-Hondo borders the Wheeler Peak Wilderness within the Carson National Forest, and was designated a “Wilderness Study Area” in 1980. It serves as a major water source for New Mexico rivers and acequias, provides exceptional recreational opportunities for local residents and boosts ecotourism for the community. The bill, which Udall plans to reintroduce in the 113th Congress, would provide the area permanent protection.

    Efforts to protect the Columbine-Hondo and Río Grande del Norte areas have enjoyed strong local support as members of the Congressional delegation, including retired Sen. Jeff Bingaman, worked closely with community stakeholders to craft the original legislation.

    Saturday, February 16, 2013

    WHAT: Udall, Heinrich and Luján Discuss Conservation Efforts With Taos Community Leaders
    TIME: 10:45 a.m. – noon MST
    WHERE: Rivers and Birds
    480 State Highway 150
    Arroyo Seco, NM

    The following community stakeholders are expected to give brief statements at the meeting:

    Sam Gomez, Taos Pueblo War Chief
    David Arguello, President, Arroyo Hondo Arriba Land Grant
    Erminio Martinez, Livestock Permittee
    Larry Sanchez, Taos County Commissioner
    Darren Cordova, Taos Mayor
    Esther Garcia, Mayor of Questa
    Neal King, Mayor, Village of Taos Ski Valley
    Linda Calhoun, Mayor Town of Red River
    Peggy Nelson, Amigos Bravos
    Stuart Wild, Outfitter
    Eric Patterson, Water Sentinels, Sierra Club
    Bobby Ortega, Questa Livestock Rancher, Acequia Commissioner
    Chuck Howe, Village of Angel Fire Veterans Center
    Doug Pickett, Taos Cycling Coalition
    Cisco Guevara, Los Rios River Runners

    Representatives from the The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and NM Wildlife Federation, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) are also scheduled to attend.

    Media RSVP to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to attend.

    ##########

    Contacts: Marissa Padilla (Udall) 202.228.6870 / Whitney Potter (Heinrich) 202.228.1578 / Andrew Stoddard (Luján) 202.225.6190

  • FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 13, 2013

    SATURDAY: Udall, Heinrich & Luján to Visit Taos County
    Will Meet with Local Leaders to Discuss Columbine-Hondo & Rio Grande del Norte Conservation Efforts

    Albuquerque, N.M. – U.S. Sens. Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich and Congressman Ben Ray Luján will be in Taos on Saturday to meet with community stakeholders and discuss their efforts to protect the Río Grande del Norte. Sens. Udall and Heinrich will also highlight upcoming legislation to protect the Columbine-Hondo.

    The meeting will take place at Rivers and Birds in Arroyo Seco and is being hosted by Roberta Salazar, Founder and Executive Director of Rivers and Birds, and John Olivas of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

    The gathering will serve as an opportunity for local leaders to share why the protection of these areas is important for the local communities and for the delegation to provide an update on their legislative efforts.

    Last Thursday, the federal lawmakers reintroduced a bill to establish the Río Grande del Norte Conservation Area to protect more than 240,000 acres of BLM-managed lands in Taos and Rio Arriba Counties. They have also joined community leaders in asking President Obama to consider designating the area a national monument in order to protect the land, wildlife habitat and to preserve existing uses such as hunting, fishing and grazing.

    In the last Congress, Udall sponsored legislation to grant the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area permanent wilderness status – the highest federal protection available. The Columbine-Hondo borders the Wheeler Peak Wilderness within the Carson National Forest, and was designated a “Wilderness Study Area” in 1980. It serves as a major water source for New Mexico rivers and acequias, provides exceptional recreational opportunities for local residents and boosts ecotourism for the community. The bill, which Udall plans to reintroduce in the 113th Congress, would provide the area permanent protection.

    Efforts to protect the Columbine-Hondo and Río Grande del Norte areas have enjoyed strong local support as members of the Congressional delegation, including retired Sen. Jeff Bingaman, worked closely with community stakeholders to craft the original legislation.

    Saturday, February 16, 2013

    WHAT: Udall, Heinrich and Luján Discuss Conservation Efforts With Taos Community Leaders
    TIME: 10:45 a.m. – noon MST
    WHERE: Rivers and Birds
    480 State Highway 150
    Arroyo Seco, NM

    The following community stakeholders are expected to give brief statements at the meeting:

    Sam Gomez, Taos Pueblo War Chief
    David Arguello, President, Arroyo Hondo Arriba Land Grant
    Erminio Martinez, Livestock Permittee
    Larry Sanchez, Taos County Commissioner
    Darren Cordova, Taos Mayor
    Esther Garcia, Mayor of Questa
    Neal King, Mayor, Village of Taos Ski Valley
    Linda Calhoun, Mayor Town of Red River
    Peggy Nelson, Amigos Bravos
    Stuart Wild, Outfitter
    Eric Patterson, Water Sentinels, Sierra Club
    Bobby Ortega, Questa Livestock Rancher, Acequia Commissioner
    Chuck Howe, Village of Angel Fire Veterans Center
    Doug Pickett, Taos Cycling Coalition
    Cisco Guevara, Los Rios River Runners

    Representatives from the The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and NM Wildlife Federation, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) are also scheduled to attend.

