Every year, migrating birds blanket fields and hunker down for the winter along the Middle Rio Grande. Even if you’ve never visited Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge south of Socorro, you’ve likely seen photographers’ striking images: flocks of snow geese erupting from the water just as the sun peeks above the horizon or closeups of sandhill cranes with their giant wings spread in mating displays. Typically between November and February, tens of thousands of greater sandhill cranes, snow geese and Ross’s geese overwinter at the refuge. “We provide resting habitat and the food to get them through the winter so when they go up for breeding season they’re in good they’re good physical shape for the next year,” says refuge manager Kevin Cobble, adding that the refuge grows corn, seed and native crops to keep the birds from traveling outside the refuge and feeding on local crops on private land. “We try to manipulate our wetlands to simulate what the Rio Grande used to do,” he says.
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.
Peering through binoculars, Glenn Harper tries to spot the white rumps of pronghorn. The hooved mammals, sometimes mistakenly called “antelope,” are speedy—and hard to spot on an August afternoon atop Santa Ana Mesa. Harper is the range and wildlife division manager with the Pueblo of Santa Ana’s Department of Natural Resources. After a few minutes, he and Dan Ginter, the pueblo’s range program manager, try an easier way to locate the herd. They pull out telemetry equipment, which picks up a signal from one of the animal’s radio collars. There’s a clump of pronghorn lazing near the tree line a few hundred yards away.
I stood motionless, afraid to even blink let alone breathe. His bulbous eye focused on the off-colored rock sitting before him. His 220-pound frame was sleek and well-defined but nothing compared to what it would be in a few months when he bulked up to begin defending his right to breed. The Rocky Mountain bighorn ram standing before me was already a fine specimen, he was soon going to be a fierce competitor as well. Imagining the thunderous clap resounding from his mighty horns as he beat down his rivals, I had little doubt he would maintain his bloodline this coming breeding season.
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.
After more than a decade of freelancing for magazines, newspapers and radio, I’m settling down. Beginning this month, readers of NM Political Report will start seeing more news stories about water, environmental justice, public lands, wildlife, nuclear waste, climate change and energy. As much as I have loved working with different editors and teams over the years, I am relieved that NM Political Report has decided it needs to be covering statewide environmental issues regularly. During a time when issues like climate change, water and environmental regulations have become increasingly important, newspapers nationwide have cut their science and environment beats. On top of that, strapped newsrooms often don’t have the resources—or the subscribers—to justify covering issues that are so important to rural communities.