Inaction by Congress could endanger New Mexico’s parks and monuments

One of the best things about living in New Mexico is the abundance of great natural beauty and opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. Whether it’s the view from just about any rural highway or one of the many state and national parks and forests, New Mexico boasts some of the most beautiful land in the nation. It is a heritage that all proud New Mexicans want to protect for future generations, a pride woven into our culture. The preservation of our public lands is a sacred trust, but it’s being made more difficult by the inaction of Congress. Much of New Mexico’s beautiful landscape has been protected and enhanced by one of the best federal programs you’ve probably never heard of: the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

Opponents to rally in NM over sale of public lands for drilling

SANTA FE — New Mexico is becoming an “energy sacrifice zone,” according to those who oppose the sale of 84,000 acres of state lands for oil and gas drilling. Opponents will rally at the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters in Santa Fe on Wednesday, one day ahead of Thursday’s planned online sale. The sell-off will include 46,000 acres in the culturally significant Greater Chaco region. The sale is scheduled despite 10,000 citizen protest comments, according to Miya King-Flaherty, organizer of Our Wild New Mexico at the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter. She said the BLM is showing chronic disregard for public concerns, community health impacts and tribal consultation.

Will the little places of New Mexico survive economic growth?

Most of the fruit trees are dead, as are all the grandmother cottonwood trees along the lower acequia. The beautiful song of the meadowlarks no longer reverberates through the little valley. The spring, Ojo la Rosa de Castilla, which is also the name of our acequia running alongside Las Huertas Creek in Placitas, has not provided any water to our two little farms for over five years. This has happened in the past, but never has the soil been so deprived of moisture, the weather been so hot, and my parciantes so discouraged. We still perform the annual limpiando (ditch cleaning) every spring, mainly so it will be ready for the water if it ever comes again, and to maintain our old water rights, as we need to prove intent to use them so the State won’t forfeit them for non-use.

2019 is an opportunity to put our students first

For decades, our State government has failed to provide our students with the education they need and deserve, creating some of the worst racial and economic inequalities for educational achievement in the country. Sweeping changes must be made.  In a landmark court decision, a judge ruled that New Mexico is violating the constitutional rights of students to a sufficient education (Yazzie/Martinez case). The court ruled that the state must provide funding sufficient so that every New Mexico student can have an equal opportunity to succeed, no matter a student’s personal, family or community circumstances, or the state’s other needs.  The court also highlighted a severe teacher shortage in our state.  

A recent report released by the New Mexico State College of Education Southwest Outreach Academic Research Lab found that nearly 1,200 positions in our schools were left open this fall, leaving students without access to trained counselors, librarians to help guide their research, or certified educators to lead their classrooms. That same report found that 740 classrooms in New Mexico, or roughly 53,000 students, were being taught by long-term substitutes rather than certified teachers this fall. These shortages prevent our students from achieving their full potential. Our children are forced into classrooms with large class sizes that leave them without school resources to help them overcome basic obstacles like a learning problem.   On Election Day New Mexico voters sent a clear message to our public officials in Santa Fe and elected a new wave of representatives who made strengthening public education a cornerstone of their campaigns.  

Heading into the 2019 legislative session, our political leaders are well-positioned to champion polices and create a budget that can enact real and lasting improvements for our students and for our public schools.  Our legislature must use some of the projected $1.2 billion budget surplus to combat the teacher shortage by raising pay for licensed teachers and all public school employees. This will help districts give our students what they deserve the brightest minds to teach our them. 

Legislation that prioritizes education funding and provides our students with the resources they need to obtain a real 21st Century education is also a must.

Businesses urge action to preserve NM’s special places

SILVER CITY, N.M. – Canyons, deserts, lava flows, badlands, monuments. When it comes to public lands, New Mexico has it all, and a group of local business owners wants to make sure it’s all preserved by calling on Congress to renew and fully fund the lapsed Land and Water Conservation Fund. Dan Roper, a community coordinator for the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, spearheaded a letter as well as a video to show the importance of LWCF funding to gateway communities. He says it might sound like an obscure government program, but New Mexicans have benefitted from investments in outdoor recreation, trails and open spaces where people live and work. “Whether they realize it or not, sometimes you talk to people about something like LWCF and they’re not very familiar, but if you start talking about the places that have been protected through LWCF investments, then you really make that connection and people start to get it,” he states.

Time to take action in New Mexico to halt youth smoking and vaping

The Albuquerque Journal reported on September 17th that the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration issued warnings to 22 New Mexico businesses and fined one of them this past summer for selling electronic cigarettes to minors. It is of course illegal to sell e-cigarettes and tobacco to people younger than 18. Since the perpetrators include some of the nation’s largest mainstream retailers and convenience stores, including Walmart, Walgreen’s and 7-Eleven, it should illustrate to policy makers and citizens alike why tough, urgent action is needed at the state and local level. Earlier the federal FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stated that e-cigarette use, or ‘vaping’, among teenagers nationally now has reached “an epidemic proportion”. New Mexico’s youth are no exception.

Closing and defining Petroglyph National Monument trails

The National Park Service (NPS) wants to take away my dirt trail. My half mile of single track winds between four-wing saltbush clumps and kangaroo rat burrows. For about 20 years, as often as weekly, I’ve run that particular path.  Now, Petroglyph National Monument, as part of its Visitor Use and Management Plan, proposes to close it, along with 90 some miles of other trails. Presently over 130 trail miles of  lattice work paths cross the monument’s 7,209 acres of iconic volcanic escarpment and mesa on Albuquerque’s west side.

The next governor should know research expertise from higher education is an underutilized asset for the state

Higher education inevitably will take a big chunk of time and energy for the new Governor of the State of New Mexico. There are many mouths to feed with 27 public colleges and universities spread throughout the State: three research universities, four comprehensive universities/colleges, ten branch community colleges, seven independent community colleges and three special schools. Complicated topics like funding formulas, performance funding, certificates and credentials, funding per student and program evaluations are an important part of the appropriation process. Beyond the fiscal aspects of higher education, we want to promote the concept in this opinion piece that higher education can be a valuable resource to inform key policy decisions for the new Governor. The four authors of this opinion piece are faculty at the three major research institutions (University of New Mexico, New Mexico Tech and New Mexico State University) of the State of New Mexico.

The next governor should improve our tax system and increase wages

While election season seems to highlight our nation’s political divide, most New Mexicans agree on what we’d like for our state: a strong economy with opportunity for everyone; good jobs; safe communities; and resilient families with healthy, well-educated children. We all want the best possible future for our children and the generations to come. The issue, then, is how we go about building such a state. That will be the fundamental question the new governor will need to answer. She or he will have to sell his or her vision to legislators, agency staff, and a whole host of other players in order to make it a reality.

Environmentalists, oil producers eye NM land commissioner race

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The surge of oil and gas drilling in New Mexico in the past 18 months also has led to a surge of influence spending in the race for the next Commissioner of Public Lands. Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard, Republican Pat Lyons and Libertarian Michael Lucero all want the job, but Chevron Corp. has poured $2 million into the race to support Lyons, primarily through television ads. Lilliana Castillo, communications director for Conservation Voters New Mexico, said the state deserves a commissioner who will hold oil and gas companies accountable and protect New Mexico’s air, land and water. “In New Mexico, in particular, we have more acres of state trust land than any other state in the country,” she said, “so that makes the commissioner of public lands the most powerful land manager in the West.”