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.

Border agency set to jumpstart Trump’s wall in a Texas wildlife refuge

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will begin constructing the first segment of President Trump’s border wall in November through a national wildlife refuge, using money it’s already received from Congress. That’s what a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official recently told a nonprofit group that raises money to support two national wildlife refuges in South Texas, according to the group’s vice president. “I was alarmed,” said Jim Chapman of Friends of the Wildlife Corridor. “It was not good news.” For the past six months, CBP has been quietly preparing a site to build a nearly 3-mile border barrier through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, according to The Texas Observer.

In new wolf plan, feds give states power on releases

Just a week after the announcement that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle would be reassigned, the agency issued a notice saying it will give states the authority to decide where and when Mexican gray wolves can be released. Related story: Interior Department reorganization will hit New Mexico’s landscapes, communities

On Thursday, the agency released a draft revision to its Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, which guides plans to remove the wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act. Under the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez, New Mexico has opposed wolf reintroductions, and in 2011, the Game Commission ended the state’s participation in the program. The commission also voted to stop the federal government from releasing any new captive-raised wolves in the state and sued. A federal judge then blocked any new releases.

Interior Department reorganization will hit New Mexico’s landscapes, communities

The Trump administration reassigned several top-level employees in its reorganization of the U.S. Department of the Interior. That includes Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Region, and Weldon “Bruce” Loudermilk, director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The New Mexico State Director for the Bureau of Land Management, Amy Lueders, whose background is in economics, is also being reassigned to the Fish and Wildlife Service. In a state like New Mexico, with more than 20 American Indian tribes, vast tracts of public lands, federal water projects, myriad endangered species issues, large-scale oil and gas development and existing and proposed mines on public lands, the staffing changes—and what they signal— could have deep and long-lasting effects on the state’s landscapes, communities and future. During a Senate subcommittee hearing last week, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall questioned Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about the staffing changes, slated to take place at the end of June.

Rio Grande water managers freed up from some ESA constraints

Even before this week’s storm, the Rio Grande was ripping through its channel. Winter storms had packed the mountains with snow, and warm March temperatures sent snowmelt down the river. “The snowmelt is coming earlier than we’d like, but if there’s enough snow up there, it may just continue, and it may just be a great year,” said Carolyn Donnelly, head of water operations for the Albuquerque Area Office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. That agency is responsible for operating most of the dams and reservoirs on the Rio Grande and making sure water gets to downstream cities and farmers. For the first time in more than nearly 15 years, the agency and its partners won’t have to hustle to make sure the Albuquerque stretch of the river doesn’t dry during the heat of the summer.

Meet the new Trump staffers in charge of tribal, land, water and wildlife issues

When speaking to a congressional committee more than two decades ago about a bill that would have made sweeping changes to the federal Endangered Species Act, Kathleen Benedetto said the landmark 1973 law was flawed for not taking “into consideration that extinctions are part of that natural process.”

“If you look at the geological record, you can see throughout time that extinctions occurred,” Benedetto said in the 1995 House Committee on Natural Resources hearing. “We’re all aware that the dinosaurs were here for millions of years, and they’re not here any longer, and they disappeared long before man ever emerged as a species.”

Related: Bill would terminate BLM, Forest Service law enforcement

Benedetto co-founded the Women’s Mining Coalition and spoke on behalf of Grassroots ESA Coalition, an anti-regulation group aligned with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Now, Benedetto is one of the new special assistants to Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior. She’s reportedly in the Bureau of Land Management after working on Donald Trump’s transition team and as a Republican legislative staffer for the House Natural Resources Committee. As a GS-15 employee she’ll be earning between $101,630-$132,122 per year.

Coyote-killing contest ban splits rural, urban senators

In a decision that pitted rural and urban lawmakers against one another, the state Senate voted Thursday to prohibit coyote-killing contests in New Mexico. Senate Bill 268 carried 26-15 and now moves to the House of Representatives with a little more than a week remaining in the session. The Senate approved a similar measure two years ago, but it died in the House. Coyotes in New Mexico are an unprotected animal, meaning they can be killed at any time and in any number without a hunting license. But Sens.

Wolf lovers, ranchers face off in competing Capitol rallies

A debate raged Wednesday among dozens of people outside the state Capitol over wolves versus ranchers. “More wolves,” shouted some people holding signs with slogans like “Free the Lobos.” Their supporters howled. “No wolves,” shouted another group, some wearing cowboy hats and holding signs that said, “Moove Over Wolves!” and “No More Lobos!”

Feds might release wolves over state objection

Despite the state Game Commission’s disapproval, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is planning on releasing some Mexican Gray Wolves in Southeastern New Mexico. The state Game Commission voted late last month to continue to deny a permit to the federal government for the release. The decision by the commission upheld the decision of a previous director. The proposed release is part of the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program which seeks to reintroduce the species that was nearly brought to extinction by the 1970s. The Santa Fe New Mexican first reported the news on the federal decision, citing a statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.