Governor appoints new game commissioner

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed a fifth member to the New Mexico Game Commission on Friday. 

She announced the appointment of car salesman Edward Garcia in a press release. He is the executive chairman of the Garcia Automotive Family Dealerships, which have locations in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and El Paso, Texas. 

Garcia is an outdoorsman who enjoys hiking and fly fishing along the Pecos River in San Miguel County. His appointment comes amid discussions at the Legislature of changing the appointment process for the Game Commission so that four of the seven members are appointed by the Legislative Council rather than the governor. 

Garcia is the second appointment that Lujan Grisham has made since the commission chairwoman resigned in February, which left the commission with too few members to form a quorum to meet.

San Juan County approves PNM’s demolition plans for coal-fired plant

The San Juan County Commission unanimously approved a plan submitted by the Public Service Company of New Mexico for demolition and remediation of the San Juan Generating Station on Tuesday. The coal-fired power plant closed in September and a county ordinance required PNM to submit the plans for commission approval. That ordinance was passed in 2021 after PNM had announced that it would be closing the power plant. There were concerns at the time that the power plant could be allowed to remain standing for decades to come. PNM had indicated to state regulators that it intended to retire the power plant in place, meaning that it would do some work to make sure the structure was safe but would not tear it down until a later date.

Governor appoints new game commissioner

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed a wildlife biologist to serve as an at-large member of the New Mexico Game Commission, bringing the number of commissioners up to four. 

Fernando Clemente Jr., who has owned and operated the New Mexico Specialized Wildlife Services since 2012, became the newest commissioner on Tuesday. His Sunland Park-based organization was established to “maintain sustainable wildlife populations found in private and public lands with the intention on (sic) creating new hunting opportunities for present and future generations,” according to its website. Clemente has more than 20 years of “expertise and experience across multiple branches of natural resource management,” a press release from the governor’s office states. He received a bachelor of science degree in wildlife biology and management from New Mexico State University. In addition to operating the wildlife services organization, Clemente has worked as a professor at La Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua since 2021 and as president of the Sandia Park Chamber of Commerce since 2019. 

Clemente is also the president of La Clinica de Familia’s board of directors.

Lujan Grisham: Federal agencies are ‘failing New Mexicans’ as cattle shooting operation begins

As the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service begins the lethal removal of feral cattle from the Gila Wilderness, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she is disappointed in how the U.S. Forest Service conducted outreach to stakeholders. The feral cattle, which have been damaging the riparian ecosystem for decades, are being shot by people in helicopters. The shooting operation began today. “While I understand the challenge the U.S. Forest Service is rightly trying to solve, I am disappointed in their lack of meaningful, long-term engagement with New Mexico stakeholders on controversial matters like this one,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “Whether debating prescribed burns or wildlife management, it is imperative that New Mexicans who live and work in and near impacted areas are allowed the time to be meaningfully involved in these decisions.

Legislators told of dire Upper Colorado River conditions

With major western reservoirs like Lake Powell and Lake Mead declining to historic low levels, water officials in New Mexico presented on the dire Upper Colorado River Basin conditions to the Senate Conservation Committee on Thursday. Estevan Lopez, the state’s Upper Colorado River Compact Commissioner and the governor’s representative on Colorado River matters, spoke about how climate change is impacting the hydrology in the basin. “Even if we don’t know what’s going to happen to precipitation, we know that temperatures are going up and as a result of that, the precipitation that we do get in the basin…much more of that is precipitation in the form of rain as opposed to snow…When we do get snow, that provides a natural reservoir high up in the mountains where the water is released slowly over time and it spreads the water around for the whole year,” he said. He said in addition to reducing the amount of snow in favor of rain,hotter temperatures induced by climate change also mean more evaporation of snowpack and surface waters, leading to less runoff into the water system. Lopez said last year there was a good snowpack, but the higher temperatures led to less runoff than anticipated.

Court rejects cattle growers’ request to stop the shooting of Gila feral cattle

A U.S. District Court judge denied a request for a temporary restraining order filed by the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association in an attempt to stop the aerial shooting of the feral cattle in the Gila Wilderness. In his order, Judge James Browning ruled that preventing the U.S. Forest Service and its contractor, the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, from conducting the shooting operation would adversely impact the public interest. Browning further pointed to a scoping letter that the Forest Service issued in November as sufficient notice to the livestock owners in the Gila area of the intent to lethally remove the cattle. One of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ arguments in the case was that the U.S. Forest Service had agreed to give 75-days notice prior to an aerial shooting operation. The cattle growers were informed on Feb.

Bill to fund wildlife corridors passes Senate

The Senate passed a bill on a 37-2 vote that would create a fund to receive federal dollars to assist in creating wildlife corridors. SB 72, sponsored by Senate Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, builds off of past legislation that resulted in a wildlife corridor study. It further appropriates $5 million to the fund to help match federal money. The fund will help the state build passages like overpasses and underpasses as well as changing culverts to allow animals to safely cross the roadway, thus protecting both people and wildlife from collisions. Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said the bill has the added benefit of expanding wildlife habitat by removing barriers.

More than 400 community solar projects proposed during bid process

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission announced on Monday that companies have submitted more than 400 community solar applications. 

The PRC has contracted with the independent administrator InClime for the community solar program and InClime will now evaluate the 440 applications that have been received. The applications include proposals for solar arrays in 19 counties. “The tremendous response to the community solar program RFP is an early indicator of program success, and we are thrilled by the overwhelming enthusiasm to meet New Mexico’s initial capacity limit,” Miana Campbell, InClime’s community solar lead for New Mexico, said in a press release. “InClime is meticulously evaluating all proposals, scoring the project bids against the [request for proposals], and ensuring bidders have plans in place to offer discounts to low-income households and community-based organizations. This competitive process will result in high-quality projects being awarded capacity, and we are confident that the community solar program will flourish, creating one of the best markets for community solar subscriptions to maximize savings in the country and contributing to a cleaner, greener future for New Mexico.”

Should all 440 be approved, it would result in 1,700 megawatts of solar power.

Plan to shoot Gila feral cattle draws ire from some in state House

The U.S. Forest Service is once again planning to remove the feral cattle from the Gila Wilderness by shooting them from helicopters. The aerial shooting will occur Feb. 23 through Feb. 26. The plans to remove cattle from the Gila Wilderness using both lethal and non-lethal methods come as the growing herd of feral cattle has damaged riparian ecosystems in the wilderness area.

Researchers say changes in plant moisture content and carbon cycles need to be considered in wildfire forecasting

A paper published in the journal New Phytologist in January emphasizes the need to understand seasonal and drought related changes in plants and how vegetation dynamics influences wildfire. 

Los Alamos National Laboratory plant ecophysiologist Turin Dickman is the lead author on the paper, which includes more than three dozen authors from multiple countries. The western United States has been experiencing record-breaking wildfires at a regular frequency. While some of the intensity is due to past forest management decisions, climate change is leading to longer fire seasons and more dry conditions that make fires more likely to occur. 

The researchers don’t mince words, starting the paper with a statement that wildfires are a global crisis and that the current fire models are not integrating the changes to vegetation that are happening as a result of climate change. “The goal of the paper was to really suggest that we need to consider vegetation and we need to consider physiology,” Dickman said. She said that the topic is still in the research-development phase and that scientists are still exploring its importance.