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  • Aluquerque Journal
    Michael Coleman
    Thursday, November 21, 2013

    Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall urged a Senate subcommittee Wednesday to support designating 46,000 acres in Taos County, commonly referred to as the Columbine-Hondo, as a federally protected wilderness area.

    The New Mexico Democrats introduced legislation to designate the area as wilderness in April. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., has introduced a similar bill in the House.

    Udall and Heinrich told a Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee that there is broad community support for the designation and that it would safeguard recreational opportunities and water resources. The land is home to the headwaters of the second- and third-largest tributaries of the Rio Grande, Heinrich said.

    “In an arid Western state like New Mexico, there is nothing more valuable than our water resources,” Heinrich said. “We need to do everything we can to protect those resources.”

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  • NM Wild joins a WWII vet for a flyover of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, plus we pursue litigation over wolf killings.

    Read this week’s Wilderness Weekly.

  • Staff updates, a special Father’s Day hike and more in this week’s eNews.

    Read this issue of the Wilderness Weekly here.

  • Information about our lawsuit against the Department of Justice, a photo contest, and NM Wild welcomes a new administrative assistant.

    Check out all this and more in this week’s Wilderness Weekly. Click here.


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  • Invasive plants take over New Mexico, NM Wild joins a lawsuit against the Justice Department, and we explore New Mexico’s newest national monument with students. All this and more in this week’s Wilderness Weekly. 

    View May 30 Wilderness Weekly.

  • Read this week’s Wilderness Weekly eNews

  • The movie La Vida Robot is looking for extras, and for each extra we recruit, they will give NM Wild $50. Learn more in this week’s eNews.

    Read Wilderness Weekly eNews.

  • Legislation for Columbine Hondo to be heard by Senate committee plus updates on our other wilderness campaigns in this week’s eNews.

    Read this week’s Wilderness Weekly here.

  • The Fish and Wildlife Service has rescheduled its public hearing for wolves, and we’ve launched our annual wolf stamp artwork contest. Learn more in this week’s eNews.

    Read Wilderness Weekly – October 31, 2013

  • Don’t forget to stop by Il Vicino in Albuquerque today and mention you’re there for New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. The restaurant will donate 20 percent of your meal price to us! Learn more about this and our other upcoming events including a wolf rally and National Public Lands day this Saturday in this week’s eNews. 

    Click here to view this week’s Wilderness Weekly


    In an unexpected move, the BLM’s Farmington field office decided not to sell 34 out of 38 parcels around Chaco Culture Historical Park that had been nominated for oil and gas development by the industry. In the Environmental Assessment released last week for the January 2014 lease sale, the BLM made the sale of only four of the proposed parcels its “preferred alternative.”

    This and more in this week’s Wilderness Weekly. Read now.


    In an unexpected move, the BLM’s Farmington field office decided not to sell 34 out of 38 parcels around Chaco Culture Historical Park that had been nominated for oil and gas development by the industry. In the Environmental Assessment released last week for the January 2014 lease sale, the BLM made the sale of only four of the proposed parcels its “preferred alternative.”

    This and more in this week’s Wilderness Weekly. Read now.

  • Katie Mast for High Country News
    Jul 12, 2013 

    After the nearly 300,000-acre Whitewater-Baldy fire tore through the Gila Wilderness last summer, biologists from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Forest Service geared up for a trek into the freshly-burnt mountains. The team traveled to remote tributaries of the Gila River to collect any Gila trout, one of New Mexico’s threatened fish species, that had survived the initial blaze. The approaching monsoon season would likely mean death for any remaining fish, as rain would erode the fire-scarred land, flooding the streams with suffocating ash and soil. The rescued fish were flown by helicopter to a hatchery in northern NM where they will stay until the streams can support them again.

    This all may sound like bad news, but for the Gila trout, there is a silver lining. A flood of sedimentation following the fire cleared the streams of the non-native rainbow and brown trout that are serious obstacles to improving Gila trout populations.

