State land commissioner says the office is nearing her goal for renewable energy development

When Stephanie Garcia Richard took the office of State Land Commissioner following the 2018 elections, she had the goal of tripling renewable energy development on state lands. “We are very rapidly closing in on that goal two years later,” Garcia Richard told NM Political Report. There were 453 megawatts of renewable energy when she took office. That has more than doubled in the past couple of years and the State Land Office has inked deals for even more future projects. Angie Poss, a spokesperson for the State Land Office, said 466 megawatts have been added since Garcia Richard took office and, with the upcoming projects, the office will definitely get to the goal of tripling renewable energy on state trust land.

Reversal of Trump gag rule on Title X funding proposed by the Biden administration

This week, the Joe Biden administration proposed to reverse a Donald Trump administration gag rule that affects how some family planning clinics provide abortion care information. Title X is a federal grant program that enables clinics to offer family planning services and preventive reproductive health care, primarily to low-income families who are uninsured or underinsured. New Mexico Department of Health family planning clinics, which receive Title X funding, provide contraception methods and related preventive health services including pre-conception health, sexually transmitted disease prevention education, screening, treatment and breast and cervical cancer screening, NMDOH spokesperson Jim Walton told NM Political Report by email. There are DOH family planning clinics in every county except Catron and Harding counties. Bernalillo County has 16 such clinics, Santa Fe County has seven, Doña Ana County has four and Rio Arriba County has three. 

There are 20 clinic sites that contract with DOH to provide family planning services, including nine school-based health centers.

Habitat Stamp Project funding requests range from riparian restoration to protecting elk habitat

Beaver once swam in Big Bear Creek in the Lincoln National Forest and built their dams in the area, which improved the ecosystem. But the semi-aquatic rodents have since abandoned that part of their range amid habitat loss. “We’ve lost a lot of the riparian vegetation, the biomass and species diversification within this area,” said Larry Cordova, a biologist with the Lincoln National Forest. Now the U.S Forest Service is asking for $20,000 of funding from the Habitat Stamp Program to improve the riparian area ecosystem, including building fake beaver dams that play the function the beavers once played in the creek system. This is one of two dozen proposals presented to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Habitat Stamp Program Citizen Advisory Committee this week by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

NM’s congressional race is on a tight deadline

In about three weeks, registered voters in the 1st Congressional District can start casting ballots to fill the vacant seat. The rushed and non-traditional nature of this election could prove difficult for the candidates. 

Complicating issues, the state is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic that emerged last year, meaning candidates may not see the normal kind of campaign rally turn-out and some will likely not hold in-person rallies at all. Of the candidates for the Albuquerque-area seat that NM Political Report spoke to, only one cited the expedited timeline as a possible challenge to their campaign. Others anticipated their biggest challenges will be getting the word out about their campaigns and raising money. 

Melanie Stansbury, who currently serves as a Democratic legislator in the New Mexico House of Representatives, said the short election period may end up being her biggest challenge. 

“It is a scramble to get out the vote and help educate the public to know that a special election is happening, to introduce ourselves to the broader community and make sure that people know the election is happening and when and how to vote,” Stansbury said. 

Stansbury is currently serving her second term in the state Legislature, but previously worked in the White House as well as a U.S. Senate staffer. 

Republican candidate Mark Moores also serves in the Legislature, as a state senator. Despite numerous scheduling attempts from NM Political Report, Moores could not be reached for an interview. 

Aubrey Dunn, who is running as an independent candidate, seemed to agree that getting people out to vote would also be a challenge, but he said he thinks his biggest challenge will be fundraising.

Environmental group reaches settlement with Wildlife Services suit over animal killing policies

A federal agency kills thousands of wild animals annually through contracts aimed at protecting livestock and agriculture interests, but a conservation advocacy group hopes a new legal settlement will reduce the number of animals killed in New Mexico. The settlement comes after WildEarth Guardians sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services in October. Wildlife Services is a branch of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. 

In an April 13 press release announcing the settlement, WildEarth Guardians described it as a major win for New Mexico’s wildlife. 

Related: Lawsuit asks Wildlife Services to update its research on ‘outdated’ wildlife management program

In a statement to NM Political Report, Tanya Espinosa, a public affairs specialist with USDA APHIS, said Wildlife Services New Mexico implemented interim measures following the stipulated settlement agreement that was reached in March. 

Espinosa said these measures will remain in place pending an Environmental Assessment. If the EA results in significant findings, an Environmental Impact Statement will be completed. 

“WS-New Mexico is currently developing a new EA for its Predator Damage Management Activities in New Mexico and will make a draft available for public comment,” Espinosa said. Wildlife services last completed an Environmental Assessment for predator damage management in New Mexico in 2006, and WildEarth Guardians argued that scientific knowledge regarding predators has changed in the past 15 years.