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In Memoriam: Esther Garcia

By Scott Gerdes | Taos News
April 2, 2020

When Esther García was young, her grandfather, J.P. Rael, told her there would be fights over water. And at some point in the near future, water would be worth more than gold. She didn’t get it at the time. But as García got older, she understood that he was urging her to “go out there and work to protect our water and land.”

And that’s exactly what García did. From behind the scenes, she built an inspirational conservation and civil service legacy that will stand the test of time.

Northern New Mexicans mourned the unexpected passing of the lifelong, multigenerational Questeña on Jan. 5. She was 74 years old.

Much of García’s life was spent in the public eye as a staunch protector of water and wildlife. She was an advocate for public land grants, an unofficial lobbyist at the state Legislature and former mayor of Questa. Her efforts included serving as a cultural voice that helped secure the designation of both the Río Grande del Norte National Monument and the Columbine Hondo Wilderness. She served on the board of directors at New Mexico Wild and the Questa School Board. During her term as Questa mayor, she successfully fought the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s recommendation that the village’s historic St. Anthony Catholic Church be torn down instead of resurrected — “It was a big, big challenge. I had to threaten [the archdiocese] with eminent domain,” she told the Taos News in 2017.

Driven by love of community and nature, volunteerism was something that — in a sense — came naturally to García. In a Taos News interview in 2010 after being named a Tradiciones Unsung Hero, she said that her father, Max Ortega (an original investor in Centinel Bank), and grandfather instilled in her that, “If you don’t help the people, you don’t exist and nothing happens. My whole family has tended to public service. I have my degree in volunteering; I’ve been doing it all my life.”

From getting Questa a public library, volunteering with the Questa 4-H for 23 years while raising three children to insuring clean water in the valley, García was always up for the fight through tenacity, patience and excellent negotiating skills — and a smile. She relished strategizing, the give-and-take and the chance for a small town to stand toe to toe with the bigger fish in a bigger pond.

And as if she didn’t have enough to take on, García took time every spring for at least the past 10 years to participate in the Taos News’ Unsung Hero Selection Committee for Tradiciones.

“Whenever I called Esther to serve on the Tradiciones focus group she always said, ‘Yes,’ ” shared Taos News Publisher Chris Baker. “She was the first one to arrive at the event and always the most prepared. She had meticulous notes on various Unsung Hero candidates throughout the community — especially people from Questa and the northern part of Taos County. She was quiet but forceful, and when she spoke the other participants took notice. I especially enjoyed hearing about Claire Coté and her work with Wild Rivers in Questa and Max Ortega (Esther’s brother), the former Questa fire chief. Over the years, Esther introduced us to the wonderful volunteers and stewards who protect our public lands. She was a strong voice for those who have devoted their lives to make Questa a better place to live. She will be missed in our Tradiciones focus group this year.”

New Mexico Wild Executive Director Mark Allison expressed in a statement after García’s passing that he will remember her as a “powerful force for her community and for the protection of public lands and wild places. She was involved and instrumental in essentially every conservation gain in Taos County over the course of the last decade … Esther’s kind heart, warm smile and steadfast commitment to public service will be missed by all who were lucky enough to meet her.”

García’s public service is beyond reproach and her tireless efforts will not be forgotten.

This article originally appeared in the Taos News.

Jessica Gama Wins 2020 Wolf Stamp Contest!

2020 Wolf Stamp Layout v22

Jessica Gama of Albuquerque has won the 2020 Mexican Gray Wolf Conservation Stamp Contest. Every year, the winning artwork is sold to raise funds to support New Mexico Wild's Mexican gray wolf conservation and education projects.

Click here to purchase the 2020 Mexican Gray Wolf Conservation Stamp!

About Jessica Gama

Originally from Massachusetts, Jessica’s early years were spent creating artwork and adventuring in the New England woods. Her love for the outdoors seeps into much Jessica Gama Picof what she does, from providing inspiration for her artwork to guiding her academic studies. At the University of Massachusetts, Jessica earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Literature and Criticism with a focus on environmental literature and theory, followed by a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing from Emerson College. A New Mexican resident since 2017, Jessica works at the University of New Mexico and spends much of her free time hitting the trails with her wife and dogs and creating new artwork. Jessica’s artwork can be found on her website, BackCountryChronic.com, in addition to stories of her outdoor explorations and the challenges of life with a chronic illness. Understanding the importance of environmental stewardship, Jessica supports Mexican Greywolf conservation efforts and is thrilled to have her drawing displayed on the 2020 Wolf Conservation Stamp.

A pandemic is no time for an adventure

By Mark Allison | Santa Fe New Mexican
March 31, 2020

New Mexico Wild continues to receive questions about whether it is acceptable to enjoy New Mexico’s enchanting public lands during this challenging time. It is natural, especially now, when we have more time and are desperate for beauty and distraction.