    Jill Wick, Gila trout biologist with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, is part of the team assessing the impact of last summer’s fire. She says the fish die-off is a double-edged sword. Previous work the team had done was lost, with the fire wiping out entire populations of Gila trout. On the other hand, with the rainbow and brown trout removed from the streams, biologists will be able to reintroduce captive-bred Gila trout and expect a better survival rate.

    The plight of the Gila trout sounds like that of so many other protected species: human activity on the landscape, habitat degradation, and introduction of exotic, competitive species like rainbow and brown trout have all contributed to its decline. Wick has been working closely with the scientists within the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Gila National Forest, and from the University of New Mexico – a group she calls the recovery team – to understand the Gila trout’s habitat needs and maintain captive breeding populations for reintroduction.

    The Whitewater-Baldy fire was one of the most recent incidents in a decades-long story of Gila trout recovery work. In 1966, populations were small and precarious enough to be considered federally endangered. Under a management plan, the fish rebounded enough that in 1996, the species was down-listed to threatened. Some members of the recovery team have been working on the project for more than 20 years, conducting captive breeding programs in northern New Mexico and building physical barriers along portions of streams to isolate wild populations from predation and hybridization with non-native rainbow trout.

    The Gila trout isn’t the only species to benefit from a wildfire silver lining. Though wildfires consume many westerners’ thoughts and government resources each summer, many western ecosystems have actually evolved with fire, with certain tree species like lodgepole pine and aspen benefiting from heat and thinning from moderate fires. Some vertebrate species, like the black-backed woodpecker, thrive in the unique habitat created by burn areas. Still, the trend toward bigger, hotter fires poses challenges.

    Year after hot, dry year, new fires across the west steal previous years’ titles as the biggest or the most destructive. In 2011, the Las Conchas fire in New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains became the state’s largest fire at 156,593 acres. The following summer, the Gila’s Whitewater-Baldy nearly doubled the number, burning out at 297,845 acres. Meanwhile, the Little Bear Fire destroyed 254 buildings across the state near Ruidoso, NM, also last summer, earning the label “most destructive.”

    As the Gila trout recovery team makes key decisions later this summer, the potential for future fires may enter the discussion, Wick says. The first management plans were written “before anyone anticipated that you could have a 300,000 acre fire,” she says. Other ecologists are anticipating significant changes to forest structure due to climate change as well and are needing to make management plans with those predictions in mind. Wick and her team are still trying to figure out what a changing climate might mean for their project.

    Another challenge for the recovery team is access to habitat. It’s harder for them to manage rainbow and brown trout on streams that pass through private land and towns, as access and management techniques are restricted. Whitewater Creek, which flows through the town of Glenwood, NM, is one such area. The creek begins on land that experienced some of the hottest burn. Closer to the Catwalk National Recreation Area, where the fire was less severe, Wick says the entire fish population was lost. And in a way, this is good news. The creek is attractive to the recovery team, with 14.5 kilometers of potential Gila trout habitat. However, it wasn’t feasible to remove the non-native trout because of its location near human populations. The die-off from the fire has done that for them, says Wick. “It couldn’t have been done any other way.”

    Katie Mast is an editorial intern at High Country News.

  • By Charles D. Brunt
    Albuquerque Journal
    November 21, 2013

    Public comments on a pair of proposals by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would affect gray wolf recovery efforts nationwide ran about 2 to 1 in favor of expansion of the wolf recovery program, but cattle and sheep ranchers said the program is a failure and needs to be discontinued.

    A near-capacity crowd of about 500 conservationists, ranchers, landowners and concerned citizens weighed in on the proposals during a three-hour public hearing here Wednesday at Embassy Suites. More than 100 of them signed up to make 2-minute comments on the proposals.

    Gary Frazer, the agency’s assistant director for ecological services, opened the hearing saying the goal of the proposed changes is “securing the species from the threat of extinction.”

