Can conservation banking save the lesser prairie chicken in New Mexico?

Mack Kizer remembers seeing lesser prairie chickens on his family ranch in eastern New Mexico growing up. He said his children and grandchildren also have seen the birds on the ranch since childhood and he hopes they can continue to enjoy the unique animal’s presence long into the future. As the bird’s population dwindles, Kizer’s family is one of a group of landowners who have entered into agreements that allow them to be paid to preserve lesser prairie chicken habitat on their ranch. The bird’s habitat has become more and more fragmented. The birds living in eastern New Mexico and its neighboring section of Texas are now isolated from birds farther north in places like Oklahoma and Kansas. 

This month, the lesser prairie chicken’s southern population will join the list of animals in the United States that are considered endangered.

Wildlife advocates say Asha the wolf should be allowed to continue wandering in northern New Mexico

Wildlife advocates want the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to allow a wolf that school children in Arizona named Asha continue moving north after she crossed the Interstate 40 boundary that serves as the northern border of the Mexican wolf experimental population area. More than a dozen organizations signed a letter to the wildlife management agencies. The letter, provided to NM Political Report, is dated Jan. 19. It requests that the wildlife managers allow Asha to “roam free in northern New Mexico or wherever she chooses to go.”

Organizations like Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians have for years argued that the I-40 boundary is an artificial boundary that hurts the wolf’s expansion and may ultimately harm recovery efforts.

What do New Mexico and federal laws say about owning tigers, other exotic animals?

It’s been an unusual past six months for Albuquerque police in terms of exotic animals. Back in August, the police and state wildlife officials confiscated an alligator and announced that they were searching for a missing tiger. This announcement came after conservation officers and law enforcement served search warrants on two residences where reports indicated a tiger was being kept. The tiger wasn’t found, but they found the alligator, which was confiscated. 

Then, earlier this week, a tiger cub was found as police responded to reports of a shooting. It soon became clear that this cub was not the same tiger that police have been looking for since August.

Environmental advocates push for stringent federal methane regulations during public hearing

Environmental advocates urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to adopt the draft methane rules that were released in November or even to strengthen these proposals during a three-day virtual public hearing this week that ended Thursday. These advocates told EPA representatives that methane emissions have both health and climate impacts that disproportionately impact people of color. Wendy Atcitty, Diné (Navajo), spoke about the impacts of methane pollution on Native communities in northwest New Mexico. “I know firsthand how harmful methane pollution for the oil and gas industry is to our health, safety, Mother Earth and Father Sky,” she said. She spoke about growing up “surrounded by the protection of our tribe’s sacred mountains” and near the San Juan River.

El Paso Electric says to NM Supreme Court that a PRC order prevents it from recovering investments

El Paso Electric claims the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission is not allowing it to properly recover investments it has made through rates, including not being able to recover the costs of paying employees. The utility appealed the PRC’s order in the most recent rate case to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which heard arguments on Wednesday but did not issue a decision. In that rate case, EPE requested a 4.3 percent increase in utility retail base rates in New Mexico. The utility argues that the final order in the case “arbitrarily departs from past practice and unreasonably and unlawfully reduces EPE’s retail rates without requiring evidentiary support.” This, EPE says, prohibits it from being able to recover its investments. “It is a foundational principle of rate proceedings that rates must be designed to allow a utility to recover its…cost of providing service,” Jeff Weschler, an attorney representing EPE, said. 

One way that Weschler said the PRC decision harmed EPE is by not adopting the proxy price that would be needed for EPE to continue using power from Palo Verde Generating Station unit three as it has in the past.

NM Supreme Court hears venue arguments in case regarding overlapping leases of state lands for cattle, wind energy

The court battle over where to determine whether wind leases overlapping with a ranch owner’s grazing leases could impact his ability to raise cattle on state trust land reached the state Supreme Court. 

The Blanchard Corona Ranch first sued Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard in district court in Lincoln County, but Garcia Richard and her legal counsel say that Lincoln County is not the proper venue. The State Land Office then asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to find that the Lincoln County district court venue was improper. 

The New Mexico Supreme Court heard the arguments in the case on Wednesday, though no decision was made and there is no deadline for when the court must make a ruling. If the state Supreme Court sides with the defendant’s arguments, a district court ruling that the Lincoln County venue was proper would be reversed. “It’s basically a landlord telling a tenant ‘we’re going to issue a lease right on top of you and we don’t care what you say and we don’t have to follow our rules,’” Pete Domenici Jr., an attorney for Blanchard Corona Ranch, said. 

The Supreme Court justices were skeptical about the arguments in the case. Justice David Thomson said that state law and the lease contract may allow for wind energy to be developed on the land that the ranch owners are leasing. 

Thomson said the question is where the plaintiff gets to make their argument.

PRC briefly discusses tribal advisory council during first meeting as an appointed body

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission met for the first time since becoming an appointed body on Wednesday. The meeting went fairly quick, with the three commissioners introducing themselves and giving brief statements. Only two of the three commissioners have been sworn in and were present in the building at the time. The third commissioner was appointed on Tuesday and attended via Zoom. “I’m excited to learn from the staff at the PRC and to learn from you in your formal pleadings and aim to do this job with integrity,” Commissioner Gabriel Aguilera said.

Big change in new-look PRC on the eve of its first meeting

A day before the newly appointed members of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission are scheduled to meet, Brian Moore, the sole Republican nominated to serve on the body, resigned. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she has appointed James Ellison Jr. to the position. The law requires that no more than two of the appointed commissioners can be of the same party. Ellison is registered as decline to state, which means he does not identify with any political party. Moore resigned because he did not meet the educational qualifications for the position.

Proposed Rio Grande settlement relies on an index-based approach to water deliveries

The terms of the proposed settlement between New Mexico, Texas and Colorado regarding Rio Grande water usage and groundwater pumping was released to the public Monday afternoon following a court order. The 92-page document outlines both the terms of the agreement and the history of the U.S. Supreme Court case. About nine years ago, Texas sued New Mexico over water rights. The case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The United States opposes the settlement, as do the irrigation districts like Elephant Butte.

Mexican wolf crosses I-40 boundary in New Mexico

A Mexican wolf has crossed the Interstate 40 boundary of the experimental population area in New Mexico and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is warning people that the wolf is protected under federal law. The law prohibits livestock owners and members of the public from hazing or harassing the canine unless the wolf is actively posing a threat to human safety. While the state wildlife agency has not provided specifics about where the wolf is roaming, the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team has advised private landowners in the vicinity. The female wolf was raised by the Rocky Prairie pack, which is generally found in Arizona. She left the pack in late 2022 and wildlife officials have been tracking her movements.