    Media RSVP to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to attend.

    ##########

    Contacts: Marissa Padilla (Udall) 202.228.6870 / Whitney Potter (Heinrich) 202.228.1578 / Andrew Stoddard (Luján) 202.225.6190

  • Public News Service – NM | April 2013 

    Listen here

    TAOS COUNTY, N.M. – The future of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness is the focus of Earth Day-related activity in Washington this week. Three members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have trained their sights on designating the region as a permanent wilderness area.

    The wild mountain basin in Taos County, noted for its natural beauty, is also the lifestream of downstream communities. Roberta Salazar, executive director of Rivers and Birds, said the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness provides one of the most critical resources for agriculture in Taos County – water.

    “It’s like gold here in this desert state,” she said. “These high peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains are our rain-catchers for the state. They really have some of the higher precipitation rates in the entire state, and this is the last unprotected wilderness area in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.”

    Because legislation in Congress would remove protections from hundreds of wilderness study areas, she said, the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act is an important safeguard for the Taos County region. The new bill still faces its initial committee hearing.

    Designating Columbine-Hondo as a permanent wilderness keeps an area valued for water, wildlife and tourism from any unnecessary development, Salazar said, adding that the very survival of the basin could be threatened without permanent protection.

    “Industrial development could come in,” she said. “We want to ensure that this mountain is always protected and that the watershed stays intact, because it could mean our survival in the future.”

    Stuart Wilde, director and head guide at Wild Earth Llama Adventures, has taken senators and staffers on treks through the area by land and joined with other groups to provide a broader perspective using aerial flyovers.

    “When we bring folks up there and we’re looking at the snowpack in the upper elevations,” he said, “it’s really a great way to show people, ‘Look, this is the bank of water that supplies the needs for downstream communities.’ It’s such a valuable tool for conservation, for people to see these places that are either slated for protection or are threatened or endangered in some way.”

    The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area provides a significant portion of the water supply for the entire Rio Grande corridor in New Mexico.

    Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both D-N.M., reintroduced the legislation, with a companion bill in the House from Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M. The text of the Senate version of the bill is online at scribd.com.

    Renee Blake, Public News Service – NM

  • Public News Service – NM | April 2013 

    Listen here

    TAOS COUNTY, N.M. – The future of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness is the focus of Earth Day-related activity in Washington this week. Three members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have trained their sights on designating the region as a permanent wilderness area.

    The wild mountain basin in Taos County, noted for its natural beauty, is also the lifestream of downstream communities. Roberta Salazar, executive director of Rivers and Birds, said the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness provides one of the most critical resources for agriculture in Taos County – water.

    “It’s like gold here in this desert state,” she said. “These high peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains are our rain-catchers for the state. They really have some of the higher precipitation rates in the entire state, and this is the last unprotected wilderness area in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.”

    Because legislation in Congress would remove protections from hundreds of wilderness study areas, she said, the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act is an important safeguard for the Taos County region. The new bill still faces its initial committee hearing.

    Designating Columbine-Hondo as a permanent wilderness keeps an area valued for water, wildlife and tourism from any unnecessary development, Salazar said, adding that the very survival of the basin could be threatened without permanent protection.

    “Industrial development could come in,” she said. “We want to ensure that this mountain is always protected and that the watershed stays intact, because it could mean our survival in the future.”

    Stuart Wilde, director and head guide at Wild Earth Llama Adventures, has taken senators and staffers on treks through the area by land and joined with other groups to provide a broader perspective using aerial flyovers.

    “When we bring folks up there and we’re looking at the snowpack in the upper elevations,” he said, “it’s really a great way to show people, ‘Look, this is the bank of water that supplies the needs for downstream communities.’ It’s such a valuable tool for conservation, for people to see these places that are either slated for protection or are threatened or endangered in some way.”

    The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area provides a significant portion of the water supply for the entire Rio Grande corridor in New Mexico.

    Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both D-N.M., reintroduced the legislation, with a companion bill in the House from Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M. The text of the Senate version of the bill is online at scribd.com.

