On the (hiking) trail with Heinrich

Last weekend, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and his wife Julie pulled up to an Albuquerque trailhead and were greeted by a group of eager supporters with hiking poles and hydration packs at the ready. Almost immediately, Heinrich became an impromptu trail guide, educating his constituents on the different native plants along the trail and which animals use them as food sources. At least twice, unsuspecting hikers recognized the affable sportsman who has worked in Washington, D.C. since 2009. One family hiking towards the top of the trail passed the Heinrich entourage on its way back to the trail head. As the two groups converged, one woman looked at Heinrich and asked, “Is it really you?

NM Environment Review: No-go on solar plus public lands, nuclear waste and more

On Wednesday, Gov. Susana Martinez signed the budget passed earlier this year by state legislators. But she refused to sign a bill that would have reinstated state tax credits for solar. That bill reinstated a tax credit that had expired after a decade, one that had spurred the deployment of 220 million BTUs per day of solar heating energy and 40 megawatts of solar electricity. The tax credit would have given people who install a solar thermal system or photovoltaic system at their home, business or farm a ten percent credit of the purchase and installation costs, up to $9,000. Previously, Martinez has praised the state’s “all of the above” energy resources, but by declining to sign the solar tax credit bill, she effectively vetoed it, but without having to explain why. This week, there’s an interesting water case before the Second District Court, over a private company’s plans to drill for groundwater in the Sandia Mountains.

2017 Top Stories #5: National monuments under fire

About 739,000 acres of public lands in New Mexico became a big news story this year. At the end of April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review a number of national monument designations, including two in New Mexico, made under the Antiquities Act since 1996. See all of our year-end stories

The two New Mexico monuments were the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces

The executive order was a gift to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who had been seeking a way to diminish protections of two monuments in Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. At the signing ceremony for the order, Trump recognized Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah Sen. Mike Lee and in particular, Hatch. “Believe me, he’s tough.

Zinke decides against shrinking NM monuments

The Trump administration announced big changes to some national monuments, but U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has said the boundaries of two monuments under review in New Mexico will be left intact. A day after President Donald Trump visited Utah and announced he would drastically reduce the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, Zinke released his recommendations for the other monuments under review. At the urging of Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, Trump signed an executive order earlier this year directing Zinke to review all national monuments designated since 1996 that are larger than 100,000 acres. That included two in New Mexico, Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces. During a press call on Tuesday, Zinke said he based his decision not to alter boundaries of the two New Mexico monuments on conversations with the governor, the state’s congressional delegation, ranchers, conservationists, and city officials.

This Black Friday, lots of options to #OptOutside in New Mexico

On Black Friday, you can line up outside a big box store hours before sunrise, shove your way through the crowd and perhaps, victoriously snap a selfie with the discounted flat screen television you scored. But if you’re lucky enough to have the day off on Friday and want to disentangle from the stress of bills, work, school, social media and politics, you have other options. There’s a movement afoot to wrest the day after Thanksgiving from the clutches of consumerism. And New Mexico is the perfect place to join the revolution. Even though the #OptOutside campaign itself emerged from the retail world—REI decided not to open its stores on the post-Thanksgiving retail day and instead give employees the day off—it’s entirely possible to have fun outside without buying any recreational equipment at all.

Neighborhood Refuge: Valle de Oro strives to be an ‘asset’ to its community

From downtown Albuquerque, it’s a straight shot south down Second Street to Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge. Along the way, drivers will pass railyards and baseball fields, salvage yards and irrigated fields. Jets taking off from the Sunport rumble low and loud, and plumes of contamination, from military and industrial activities, lurk in the waters belowground. Pulling into the parking lot at Valle de Oro, near the southern edge of the Mountain View Neighborhood, first-time visitors might pause and wonder why they’re there, exactly. Squint, and they’ll see cottonwoods of the bosque in the distance, and an old dairy barn painted with images of dancers.

Around NM: Ranching, drilling, mining news + climate change

Susan Montoya Bryan wrote that a federal court sided with the Goss family in Otero County in a lawsuit over their claims that the federal government violated its constitutional rights. The U.S. Forest Service fenced off areas where the family had grazed cattle to protect an endangered species within sensitive stream habitat. This is our weekly environmental email that goes out on Thursdays before publication on the site on Fridays. If you want it on Thursdays, sign up! #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; width:100%;}
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Sabinoso Wilderness set to open today

At noon today, hikers, hunters and horseback riders will finally be able to enter the Sabinoso Wilderness Area in northern New Mexico. U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sent out a Tweet last night announcing that his office had finalized the transfer of private land to the federal government. “Excited to announce tonight that for the first time ever #hunters can access the Sabinoso Wilderness Area.”

Excited to announce tonight that for the first time ever #hunters can access the Sabinoso Wilderness Area. pic.twitter.com/THeFjHBMbr— Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) November 10, 2017

Congress designated the wilderness area in 2009, but people were not able to actually access the federally-administered lands because they were “landlocked” by private lands. At that time, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management contacted the Wilderness Land Trust and asked the nonprofit to buy a neighboring ranch and donate it to the federal government.

Land swap receives bipartisan support

The New Mexico State Land Office and the U.S. Department of the Interior are working out the details on a land trade involving more than 120,000 acres in the state, including some lands within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and the Sabinoso Wilderness. State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn announced this week that the federal government approved an agreement to transfer 43,000 acres of state-owned lands and mineral leases within the monument and the wilderness to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In return, New Mexico will gain about 78,000 acres in 13 counties from the BLM. Of the state trust lands “locked” within the national monument, Dunn said 25 percent of those aren’t currently leased for grazing. That means New Mexico isn’t earning all the income it could, he said, adding that “because of the way it’s checkerboarded with BLM, it’s hard to develop other things, like gravel or any other uses.”

The State Land Office administers nine million acres of surface lands and 13 million acres of subsurface mineral rights.

Secret plan for New Mexico’s national monuments draws lawsuit threats

Days after a highly anticipated report was delivered to President Donald Trump on the future of 27 national monuments, New Mexico politicians and conservation groups already are threatening lawsuits even though the report remains shrouded in secrecy. After delivering the report on Friday, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke refused to release it. Attorney Susan Jane Brown with the Western Environmental Law Center is confident the courts eventually will conclude the Federal Land Policy and Management Act forbids the president from making changes to the monuments. “In terms of an administration that claims it wants to cut red tape and make things easier for the public to utilize their public lands, all this process is going to do is result in enduring litigation,” she states. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte national monuments in New Mexico made the original list for possible alterations.