One week after announcing his candidacy for New Mexico State Land Commissioner, Garrett VeneKlasen received a “cease and desist order” from the current commissioner, Republican Aubrey Dunn. The order came from Dunn’s son, Blair, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate as a Republican last fall and helped run Gary Johnson’s last gubernatorial campaign. Blair Dunn sent the order to the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, of which VeneKlasen is the executive director, and eight media outlets including NM Political Report. The order called political statements made by VeneKlasen, a Democrat, untrue and misleading. It references a radio ad from VeneKlasen’s campaign accusing Aubrey Dunn of using the office for personal gain.
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.
Garrett VeneKlasen announced plans to run for New Mexico Commissioner for State Lands on Friday morning. “We are in a state of crisis in New Mexico, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that,” said VeneKlasen. He is currently executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, which represents sportsmen and women across the state and is focused on the conservation of water, lands and wildlife. “I was tired of wringing my hands and complaining about how things are run in that office, and I have some really good and visionary new ideas.”
The State Land Office administers 9 million acres of surface lands and 13 million acres of subsurface mineral rights. Those lands are managed for beneficiaries of the state land trust, which include schools, universities and hospitals. Aubrey Dunn, a Republican, is the incumbent and can run for a second term next year.
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.
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.
On Ryan Zinke’s first day as Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, he overturned an 11th-hour Obama-era directive that would have expanded the use of nontoxic ammunition and fishing tackle on public lands. Rep. Steve Pearce publicly thanked Zinke on Twitter for his “quick action to scrap a last-minute Obama Administration regulation that banned lead ammo.” The social media message included a shot of Zinke signing the order while flanked by clapping fans, including the National Rifle Association’s Chris Cox, and a picture of lead ammunition. NM Political Report followed up with the Republican representative’s office, asking why the congressman supported the use of lead, a metal known to harm humans and wildlife, on public lands. Related: Interior secretary rides into work, signs two orders
“Use of lead ammunition and tackle has occurred since the beginning of our nation and there is no scientific evidence that links the use of lead to decreasing population levels of wildlife,” Press Secretary Keeley Christensen said in an emailed statement. “Additionally, lead based ammunition and tackle is widely used by sportsmen and fishermen.
This week, a bill to terminate law enforcement jobs at the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management was referred to a subcommittee in the House Committee on Agriculture. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced the bill. If passed, it would eliminate the Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations unit, which handles everything from public safety and criminal investigations to seizing illegal drugs grown in forests, curtailing smuggling and closing drug labs on public lands. The bill would also eliminate and the BLM’s Office of Law Enforcement, which employs more than 250 rangers and special agents. The bill would cease funding for federal law enforcement on federal lands later this year.
As the White House’s anti-immigration stance stokes fears along the border, it’s also highlighting the relationship between Mexico and New Mexico—and exposing how vulnerable the rest of the United States may be to increased security and surveillance. Earlier this week, a coalition of state legislators introduced a bill to prevent the federal government from constructing a new border wall or fence across New Mexico state lands. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Javier Martínez, a Democrat, today represents Albuquerque. But he was born in El Paso and grew up in Ciudad Juárez. When President Donald Trump talks about building walls and criminalizing immigration, that speaks to Martínez’s personal experience of growing up along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In Santa Fe yesterday, hundreds of people gathered at the Roundhouse to support protecting the state’s public lands. Public lands can refer to those administered by federal agencies such as the National Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, lands protected as state parks or areas overseen by the New Mexico State Land Office. The rally started at the capitol, and then protesters marched to the steps of the State Land Office, looped down Alameda and back to the rotunda. The crowd included a mix of people including sportsmen, students, retirees and conservationists from around New Mexico. It also featured dancing and drumming from students in the Pueblo Pathways Project at the Santa Fe Indian School.