    Renee Blake, Public News Service – NM

  • January 28, 2013

    By Elizabeth Royte, Ecologist

    In the midst of the US domestic energy boom, livestock on farms near oil-and-gas drilling operations nationwide have been quietly falling sick and dying. Elizabeth Royte reports

    While scientists have yet to isolate cause and effect, many suspect chemicals used in drilling and hydrofracking (or “fracking”) operations are poisoning animals through the air, water, or soil.

    Last year, Michelle Bamberger, an Ithaca, New York, veterinarian, and Robert Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, published the first and only peer-reviewed report to suggest a link between fracking and illness in food animals.

    The authors compiled 24 case studies of farmers in six shale-gas states whose livestock experienced neurological, reproductive, and acute gastrointestinal problems after being exposed—either accidentally or incidentally—to fracking chemicals in the water or air. The article, published in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, describes how scores of animals died over the course of several years.

    The death toll is insignificant when measured against the nation’s livestock population (some 97 million beef cattle go to market each year), but environmental advocates believe these animals constitute an early warning.

    Exposed livestock “are making their way into the food system, and it’s very worrisome to us,” Bamberger says. “They live in areas that have tested positive for air, water, and soil contamination. Some of these chemicals could appear in milk and meat products made from these animals.”

    In Louisiana, 17 cows died after an hour’s exposure to spilled fracking fluid, which is injected miles underground to crack open and release pockets of natural gas. The most likely cause of death: respiratory failure.

    In New Mexico, hair testing of sick cattle that grazed near well pads found petroleum residues in 54 of 56 animals.

    In northern central Pennsylvania, 140 cattle were exposed to fracking wastewater when an impoundment was breached. Approximately 70 cows died, and the remainder produced only 11 calves, of which three survived.

    In western Pennsylvania, an overflowing wastewater pit sent fracking chemicals into a pond and a pasture where pregnant cows grazed: Half their calves were born dead. Dairy operators in shale-gas areas of Colorado, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Texas have also reported the death of goats.

    Drilling and fracking a single well requires up to 7 million gallons of water, plus an additional 400,000 gallons of additives, including lubricants, biocides, scale- and rust-inhibitors, solvents, foaming and defoaming agents, emulsifiers and de-emulsifiers, stabilizers and breakers. At almost every stage of developing and operating an oil or gas well, chemicals and compounds can be introduced into the environment.

    Cows lose weight, die

    After drilling began just over the property line of Jacki Schilke’s ranch in the northwestern corner of North Dakota, in the heart of the state’s booming Bakken Shale, cattle began limping, with swollen legs and infections. Cows quit producing milk for their calves, and they lost from 60 to 80 pounds in a week and their tails mysteriously dropped off. Eventually, five animals died, according to Schilke.

    Ambient air testing by a certified environmental consultant detected elevated levels of benzene, methane, chloroform, butane, propane, toluene, and xylene—and well testing revealed high levels of sulfates, chromium, chloride, and strontium. Schilke says she moved her herd upwind and upstream from the nearest drill pad.

    Although her steers currently look healthy, she says, “I won’t sell them because I don’t know if they’re okay.”

    Nor does anyone else. Energy companies are exempt from key provisions of environmental laws, which makes it difficult for scientists and citizens to learn precisely what is in drilling and fracking fluids or airborne emissions. And without information on the interactions between these chemicals and pre-existing environmental chemicals, veterinarians can’t hope to pinpoint an animal’s cause of death.

    The risks to food safety may be even more difficult to parse, since different plants and animals take up different chemicals through different pathways.

    “There are a variety of organic compounds, metals, and radioactive material [released in the fracking process] that are of human health concern when livestock meat or milk is ingested,” Motoko Mukai, a veterinary toxicologist at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, says.

    These “compounds accumulate in the fat and are excreted into milk. Some compounds are persistent and do not get metabolized easily.”
    Veterinarians don’t know how long chemicals may remain in animals, farmers aren’t required to prove their livestock are free of contamination before middlemen purchase them, and the Food Safety Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture isn’t looking for these compounds in carcasses at slaughterhouses.

    Documenting the scope of the problem is difficult: Scientists lack funding to study the matter, and rural vets remain silent for fear of retaliation. Farmers who receive royalty checks from energy companies are reluctant to complain, and those who have settled with gas companies following a spill or other accident are forbidden to disclose information to investigators. Some food producers would rather not know what’s going on, say ranchers and veterinarians.

    “It takes a long time to build up a herd’s reputation,” rancher Dennis Bauste of Trenton Lake, North Dakota, says. “I’m gonna sell my calves and I don’t want them to be labeled as tainted. Besides, I wouldn’t know what to test for. Until there’s a big wipe-out, a major problem, we’re not gonna hear much about this.”