First and foremost, comply with medical and public health guidance. Keep abreast of the governor’s stay-at-home order and any local orders and abide by them. It is everyone’s responsibility to be safe and to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Frustratingly, the most patriotic thing to do in this situation is nothing.

That said, getting outside is certainly good and necessary for our physical and mental health.

During this stay-at-home order, focus on hyperlocal activities in your backyard or walks around the block rather than trekking in the mountains. Be aware that, at the time of writing, state parks are closed as are facilities at our national forests.

Instead, we encourage you to share favorite nature photos, memories, and books. Now is a great time to start planning your next trip to wilderness areas. You can find a comprehensive list of New Mexico’s wilderness areas in our updated Wild Guide at nmwild.org.

Immediately following the eventual lifting of the stay-at-home order, we do not recommend people travel long distances to get to trailheads.

You can’t practice appropriate social distancing if you are carpooling. We don’t want to carry the virus to smaller, gateway communities, which often lacked adequate health care infrastructure even before the pandemic. We don’t want to put already stressed first responders in a position where they need to conduct search and rescue operations. Be modest in your ambitions and err on the side of caution. This is no time to have an adventure.

As always, practice the principal of leaving no trace, including disposing of all waste properly — which is even more important when bathrooms and trash bins aren’t available.

We’ve seen hints at nature’s response to this temporary reduction of human impact. I find hope for the planet in watching the resiliency of the natural world and its response to a few weeks’ respite from normal levels of human activity.

Unfortunately, the federal government continues its aggressive agenda to exploit public lands and weaken existing rules, policies, and laws, including those for clean air, clean water and endangered species. The administration is trying to gut conservation and environmental laws and finalize plans that sacrifice special natural and cultural areas even as the nation reels from this pandemic.

For example, the Bureau of Land Management is still conducting a public comment period for its Resource Management Plan Amendment, which will guide oil and gas leasing decisions for decades. Their “preferred alternative” would allow for mineral extraction right up to Chaco’s doorstep, jeopardizing untold archaeological sites and places still sacred to the Navajo Nation and Pueblos.

Like everyone else, New Mexico Wild employees and our volunteer board of directors are concerned about their loved ones and the economic hardships that people are facing. We want you to know that while our methods have necessarily changed during this crisis, we are still hard at work protecting New Mexico’s wilderness, waters and wildlife.

This time has forced us all to adjust our perspective and perhaps reevaluate what really matters in life: loved ones, of course, and also leaving a habitable planet for future generations. Now is also a great time to help us advocate for public lands by learning more about what you can do and responding to our action alerts. We’re staying vigilant to make sure we have places left to protect when this is over, and we need your help.

Mark Allison is the executive director of New Mexico Wild.

This guest column originally appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

It's official — White Sands is a national park

By Las Cruces Sun-News
December 21, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE — President Donald Trump’s signature on defense legislation enacted by Congress means White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico is now White Sands National Park.

White Sands became the 62nd designated national park Friday with Trump’s signing of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, which included a provision on the re-designation, park officials said Saturday in a statement.

“Our staff are very excited for White Sands to be recognized as a national park and to reintroduce ourselves to the American public,” said White Sands Superintendent Marie Sauter. “We are so appreciative of our partners, local communities, and congressional leaders who made this achievement possible and look forward to continued success working together.”

White Sands National Monument was established on Jan. 18, 1933, by President Herbert Hoover to preserve “the white sands and additional features of scenic, scientific, and educational interest.”

According to the statement, White Sands contains not only the world’s largest gypsum dunefield, including gypsum hearthmounds found nowhere else, but also is home to the globe’s largest collection of Ice Age fossilized footprints.”

The park, the statement said, “tells more than 10,000 years of human presence, all while providing memorable recreational opportunities.”

White Sands sees hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, more than any other park service location in New Mexico. In 2017, White Sands logged more than 600,000 visits and spurred more than $31 million in spending for the local economy.

Buy PhotoVisitors gather for an early morning event at White Sands National Monument. Whether your destination is a day trip or a vacation at a distant location, making sure you're prepared for the climate and activities will enhance your getaway. (Photo: Jett Loe/Las Cruces Sun-News)

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who was among those who pushed for the re-designation, has said he expected the change would boost the local economy and spur more recognition for the unique spot.

Aside from the name change, the federal legislation included provisions for a land exchange between White Sands and the U.S. Army, which operates an adjacent missile range.

Efforts to establish a national park in the area date back more than a century as some locals wanted to protect the dunes from commercial interests that were attempting to mine the gypsum.

The redesignation came as New Mexico joined other Western states in tapping into the lucrative outdoor recreation industry.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier this year signed a measure that prompted the creation of a dedicated division in state government to focus on expanding outdoor recreation and related economic development.

This article originally appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News.