With climate change fueling wildfires, changes are needed to prevent worse scenarios

Climate change is contributing to the large wildfires that western states like New Mexico are experiencing, and scientists say humans need to make changes to prevent worse fire risks. New Mexico’s largest wildfire in recorded history surpassed 300,000 acres this week and it is not the only large fire burning as the state experiences hot, dry conditions and very low humidity. A study published this month in the journal Ecology Letters found that wildfire risks are going to increase in states like New Mexico. By the end of the century, the study states that “high levels of fire risk, which were historically confined to pockets in California and the intermountain western US, are projected to expand across the entire western US.”

William Anderegg, a University of Utah associate professor, is one of the co-authors who led the study. As he was studying climate stress and risks, Anderegg said it was a bit surprising, and also depressing, how much the fire risk increased in high climate change scenarios.

In light of drought, NM congresswomen introduce bills focused on water and science

As New Mexico water users face ongoing shortages, the three congresswomen representing the state introduced two pieces of legislation intended to help communities—the Rio Grande Water Security Act and the Water Data Act. “We know that our farmers and our communities are struggling to meet their water needs,” U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, a Democrat representing the state’s 1st Congressional District, said during a press conference on Thursday. “And the pieces of legislation that we introduced this week will be game changers to help address those needs, put resources into the hands of our communities, and to address the long term water security of our communities.”

The Water Data Act is based on legislation that the New Mexico Legislature passed in 2019. It calls for development and implementation of a framework for integrating, sharing and using water data. The bill has also been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich, both New Mexico Democrats.

Fish and Wildlife Service releases draft recommended decision for Mexican wolves

A draft recommended decision in the Mexican gray wolf recovery plan would eliminate the population cap and temporarily restrict when a wolf can be killed, but environmental advocates say it still falls short of the reforms needed to ensure genetic diversity. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the final supplemental environmental impact statement for the proposed revision for the Mexican gray wolf regulations on Friday along with the draft recommended decision. The final recommended decision will be issued after at least 30 days have passed. 

This action comes following a 90-day public comment period that started in October. The Fish and Wildlife Service said they received more than 82,000 comments. The agency said in a press release that those comments did not result in any substantial changes to the final supplemental environmental impact statement.

NM Congressional Democrats introduce bill to help those impacted by the Hermits Peak Fire

As the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fire continues to grow, New Mexico’s Congressional Democrats have introduced legislation to increase the aid available to people who have lost their homes, businesses and other property. The joined fires have now grown to be the largest wildfire in state history at 259,810 acres. Tens of thousands of New Mexicans have been forced to leave their homes. More than 200 people have lost their homes. The Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act would set up an Office of Hermits Peak Fire Claims within the Federal Emergency Management Agency to process claims of property loss, business loss and financial loss.

RECA extension passes House, heads to president’s desk

The U.S. House of Representatives approved an extension to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act on Wednesday, which means the bill now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk. The extension received unanimous support from the U.S. Senate last week. Without this extension, the program that provides one-time financial support to families impacted by uranium work and nuclear weapons testing will expire in July. RECA was first passed in 1990 and later amended in 2000. Since 1990, it has paid more than $2.5 billion to more than 39,000 claimants.

How much do we know about our watersheds? New study says gaps in knowledge exist because of ‘bias’ in stream gauge placement

Corey Krabbenhoft saw the ebbs and flows of New Mexico’s rivers growing up in Albuquerque. From that experience, she knew how many of the waterways in the state only flow at certain times of the year. As a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Buffalo, she is the lead author on a new paper published in the journal Nature Sustainability that looks at stream gauges, particularly in what the authors call “bias” in placement. Krabbenhoft explained that the study doesn’t focus on where the stream gauges are located, but rather what types of rivers are represented globally when it comes to monitoring with gauges. This paper documented that ephemeral waters, headwaters and waterways in protected areas like wilderness areas are less likely to have stream gauges on them, which can lead to a gap in knowledge about how the river systems work. 

In contrast, larger rivers that often have dams on them regulating the flows and usually pass through more populated areas are more likely to have these gauges.

‘This is a U.S. problem:’ Families gather in Farmington to raise awareness about MMIWR

Rose Yazzie last spoke to her daughter, Ranelle Rose Bennett, in June of last year. They were talking about a birthday party for Bennett’s daughter, Yazzie’s granddaughter. 

Yazzie recalls that her daughter hugged her for longer than usual. Looking back, she wonders if she missed the signs that something was wrong. She hasn’t seen or heard from her daughter since, and Yazzie is frustrated with the lack of attention the police have given the case. 

Bennett, Diné, is one of an unknown number of missing or murdered Indigenous people in New Mexico whose case remains unsolved. 

Yazzie attended a rally on Thursday in Farmington to raise awareness about the number of Native Americans who are missing or murdered. This rally took place on the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and on what would have been Zachariah Juwaun Shorty’s 25th birthday.

New Mexico’s Clean Car Rule will go into effect July 1

New Mexico car dealerships will soon be required to stock a small percentage of electric vehicles under the state’s newly adopted Clean Car Rule. The Environmental Improvement Board and Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board both approved the new rules upon the conclusion of a two-day meeting this week. The meeting allowed the two entities to hear from environmental advocates, utility representatives and auto dealers. Under current laws, states are able to choose to either adopt California’s clean car standards or follow the federal requirements. The new rules state that seven percent of model year 2026 vehicles sold in New Mexico must be electric.

Deputy Interior Secretary discusses water infrastructure during visit to Belen

The New Belen Wasteway is an example of how infrastructure funding can accomplish the shared goals of resiliency and protecting water for both people and the ecosystem, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau said during a tour of the facility this week in Belen. The New Belen Wasteway is located at the intersection of several canals and allows water managers to better regulate the flow of water for irrigation as well as returning water to the Rio Grande to meet the needs of the endangered silvery minnow. Beaudreau and U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, a Democrat representing New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, visited the site on Wednesday and spoke about funding for water projects that is now available through the infrastructure package President Joe Biden signed in November. They met with officials from various groups including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. MRGDC Chief Engineer and CEO Jason Casuga told them that the district strives toward what he describes as a “triangle of equal sides.” Those equal sides are the commitments to the irrigators, commitments to the ecosystem and commitments to other regions as laid out in the Rio Grande Compact.

Silverspot butterfly, found in northern New Mexico, could receive federal protection

A butterfly found in northern New Mexico could soon be added to the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Tuesday that it is considering listing a subspecies of the silverspot butterfly, which is found in high elevation areas ranging from 5,200 to 8,300 feet above sea level in parts of Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, as threatened. This follows the completion of a peer-reviewed species status assessment report. This is one of five subspecies of the silverspot butterfly and there are only ten known populations of this subspecies. The scientific name is Speyeria nokomis nokomis.