    Fracking proponents criticise Bamberger and Oswald’s paper as a political, not a scientific, document. “They used anonymous sources, so no one can verify what they said,” says Steve Everley, of the industry lobby group Energy In Depth. The authors didn’t provide a scientific assessment of impacts—testing what specific chemicals might do to cows that ingest them, for example—so treating their findings as scientific, he continues, “is laughable at best, and dangerous for public debate at worst.”

    The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the main lobbying group for ranchers, takes no position on fracking, but some ranchers are beginning to speak out. “These are industry-supporting conservatives, not radicals,” says Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst with the environmental group, Natural Resources Defense Council. “They are the experts in their animals’ health, and they are very concerned.”

    Last March, Christopher Portier, director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called for studies of oil and gas production’s impact on food plants and animals. None are currently planned by the federal government.

    As local food booms, consumers wary

    But consumers intensely interested in where and how their food is grown aren’t waiting for hard data to tell them their meat or milk is safe. For them, the perception of pollution is just as bad as the real thing.

    “My beef sells itself. My farm is pristine. But a restaurant doesn’t want to visit and see a drill pad on the horizon,” Ken Jaffe, who raises grass-fed cattle in upstate New York, says. Only recently has the local foods movement, in regions across the country, reached a critical mass. But the movement’s lofty ideals could turn out to be, in shale gas areas, a double-edged sword.

    Should the moratorium on hydrofracking in New York State be lifted, the 16,200-member Park Slope Food Co-op, in Brooklyn, will no longer buy food from farms anywhere near drilling operations—a $4 million loss for upstate producers. The livelihood of organic goat farmer Steven Cleghorn, who’s surrounded by active wells in Pennsylvania, is already in jeopardy.

    “People at the farmers market are starting to ask exactly where this food comes from,” he says.

    This report was produced by the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent investigative journalism non-profit focusing on food, agriculture, and environmental health. A longer version of this story appears on TheNation.com

    EDITORS NOTE: Following the publication of this story in the US, Energy In Depth, a research programme of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, criticised the author’s reporting. You can read the criticismhere. The author of the report, Elizabeth Royte, counter-responded. You can read her response to the Energy In Depth criticism here.

     

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  • By VERLYN KLINKENBORG for The New York Times
    February 9, 2013

    Of the 2.27 billion acres that constitute the land area of the United States, a little less than 30 percent — about 640 million acres — belongs to you, the American citizen. It is land acquired over the years by treaty, conquest or purchase by the federal government acting on behalf of the people, and indisputably belongs to neither the states nor individuals. But in the last few decades no part of the American land mass has stirred greater controversy.

    Almost four decades ago, a movement known as the Sagebrush Rebellion tried to force the federal government to give up ownership of hundreds of millions of acres, mostly in the West. A similar fever gripped Western legislatures in the mid-1990s. George W. Bush’s Interior Department basically said no to the idea that the federal government should set aside large areas of federal land for permanent wilderness protection.

    Those attitudes persist. Two years ago, the Republican House basically told Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that he could not spend a penny on a program that would merely study existing federal lands for possible wilderness protection at some point in the future. Mitt Romney said he did not fully grasp the “purpose” of the public lands in the course of suggesting that more of them be taken over by the states for oil and gas development. And in the last year, four states — Utah, Idaho, New Mexico and Arizona — have passed or have pending bills that would transfer millions of acres of federal land to state control. It is no surprise that the most vociferous opposition to the notion of public ownership is in the West, where there is a disproportionate amount of federal land — just as there is a disproportionate amount of natural resources, like oil, gas and timber, and a disproportionate amount of mountains, canyons and other grand scenery.

    But the real threat to the public lands is not from Congress, or the state legislatures, whose laws would almost certainly be struck down as unconstitutional. The real and constant threat is more subtle, and more piecemeal. Only about a third of the 640 million acres of public land — national parks, permanently protected wilderness where only backpackers are allowed, national wildlife refuges — enjoy complete or high levels of protection against commercial development. Nearly all the rest is multiuse land, for logging, grazing, hard-rock mining, oil and gas development. Especially vulnerable are the 248 million acres overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.

    It is to this threat that President Obama must pay more attention than he has. Every president has adjusted the rate at which land is leased for exploitation and the rate at which it is protected, usually by speeding or slowing the rate at which the bureau grants oil and gas leases, but often by pushing Congress to designate new wilderness or using the powers granted under the American Antiquities Act of 1906 to unilaterally protect land when Congress will not act. Some presidents — like George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton — have done a good job protecting public lands; in contrast, President George W. Bush did his best to get the bureau into the speed-leasing business, vending leases, with virtually no profit to the government, for gas and oil drilling.

