Fall moisture brings a ‘glimmer of hope’ to ranchers

With monsoon rain bringing drought relief to New Mexico, cattle ranchers who had to sell off stock have found a glimmer of hope, according to Eric Scholljegerdes, a range animal nutritionist with New Mexico State University. 

Scholljegerdes specializes in beef cow nutrition and he conducts research at the Corona Range and Livestock Research Center. He said droughts force ranchers to sell off herds and, as the drought impacts ranches statewide, that can lead to a large supply of calves and cows being sold, reducing the price that they go for. Monsoon storms this year drastically improved drought conditions in New Mexico, including taking about 10 percent of the state out of any type of drought, according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor. But extreme drought conditions persist in the northwest and southwest portions of the state. The impacts of drought on cattle can be felt through every step of production.

Ozone precursor pollutants hearing kicks off with NMED, park service witnesses

The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board kicked off a hearing about the ozone precursor pollutants rule on Monday with opening statements from the New Mexico Environment Department, environmental advocacy groups and industry groups. The hearing is anticipated to take two weeks and public comments are being accepted at multiple times each day during the process. Additionally, recordings of the hearing will be posted on YouTube. The EIB will not vote on the rule until after the parties have filed post-hearing briefs and proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. The hearing examiner will also file her report prior to the EIB voting on the measure.

With increased push for outdoor recreation, stream access question remains contentious

As outdoor recreation becomes more common in New Mexico, the intersection of stream access and private property rights could become more contentious, according to those on both sides of the debate. Both sides agree that the public has a constitutional right to float waters in New Mexico, even when these rivers cross through private property. But they disagree on whether people have the constitutional right to wade through a streambed on private property or to fish in the stream where it crosses private property. Lesli Allison, a Santa Fe resident and executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance, told NM Political Report that the central issue is about property rights. She compared it to whether the public has the right to enter a house and get a drink of water from the kitchen sink. 

Allison said, unless the waterway was used for commerce at statehood, the bed and the banks belong to private landowners when the stream or river crosses private property.

Groups work to track E. coli in rivers

In late August, San Juan Watershed Group Coordinator Alyssa Richmond reached out across the San Juan River using a long pole as it flowed through the Fruitland area and scooped up water. This water was transferred into a bottle that was capped to be sent to a lab in Florida where it will be analyzed to see how much bacteria like E. coli is coming from human waste. Human waste can lead to high levels of E. coli in rivers and the section of the San Juan River where the watershed group collected samples is listed as impaired for the bacteria. That means if people were to ingest the raw water it could make them sick. E. coli is one of the top three causes of water impairment in New Mexico, according to the New Mexico Environment Department’s 2020-2022 integrated report, and agencies throughout the state are working to address the bacteria contamination. 

E. coli in the water can come from numerous sources, including leaking septic tanks, livestock, wildlife and pets. 

Efforts are underway on both the San Juan River in northwest New Mexico and the Rio Grande in Albuquerque to test how much E. coli is coming from human waste.

Acequias along the Rio Chama face water shortages amid drought, climate change

For centuries, acequias have provided water to farmers along the Rio Chama near Abiquiu, but now some stretches are drying up and the community is facing curtailment. With climate change leading to less water in the area—especially in terms of spring runoff—the acequia members are looking to make every drop count. “They’re not making any more water,” said Tim Seaman with the Rio Chama Acequia Association, while speaking with U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, a New Mexico Democrat, as they stood looking out over the Rio Chama below Abiquiu Dam. Leger Fernández visited acequias along the Rio Chama as part of her Agua Es Vida tour on Tuesday. The tour was an opportunity for the congresswoman to see first hand how climate change is impacting water users in New Mexico.

Hunting opportunities expanding in Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge

A national wildlife refuge in New Mexico will have increased opportunities for hunting as part of what the U.S. Department of the Interior described as the “largest expansion of outdoor recreation opportunities in recent history.”