    While those efforts have dramatically expanded the range of wolves in the Western Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountains, they are proving less effective on the Mexican wolf, he said.

    Fish and Wildlife officials say reintroductions of the gray wolf in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho have been successful and they are no longer endangered. The agency estimates the number of gray wolves in the continental United States at more than 5,000.

    Others, like state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, urged agency officials to “make decisions based on science,” rather than political or any other basis. “Make that the hallmark of your decision-making,” he said.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with saving wolves from extinction, hopes to remove federal protection of gray wolves and to concentrate on the recovery on another wolf subspecies – the Mexican wolf.

    Another proposal would revise a rule that classifies Mexican wolves as an “experimental population,” a designation that affects how the wolves are managed.

    Conservation groups – which were well-represented at the public hearing – generally opposed removal of the gray wolf from the endangered species list and expressed concerns with other proposals affecting the Mexican wolf.

    Las Cruces City Councilman Nathan Small said he thinks recovering the Mexican wolf would be beneficial to southern New Mexico, and that as an outdoorsman and hunter, he thinks the presence of wolves would enhance all outdoor experiences.

    Saying wolves are “vital to the health of the ecosystems” in which they have historically lived, outdoor writer Ruth Rudner urged expansion of the lands they are allowed to roam and claimed wolves have “become the scapegoat for increasingly anti-everything politics.”

    Barbara Bacon of Albuquerque said she was concerned that the proposed changes “are not going to promote full recovery of the Mexican gray wolf.”

    She also said she supports expansion of the wolf recovery area as far south as the Mexican border because “wolves can’t read maps.”

    Citing losses of livestock to wolf depredation, ranching groups – also well-represented at the hearing – strongly back federal efforts to remove gray wolves from the list of endangered species, even though they typically receive compensation from the federal government for livestock losses attributed to wolves.

    Rex Wilson with the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association and Caren Cowan with the New Mexico Wool Growers Association said wolf reintroduction in New Mexico had failed and needs to be discontinued.

    “There is ample scientific evidence for removing the gray and Mexican wolves from the endangered species list,” Wilson said.

    “After 15 years, it is clear the experiment has failed,” he said, adding that there is not enough wildlife in New Mexico to justify restoring wolves here.

    He and Cowan said they support taking not only the gray wolf from the endangered species list, but the Mexican wolf as well.

    “This experiment has gone on too long,” Cowan said, adding that the program “is not working for anyone, especially them (the wolves).”

    Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity expressed concerns about a lack of biological diversity among the existing wolf population in New Mexico and said it’s Fish and Wildlife’s fault for limiting their reintroductions.

    The Mexican wolf was added to the federal endangered species list in 1976. Efforts to reintroduce them in the Southwest have stumbled due to legal battles, politics, illegal shootings and other problems. Since reintroduction efforts began in 1998, more than 50 illegal wolf killings have been documented.

    The Mexican gray wolf recovery area includes 3.3 million acres in the Gila National Forest and 1.1 million acres in the Apache National Forest in Arizona. Tribal or private lands adjacent to those areas can also allow wolves on their lands, such as the Ted Turner-owned Ladder Ranch in New Mexico and the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona.

    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said there are about 75 Mexican gray wolves in the recovery area, and only three breeding pairs.

    In August, the Center for Biological Diversity reached a settlement agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service that allows direct release of captive-bred wolves into the Gila National Forest and permits wolves to roam over a broader area than is currently allowed. The agreement requires Fish and Wildlife to finalize a rule authorizing those moves by Jan. 12, 2015.

    The Center also objects to a proposal that would require removal of any Mexican gray wolf found north of Interstate 40 or south of Interstate 10, saying it would prevent the establishment of new, genetically diverse populations of wolves in the southern Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon ecosystem and in Mexico.

    The public comment period for the proposed changes, originally set to expire on Sept. 11, has been extended through Dec. 17. For more information, go to www.fws.gov/home/wolfrecovery.