    In a speech last week, President Clinton’s interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt, presented a telling chart that showed how much land has been protected — by Congress and by the president — from the Reagan to the Obama presidency. So far, the current administration is dead last, and by several lengths. Mr. Clinton, for instance, protected 26.9 million acres, 9.3 million through executive action, over his two terms; a total of only 2.6 million acres has been protected so far under President Obama.

    One reason is simply politics. Mr. Obama has tried to balance — too carefully, as he nearly always does — the interests of conservationists and Big Oil. As Mr. Babbitt pointed out, some six million acres were leased to the oil and gas industry during Mr. Obama’s first term — more than twice as much land as was set aside for protection. Mr. Obama has four years left, and judging by the tone he has taken since his new term began, we think he may well do a better job when it comes to conservation and land protection. Nominating Sally Jewell as his new interior secretary is a good first step. The toughest part of her Senate confirmation hearings will have to do with her attitude toward protecting and exploiting public lands. Congress has extraction fever of a rare severity, and it will be on full display.

    Finding the right balance is always the hard part, especially in the West, where the urge to return to the exploitative ways of the past is strong. But the public lands belong now, as they always have, to the future. There are dozens of wrong ways to use them. But there is no such thing as a wrong way to protect them.

  • Emily Guerin for High Country News

    Dec 24, 2013

    In December 1960, the iconic Western author Wallace Stegner wrote a letter to a University of California, Berkeley researcher in support of what would become the Wilderness Act. Wilderness is important, he wrote, because it “was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed. The reminder and the reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it. It is good for us when we are young, because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly, as vacation and rest, into our insane lives. It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there – important, that is, simply as an idea.”

    Stegner’s eloquent urging helped pass the Wilderness Act four years later. The act defines “wilderness”as an area 5,000 acres or more that retains its primeval character, provides opportunities for solitude and unconfined recreation, and where “man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Since 1964, the feds have created more than 750 wilderness areas and designated over 100 million acres of federal land as wilderness (see here for more wilderness facts).

    2014 will mark the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary. To get a sense of public perception of wilderness today, as well as current management challenges, HCN spoke with Dr. Troy Hall, professor and head of the department of conservation social sciences at University of Idaho. Hall spent 13 years as a wilderness ranger in Oregon while she pursued advanced degrees in anthropology and forest resources, focusing on management and visitor experience of wilderness. She’s currently helping Yosemite National Park assess how visitors are using its wilderness areas.

    High Country News Tell us about the context in which the Wilderness Act was passed. What was going on in America at the time?

    Troy Hall The automobile has taken off. We have big initiatives putting highways all over the country. We’ve got increasing population. We have affluence after the war. We have major extractive uses of forests, together with some big development projects like dams that really galvanized environmental activists. The writers of the Wilderness Act were concerned we’d lose these unique opportunities that were dependent on wild places.

    HCN The Act seems difficult to manage for because it is a bit vague. How have land managers coped with that challenge?

    TH The Wilderness Act says we should maintain wildernesses in an essentially pristine way, but that we should also manage them to be untrammeled, to be wild. Well, a lot of folks say those things are incompatible. Fire is a good example. We’ve been suppressing fires and people describe fuel accumulations as unnatural, so to “restore” (to natural conditions) requires active management. The one I wrestle with is solitude. In a really heavily used wilderness, you might say we are not providing opportunities for solitude. How can we do that? You could limit use like they do on (Idaho’s) Selway River, where they allow one launch a day. But that’s confining.

    HCN You’ve extensively studied visitor attitudes towards crowding. How much does it bother people to see lots of other hikers in the wilderness?

    TH People are really adaptable. Even where they run into a lot of people they often will say, “it was busy on the trail but when I got to a lake I could find a beautiful area where I was by myself.” We often hear people say, “sure, would I like it better if there were more solitude, but I don’t really want to accept the trade offs that would entail. I’d rather run into a few people than (have use limits or a permit lottery).”

    HCN How does technology impact solitude and primitive and unconfined experiences provided for by the Wilderness Act?

    TH It clearly reduces self-reliance and challenge. If you know that you can push a button on some device and somebody will come find you, that is a very different experience from hiking seven days where you told somebody the day you’re leaving and if you don’t show up we’ll start looking for you. But GPS also allows people to get to places where traditionally they haven’t gone. If you feel comfortable you can navigate by GPS to some remote meadow and spend a few days by yourself, potentially you could have more solitude.

    HCN Here at HCN we’ve been thinking a lot about diversity and how to make national parks relevant to America’s growing minority populations. I assume wilderness areas face that same challenge?

    TH The majority of people who visit wilderness tend to be upper-middle class, white, and male to a certain extent. But some of the national surveys that have been done suggest that wilderness and things like watershed protection, clean air and wildlife habitat are extremely well-supported across demographic groups in society. So even demographic groups that don’t visit wilderness tend to place very high value on it.