On Monday, the department announced that 88 national wildlife refuges and one national fish hatchery would see expanded hunting and fishing opportunities, including opening seven national wildlife refuges to hunting or fishing that have been closed in the past. As part of these changes, the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge will have more opportunities for hunting. “Increasing access to outdoor recreation opportunities is essential to advancing the Administration’s commitment to the conservation stewardship of our public lands,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release. “Responsible hunting and fishing helps to promote healthy wildlife habitats while boosting local recreation economies.”

Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge is located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It has had two hunting opportunities in the past— for geese and mourning doves.

Community solar workshop touches on bill credits, customer eligibility

A workshop on Friday allowed stakeholders to weigh in on various topics related to community solar, including bill credits, the statewide megawatt cap and low-income subscribers. The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission is tasked with drafting rules for the community solar program.  

This process was sparked by the passage of Senate Bill 84, the Community Solar Act, during this year’s Legislative session. The law gives the PRC until April 2022 to complete the rulemaking. While the law went into effect in June, community solar projects cannot be approved until the rules are adopted. Related: PRC says community solar projects cannot be approved until rules are completed

“April of 2022 might seem like a long time from now, but really it’s right around the corner, so we need to ensure that we maintain a steady pace of progress, always inching towards consensus on some of these weighty issues,” Commissioner Joseph Maestas said.

Labor secretary, congresswoman visit orphaned well in Kirtland

As he stood looking at an orphaned well in Kirtland, U.S. Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh asked, “is this ground dirty here?” 

Activist Don Schreiber said yes and Adrienne Sandoval, the Oil Conservation Division Director for the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, confirmed that there was surface contamination in places at the site. Sandoval said the contaminated soil will have to be removed from the site and clean soil will be brought in to replace it. Walsh visited the orphaned well with U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, a New Mexico Democrat who has been pushing for increased funding to assist states with cleaning up orphaned wells. They, and Aztec Mayor Victor Snover, met with Schreiber and Sandoval at the private property where the well is located. Related: Federal lawmakers seek funds to plug orphaned oil and gas wells

The site is one of the hundreds of oil and gas wells in New Mexico that has no operator or responsible party to clean it up.

Governor signs 30×30 executive order

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order Wednesday that aims to set aside 30 percent of the state’s lands and waters by 2030 for conservation and another 20 percent for climate stabilization. This comes amid President Joe Biden’s America is Beautiful Initiative, which aims for 30 percent of land and waters nationwide to be set aside for conservation by 2030, an effort known as the 30×30 plan. The executive order directs several state agencies including the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, the Office of the State Engineer, the Indian Affairs Department, the Department of Game and Fish and the Economic Development Department’s Outdoor Recreation Division to identify areas for protection to meet this goal. Related: ‘America the Beautiful’ report outlines path toward 30 percent conservation by 2030

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the U.S. Geological Survey, currently about 6 percent of New Mexico is currently protected. The IUCN defines a protected area as “clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.” This includes national parks, wilderness areas and nature reserves.

Archaeology Southwest report finds lack of tribal consultation in oil and gas leasing

Oil and gas development on federal lands has prioritized development over protection of cultural sites and has occurred with inadequate tribal consultation, according to a new report authored by Paul Reed, a preservation archaeologist with Archaeology Southwest. During a press conference on Tuesday, Reed said that needs to change. 

Reed said Archaeology Southwest began a review of oil and gas leasing policies and approaches as President Joe Biden’s administration took office earlier this year. “The goal of our review was to identify problems and issues that need to be addressed,” he said. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Interior is also reviewing its oil and gas leasing program. Reed said Archaeology Southwest is “optimistic that many of the issues that we’ve raised in our report will be addressed in that review as well.”

He said that the Archaeology Southwest report reached two primary conclusions: that the oil and gas leasing program “prioritizes the use of public lands for mineral extraction at the expense of protecting cultural resources and landscapes” and that the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies are failing to consult Native American tribes.