During U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recent visit to New Mexico, most of his attention focused on Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The secretary spent two days in southern New Mexico, viewing the monument by helicopter and on foot and meeting with people and groups in closed settings. That monument, designated in 2014 by President Barack Obama, lies within Rep. Steve Pearce’s congressional district, and the Republican has long opposed the monument’s size. It’s possible, if not likely, that Zinke will recommend changes to the monument, despite widespread support from southern New Mexico’s elected leaders, businesses and residents. For now, many think the boundaries of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument may be safe.
In New Mexico last week, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke met with elected leaders, local sportsmen, ranchers and veterans. The former Montana congressman squeezed in a horseback ride and even showed off some wrestling moves to New Mexico’s senators. Currently, Zinke is considering the fate of about 20 places currently protected as national monuments, including Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks near Las Cruces and Rio Grande del Norte near Taos. New Mexico’s senators and sportsmen took advantage of his visit to the state, bringing him to the Sabinoso Wilderness in San Miguel County. Even though Congress designated the wilderness in 2009, hikers, hunters and horseback riders have been locked out of the 16,000-acre area’s canyons and mesas.
Last June, Gov. Susana Martinez joined incident commanders and U.S. Forest Service officials to update local residents on yet another forest fire. She had already declared a state of emergency and called in the state National Guard for the Dog Head Fire in the Manzano Mountains near Albuquerque. Since taking office five years earlier, Martinez had presided over similar meetings across New Mexico while various fires and millions of acres of forest burned. With global warming, the number and size of fires has increased and fire season has lengthened by about two months in the western United States. Even a 2005 report prepared by the state warned that New Mexico’s forests were vulnerable to “catastrophic” wildfires and massive diebacks.
U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Zinke is visiting New Mexico this week as part of his review of national monuments throughout the country, including New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monuments. Zinke will visit northern New Mexico—but not Rio Grande del Norte itself— Saturday with U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall. The Interior head’s schedule primarily focuses on southern New Mexico and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. That has led to speculation the secretary will not order a review of Rio Grande del Norte near Taos, but will call for changes to the 496,000-acre monument in southern New Mexico. President Barack Obama designated the monument near Las Cruces in 2014 after a decade of planning and public meetings.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that top officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior prevented climate change experts from showing Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg impacts of warming at Glacier National Park. According to the story: The decision to micromanage Zuckerberg’s stop in Montana from 2,232 miles east in Washington, made by top officials at the Interior Department, the National Park Service’s parent agency, was highly unusual — even for a celebrity visit. It capped days of internal discussions — including conference calls and multiple emails — among top Interior Department and Park Service officials about how much the park should roll out the welcome mat for Zuckerberg, who with the broader tech community in Silicon Valley has positioned himself as a vocal critic of President Trump, particularly of his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. Those experts included the park’s superintendent Jeff Mow and Daniel Fagre, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who is stationed at the park. Earlier this week, Fagre told the Post’s reporter he didn’t know what had happened: Three days before the tech leader’s July 15 visit to Glacier, research ecologist Daniel Fagre said he was told that his scheduled tour with Zuckerberg of Logan Pass on the Continental Divide was off.
This month, I started working on a new project with New Mexico in Focus. Each month, we’ll explore a different issue on “Our Land: New Mexico’s Environmental Past, Present and Future.” The first show aired last night on New Mexico PBS/KNME-TV and was loosely based around reporting I had done earlier this year in partnership with NM Political Report and the Santa Fe Reporter. Related story: The Heart of Darkness
In the first episode of “Our Land,” we visited with Jeremy Sweat, the Chief of Resource Management at Bandelier National Monument and Collin Haffey, a resource ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey to learn about how forests are, and are not, recovering six years after Las Conchas Fire burned 156,000 acres in the Jemez Mountains. You can watch the full video of the segment below. Haffey brought the crew out to a 30,000 acre area where Las Conchas burned so intensely that in many places, there are essentially no living trees left, and no seed sources for regeneration.
On the edge of the Valle Grande in northern New Mexico stands a grove of towering ponderosa pines. The trees, many of them between 250 and 400 years old, comprise what’s called the History Grove, and they offer a snapshot into what the forests of the Jemez Mountains looked like centuries ago—before widespread grazing in the late 19th century and decades of fire suppression by the federal government. During a recent trip there, I was reminded of what goes into protecting and maintaining our forests and landscapes. Land management, as it’s called, is made of up of meetings and programs, line-item budgets and public comment periods. And sometimes, expensive lawsuits and bitter battles.
The oil company BP announced it will close its Farmington, New Mexico office by the end of the year and reduce its in-state workforce by about 40 employees. Other current New Mexico employees will be relocated to the company’s office in Durango, Colorado. In a statement, the company said that move will “help improve the efficiency and competitiveness of its operations in the San Juan Basin.”
The company emphasized in its emailed statement it “has no plans to decrease its overall investment in New Mexico.” Currently, the company operates 2,600 wells in the state and will “seek to drill new wells in New Mexico when feasible.”
Earlier this year, BP announced it will open its new headquarters in Denver next year. In recent years, Colorado has increased regulations for oil and gas drilling within state boundaries. Last week, Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, announced the state’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Environmental Protection Agency got some push-back from folks in New Mexico and other states at a hearing in the nation’s capital on Monday. The agency wants to delay a new methane-emission rule for the oil and gas industry on federal land – although methane leaked at well sites is linked to climate change and considered a risk to public health. New Mexico and California have already sued the EPA to keep the rule in place. Alexandra Merlino with the New Mexico chapter of the group Moms Clean Air Force spoke at the EPA hearing. She says energy producers need to be held accountable to update their equipment and stop methane leaks.
Last week, a United Nations group signed a draft treaty to prohibit the development, manufacturing and testing of nuclear weapons. When President Donald Trump pulled the United States back from global climate change action earlier this year, that move was met with outrage from many, including elected leaders, across the country. The international action banning nuclear weapons has received far less attention, including here in New Mexico where many communities have been wedded to nuclear weapons research, production and waste since World War II. Today, the U.S. and Russia together control more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. Eight countries have tested nuclear weapons, and currently, the United States remains the only one to have deployed nuclear weapons outside of tests.