    HCN What challenges do you see on the horizon for wilderness areas?

    TH The challenges we face moving forward are on a different scale all together. What does climate change mean in terms of managing wilderness? What do you do when a major species drops out of the ecosystem? Should we allow that to happen? There are some huge challenges that can’t be dealt with on a wilderness-by-wilderness basis. We may need some fundamental re-thinking about the role of wildernesses in connecting different ecosystems.

    Interview conducted and edited by HCN correspondent Emily Guerin. She Tweets at @guerinemily. Photo courtesy Troy Hall.

  • By Lucas Herndon / For the Las Cruces Sun-News
    05/21/2013

    I am constantly amazed by the diversity of our amazing country and how far we have come in our relatively short history. I love learning about the stories and the places that our history has unfolded and I love visiting those places which we have preserved as national monuments. I wonder sometimes though, what is a national monument? Is it a small area or building that preserves one small part of our national heritage, like the George Washington Birthplace National Monument? Or is it a large portion of land that showcases a particular kind of geology or biology like the 60+ million acre Mariana Trench Marine National Monument? What if it could be both?

    The proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument highlights both the rich cultural heritage that human interaction has brought to the Mesilla Valley over thousands of years, as well as preserves some of the most amazing and pristine portions of the Chihuahuan Desert in one goal. Perhaps one of the best things about this proposed monument is that it truly represents the diversity that exemplifies our own culture here in southern New Mexico as well as the multiplicity that truly is the United States.

    The varied support for this monument is staggering. From the casual hikers and birders to serious sportsmen and women, teachers and parents, scientists and historians, Native American groups from all over the Southwest, civic bodies, legislative bodies, business leaders and many, many more. Once again, the very nature of our own landscape showcases the incredible mishmash that makes up life in modern America and highlights all of the attributes of what a national monument should be.

    There are literally thousands of sites that still tell the tale of the first people to come to this area. Hundreds and hundreds of petroglyphs dot the rocks and cliff faces all over our region, thousands of stone tools still litter the desert floor and there is always more to discover. There are, in fact, so many wonderful sites stretching across the proposed areas of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, that you could easily make a monument just to honor these sites. But what makes this proposal so incredible is that the multiplicity of our collective history and culture don’t stop there, by a long shot. One portion of this monument contains the original boundary markers that designated the border between Mexico and the United States, after the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. This boundary changed six years later after the U.S. made a land-deal with Mexico known here as the Gadsden Purchase. Much of the land within our county would still be inside of Mexico and the home I grew up in would quite literally be in another country if it weren’t for the Gadsden Purchase. That single piece of American history had a distinct role to play in my own life but also serves as a great backdrop to stress the importance of this proposal in preserving our rich culture and heritage.

    The Butterfield Overland Mail route had a major stop in the town of Mesilla, and then stretched west around Picacho Peak and over the Rough and Ready hills before sinking into the sunset toward the coast. Large portions of this historic trail will be preserved within the proposed monument and along with it, large portions of the history of the growth of the United States.

    All across the country we have paid homage to the brave men who served overseas during that great and horrible struggle we refer to as World War II by erecting memorials and statues. But just west of our community are remnants of bombing targets used by the Army Air Corps to train pilots and bombardiers during that war and we have the awesome responsibility and privilege of being able to protect a few of those sites within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monument.

    Other than the first crew of the Apollo 11, every other astronaut who walked on the moon first walked right here in Doña Ana County in Kilbourne Hole. Those modern day explorers used the unique features and rocky terrain to study and prepare for their incredible missions into space.

    So what is a national monument? I cannot think of a better monument to our nation than one that preserves everything from the art and tools of the First Peoples, to the last portion of land to become part of the country; one that preserves portions of the trail people followed west in horse-drawn wagons as our country grew to areas used by our astronauts before flying to the moon.

    Lucas Herndon is the executive director of the Friends of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. He has lived his whole life in the Mesilla Valley and earned a degree in history from New Mexico State University. He continues to discover every day new reasons to stay and raise his daughter here.

  • By Lucas Herndon / For the Las Cruces Sun-News
    05/21/2013

    I am constantly amazed by the diversity of our amazing country and how far we have come in our relatively short history. I love learning about the stories and the places that our history has unfolded and I love visiting those places which we have preserved as national monuments. I wonder sometimes though, what is a national monument? Is it a small area or building that preserves one small part of our national heritage, like the George Washington Birthplace National Monument? Or is it a large portion of land that showcases a particular kind of geology or biology like the 60+ million acre Mariana Trench Marine National Monument? What if it could be both?

