Earlier this year, we covered a lawsuit against the federal government from a group of young people who allege their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property were violated by taking actions that cause climate change and increase its dangers. The plaintiffs, including Albuquerque-born Aji Piper, want the government to align carbon emissions reductions with what scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic and irreversible warming. Piper came to Albuquerque in April and talked about the case: “Going to rallies is great, speaking up is great,” the 16-year old said at that time of climate activism. “But we need to get our government in on this.”
In 2016, the court allowed three industry trade groups to join as defendants. Together, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufactures, the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufactures represent thousands of companies, including Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, BHP Billiton, BP and ConocoPhillips.
As we wrote earlier today, fire protection officers were busy keeping an eye on New Mexico’s national forests over the three-day weekend. Related story: Fire protection officers strain to keep up with holiday crowds
This morning, the numbers came in: In the Jemez District of the Santa Fe National Forest, officers found 19 abandoned campfires. They found 13 on Monday alone. That brings the total this year to 49. Across the entire Santa Fe National Forest, officers found 41 abandoned or unattended campfires over Memorial Day weekend.
While thousands of people poured into the mountains to enjoy the three-day weekend, federal employees hustled around the forests, trying to keep visitors safe, protect special areas and prevent wildfires. It’s not an easy job. Like many public lands, national forests in New Mexico and across the country have experienced a jump in visitors in recent years. Fire Protection Officer Ron Gallegos has worked full-time for the U.S Forest Service for 37 years. Just shy of 60 years old, he grew up spending time in the area where he now works, the Jemez District of the Santa Fe National Forest, and fishing the Rio Cebolla.
If you saw this week’s wrap up of New Mexico’s most important environment news (which you definitely should read) you’ll have noticed a picture of the Four Corners Power Plant from the 1970s. That photo and thousands more are from the Documerica Project. In the 1970s, the brand-new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hired freelance photographers to document pollution, everyday life and the agency’s activities. The U.S. National Archives digitized more than 15,000 photographs from the series and included them in their online catalog. Many of the images show how air pollution was affecting cities and illustrate the unhealthy environmental conditions that low-income and communities of color live with on a daily basis. There are photos of coal miners and a discouragingly-contaminated Baltimore Harbor in 1973 and from Louisville in 1972, when thousands of people had to be evacuated after a barge carrying liquid chlorine threatened to spill.
We’re excited to announce our second News and Brews Summer Series panel. This time, NM Political Report will speak to three experts about the environment on June 8. Like our last event, tickets are free which you can get from here. Readers who are subscribed to our daily emails are first to hear about these events. NM Political Report’s Laura Paskus will again moderate the discussion. Paskus leads our environmental project, which includes in-depth stories on water, regulatory agencies, public lands, climate change and wildlife that no one else in the state is covering.
National policies always affect New Mexico’s lands and natural resources, especially during times of uncertainty. In the 1940s, for example, military and nuclear interests honed in on the state’s lands and natural resources. The U.S. government established what became Los Alamos National Laboratory on Pajarito Plateau in 1943, and detonated the first atomic bomb two years later near Alamogordo. White Sands Missile Range, which encompasses 3,200 square miles, was created in the 1940s, as were the military bases in Albuquerque and Clovis, now called Kirtland and Cannon. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the news right now.
This Sunday, people gathered at a spot along the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico to nurture a small habitat restoration project and remember three Silver City teens who died in a plane crash three years ago. The mission of the Butterfly Way, located at The Nature Conservancy’s Gila River Farm, is to enhance the river corridor with native flowers, trees and milkweed that will benefit pollinators, including monarch butterflies. “It’s sort of a community effort to beautify a piece of the floodplain that had been highly hammered and damaged over time by different agricultural land uses,” said Patrice Mutchnick, mother of Ella Jaz Kirk. “We started planting pretty quickly after the kids passed. We drew up a five-year plan how to restore this area, and are using the monarch as the cornerstone of the project.”
At first, it was just family members, but over time, Mutchnick said they’ve invited more neighbors and friends, student groups and community members, to come to the farm.
First there’s a spark, and then the fire. We all stare at the sky, smell the smoke. After the trees and brush and roots are gone, floods roar through arroyos and down hillsides. Weeds invade as soon as the ground has cooled. Often, the long-term changes aren’t that obvious, especially when compared with flames and floods.
It doesn’t take an expert to see that the Rio Grande is swelling over its channel, spreading water into the bosque and nurturing the next generation of cottonwood trees. That overbanking is good for endangered species like the Rio Grande silvery minnow and other more prominent species like cottonwood, said David Gensler, the hydrologist for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD), which delivers water to farmers and the six pueblos in the valley. “On the other hand, it makes us nervous about the levees,” he said. For more than 40 miles in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, the river is up against its levees. And the Rio Grande is still rising.
It’s not clear if the state of New Mexico is worried about a potential loss of federal funds, even as other states voice concern over a review ordered by Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior. Last month, the Missoulian reported that officials at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks were worried about how a memo signed by U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will affect the department. The memo required a review of all grants more than $100,000. According to the story: The Department of Interior annually distributes $5.5 billion in grants and cooperative agreements, according to the memorandum Zinke signed on April 12 and which took effect on April 19. Zinke, a Montana resident and former congressman, said in the memo that he was issuing the directive to help him “ … understand the immense impact grants and cooperative agreements have on the mission delivery of the Department.” Although the memo says the “procedures are temporary” and that business as usual would return “as soon as possible,” no end date is given.