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.

Interior secretary rides into work, signs two orders

To the delight of some reporters and Washington, D.C. tourists, the nation’s brand-new Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, rode a horse into work today. Zinke, who had represented Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2014, also signed two new orders. One directs agencies to identify areas where hunting and fishing can be expanded. With a reference to the legacy of Republican President Theodore Roosevelt—a hunter and conservationist and frequent touchstone for environmentalists—Order 3347 will “facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting opportunities and management of game species and their habitat.”

It applies to lands overseen by agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. “Over the past eight years however, hunting, and recreation enthusiasts have seen trails closed and dramatic decreases in access to public lands across the board.

Mexican gray wolf numbers up from last year

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its annual survey numbers for Mexican Gray Wolves in the Gila National Forest. As of the end of December, there were 113 wolves living in the recovery area, which includes areas in both New Mexico and Arizona. That’s an increase of 16 from the 2015 survey. In a statement, the agency’s southwest regional director Benjamin Tuggle said the goal is to achieve an annual growth rate of 10 percent. According to the survey, there are a total of 21 packs, with at least 50 wolves in New Mexico and 63 in Arizona.

Feds say bat species thriving, no longer needs ESA protection

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says efforts to help a rare bat species were so successful the bat no longer needs federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, or ESA. The lesser long-nosed bat is migratory, spending summers in southern Arizona and New Mexico and winters in central and southern Mexico. The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bat for federal protection in 1988. At the time, scientists knew of only 1,000 individual bats and 14 roosts across their entire range in both the U.S. and Mexico. Today, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s latest study, there are about 200,000 bats and 75 roosts.

Feds release latest funding for wolf, rancher programs

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its latest round of funding to help ranchers affected by or living near wolves earlier this month. Nationwide, the grants amount to $900,000. One-third of that money will go toward projects in Arizona and New Mexico. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wolf Livestock Demonstration Grant Program offers two types of matching, competitive grants to states and tribes. One compensates livestock owners when wolves are proven to have killed their animals.