    The proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument highlights both the rich cultural heritage that human interaction has brought to the Mesilla Valley over thousands of years, as well as preserves some of the most amazing and pristine portions of the Chihuahuan Desert in one goal. Perhaps one of the best things about this proposed monument is that it truly represents the diversity that exemplifies our own culture here in southern New Mexico as well as the multiplicity that truly is the United States.

    The varied support for this monument is staggering. From the casual hikers and birders to serious sportsmen and women, teachers and parents, scientists and historians, Native American groups from all over the Southwest, civic bodies, legislative bodies, business leaders and many, many more. Once again, the very nature of our own landscape showcases the incredible mishmash that makes up life in modern America and highlights all of the attributes of what a national monument should be.

    There are literally thousands of sites that still tell the tale of the first people to come to this area. Hundreds and hundreds of petroglyphs dot the rocks and cliff faces all over our region, thousands of stone tools still litter the desert floor and there is always more to discover. There are, in fact, so many wonderful sites stretching across the proposed areas of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, that you could easily make a monument just to honor these sites. But what makes this proposal so incredible is that the multiplicity of our collective history and culture don’t stop there, by a long shot. One portion of this monument contains the original boundary markers that designated the border between Mexico and the United States, after the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. This boundary changed six years later after the U.S. made a land-deal with Mexico known here as the Gadsden Purchase. Much of the land within our county would still be inside of Mexico and the home I grew up in would quite literally be in another country if it weren’t for the Gadsden Purchase. That single piece of American history had a distinct role to play in my own life but also serves as a great backdrop to stress the importance of this proposal in preserving our rich culture and heritage.

    The Butterfield Overland Mail route had a major stop in the town of Mesilla, and then stretched west around Picacho Peak and over the Rough and Ready hills before sinking into the sunset toward the coast. Large portions of this historic trail will be preserved within the proposed monument and along with it, large portions of the history of the growth of the United States.

    All across the country we have paid homage to the brave men who served overseas during that great and horrible struggle we refer to as World War II by erecting memorials and statues. But just west of our community are remnants of bombing targets used by the Army Air Corps to train pilots and bombardiers during that war and we have the awesome responsibility and privilege of being able to protect a few of those sites within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monument.

    Other than the first crew of the Apollo 11, every other astronaut who walked on the moon first walked right here in Doña Ana County in Kilbourne Hole. Those modern day explorers used the unique features and rocky terrain to study and prepare for their incredible missions into space.

    So what is a national monument? I cannot think of a better monument to our nation than one that preserves everything from the art and tools of the First Peoples, to the last portion of land to become part of the country; one that preserves portions of the trail people followed west in horse-drawn wagons as our country grew to areas used by our astronauts before flying to the moon.

    Lucas Herndon is the executive director of the Friends of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. He has lived his whole life in the Mesilla Valley and earned a degree in history from New Mexico State University. He continues to discover every day new reasons to stay and raise his daughter here.

  • Activists say the rule that hunters must know they are killing a protected animal allows the Justice Department to abdicate prosecution.

    By Julie Cart, Los Angeles Times
    May 29, 2013

    Environmental groups are taking the Justice Department to court over a policy that prohibits prosecuting individuals who kill endangered wildlife unless it can be proved that they knew they were targeting a protected animal.

    Critics charge that the 15-year-old McKittrick policy provides a loophole that has prevented criminal prosecution of dozens of individuals who killed grizzly bears, highly endangered California condors and whooping cranes as well as 48 federally protected Mexican wolves.

    The policy stems from a Montana case in which Chad McKittrick was convicted under the Endangered Species Act for killing a wolf near Yellowstone National Park in 1995. He argued that he was not guilty because he thought he was shooting a wild dog.

    McKittrick appealed the conviction and lost, but the Justice Department nonetheless adopted a policy that became the threshold for taking on similar cases: prosecutors must prove that the individual knowingly killed a protected species.

    The lawsuit charges that the policy sets a higher burden of proof than previously required, arguing, “The DOJ’s McKittrick policy is a policy that is so extreme that it amounts to a conscious and express abdication of DOJ’s statutory responsibility to prosecute criminal violations of the ESA as general intent crimes.”

    WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance said they intend to file a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Arizona, one of the states where Mexican wolves were reintroduced. The Times received an advance copy of the lawsuit.

    Federal wildlife managers who are responsible for protecting endangered animals have long criticized the policy as providing a pretext for illegal trophy hunters and activists.

    A June 2000 memo from the law enforcement division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Wyoming warned, “As soon as word about this policy gets around the West, the ability for the average person to distinguish a grizzly bear from a black bear or a wolf from a coyote will decline sharply. Under this policy a hen mallard is afforded more protection than any of the animals listed as endangered.”

    Earlier this year, a man in Texas shot and killed a whooping crane, telling authorities that he thought it was a legally hunted Sandhill crane. He was not charged under the Endangered Species Act but was prosecuted under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which carries lesser penalties.

    Wendy Keefover of WildEarth Guardians compared the policy to “district attorneys rescinding speeding tickets issued by traffic cops when then speeder claims he or she believed the legal speed limit was greater than what was posted, and that he or she had no intention to break the law.”

    The unspoken attitude toward endangered species among some western ranchers is summed up by the expression: “Shoot. Shovel. And shut up,” suggesting that the most efficient way to deal with the unwanted bureaucracy associated with protected species was to quietly remove them.

    Mexican wolves have been decimated by illegal shootings, causing the death of more than half of the animals released in the wild since the start of the reintroduction program in 1998.

    Forty-eight Mexican wolves have been illegally killed, according to the lawsuit. It notes that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service anticipated that illegal shooting and trapping was likely to be a major impediment to recovery of the species, but the agency thought that strong enforcement could discourage the illegal acts.

    Wolves are often killed by hunters who say they thought they were shooting at coyotes, which may be shot on sight in most states.

    Mistaken identity is also frequently given in mix-ups between black bears and grizzly bears that lead to grizzly deaths.

    The Wyoming U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service memo included this example:

    In May 1996, a man hunting for black bear in Wyoming shot and killed a collared grizzly bear, an endangered species.

    The hunter and three friends moved the bear carcass, destroyed the collar, dug a hole, dumped in the bear, poured lye over it and covered the hole.

    When the animal’s remains were recovered, the man said he thought he was shooting at a common black bear.

    The U.S. attorney’s office reviewed the case and declined to prosecute it, citing the McKittrick policy.

  • Senator Martin Heirich’s Office
    Wednesday, November 20, 2013

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who serves on the committee, continued their effort to designate the 45,000-acre Columbine-Hondo area in Taos County as wilderness. Udall and Heinrich introduced the proposal, S. 776, the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act, earlier this year. A companion bill, H.R. 1683, was introduced in the House by Representative Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.-03).

    The legislation would expand the Wheeler Peak Wilderness by approximately 650 acres. The proposal would also modify a boundary that creates a loop trail accessible by mountain bikes along the Lost Lake trail from Taos Ski Valley to the East Fork trail to Red River.

    “This bill is the result of years of work by many people on how best to protect the Columbine Hondo’s economic, recreational and scenic values,” Udall said. “Taos County residents, ranchers, governments and businesses resoundingly agree that this area deserves permanent wilderness status. By designating the Columbine Hondo as wilderness, we will open up new tourism and recreation opportunities and protect vital tributaries to the Río Grande, while providing for continued traditional land uses, such as hunting and grazing.”

    “The Columbine-Hondo is one of the most treasured places in New Mexico,” Heinrich said. “Columbine-Hondo is a central attraction for visitors to Taos County, where outdoor recreation and tourism drive the local economy. People come to these mountains to hike, camp, hunt, fish, and spend time with their families, and invariably they leave Taos County with their wallets a little lighter. Permanent protection through this legislation will ensure that future generations have the same opportunities in the Columbine-Hondo that we have today. This legislation is a true community effort, and I want to thank all the members of the Taos community who have worked so hard for decades to make this wilderness area a reality.”

    “The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act is the culmination of years of hard work and compromise between various stakeholders in Northern New Mexico, including the conservation community, the recreation community, local ranchers, local governments, small businesses and the Pueblo of Taos,” Luján said. “This piece of legislation will help bring certainty to land managers as well as new economic opportunities for those who utilize the Carson National Forest for their livelihoods and recreation.”

    Located in the Carson National Forest, the Columbine-Hondo has been managed as a “Wilderness Study Area” since 1980. A map of the proposal can be found here.

    The Columbine-Hondo includes lush forests and alpine meadows populated by a variety of Rocky Mountain wildlife, including elk, mule deer, mountain lions, black bears, and bighorn sheep. The area’s watershed serves as the headwaters for the Rio Hondo and Red River, which flow into the Rio Grande and to downstream agricultural communities.

    The legislation is supported by the Taos County Commission, Taos Pueblo, the towns of Taos and Red River, villages of Questa and Taos Ski Valley, Taos County Chamber of Commerce, sportsmen, ranchers, conservation organizations, farmers and irrigation districts (acequias), the Taos Cycling Coalition, International Mountain Bicycling Association, land grant heirs, and hundreds of small businesses.

    A copy of the bill can be found here.

    http://www.heinrich.senate.gov/press-releases/udall-heinrich-lujan-underscore-economic-value-of-conservation-in-continued-effort-to-designate-columbine-hondo-as-wilderness

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