Computer modeling can help prescribed burn decisions

Prescribed burns can be a key weapon in preventing catastrophic wildfire, but finding the right window to burn can be challenging and, with dry conditions, prescribed burning in New Mexico has come to a halt. A modeling effort by Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists aims to provide agencies with a tool to determine when the conditions are best for burning. Rod Linn, a scientist with Los Alamos who leads the wildfire modeling team, told NM Political Report that various factors are used to determine when it is safe to burn, but conditions can change rapidly. On Saturday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a briefing that the state is banning fires campfires on stand lands and is asking every local government to think about ways to ban the sales of fireworks. This comes as 20 wildfires were actively burning, as of Saturday afternoon, in 16 counties in New Mexico. “Half the state has a fire issue,” she said.

When oil and gas wells stop producing, environmental impacts remain

Throughout New Mexico, there are thousands of oil and gas wells that have not produced in years but remain unplugged. One area with a high concentration of these sites is the Horseshoe Gallup field, located in the Hogback area west of the San Juan Generating Station in San Juan County. Environmental advocates have identified hundreds of wells, as well as associated infrastructure, in this field that have not produced in years. Some of these sites are contributing to environmental degradation. This includes leaking methane from a separator tank, overflowing tanks leading to puddles of thick black liquid on the ground and leaking chemicals from containers.

Haaland visits Chaco Culture National Historical Park

As the U.S. Department of the Interior begins the process of placing a 20-year moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands near Chaco Canyon, some nearby Indian allottees say that such an action would limit their ability to make a living off of their land. Meanwhile, proponents of the moratorium say it is needed to protect the sacred sites, lands and waters. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland drove by signs protesting the moratorium as she headed to Chaco Culture National Historical Park to celebrate President Joe Biden’s announcement of the moratorium impacting federal lands within a ten mile buffer of the park. While at the park, Haaland met with Indigenous and state leaders before addressing the crowd that had gathered for, what she described as, a celebration that was decades in the making. Haaland said Chaco Canyon is a living landscape.

Push continues to prevent gravel mining on 4,200 acre area in Sandoval County

The four Democrats in New Mexico’s congressional delegation are pushing to have 4,200 acres of Bureau of Land Management land removed from mineral development, in particular gravel mining, in Sandoval County near Placitas. U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury introduced the Buffalo Tract Protection Act in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday. The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández and is also supported by two congressmen from California. On the Senate side, New Mexico’s senators, Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, have co-sponsored the bill. The Buffalo Tract and the Crest of Montezuma, which are included in the bill, are popular recreation areas and ancestral lands of the Pueblo of Santa Ana and the Pueblo of San Felipe.

Chipmunk subspecies only found in the White Mountains could be listed as endangered

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking comments regarding listing the Peñasco least chipmunk as endangered. The Peñasco least chipmunk is a subspecies of the least chipmunk that has historically been found only in the White and Sacramento mountains of southern New Mexico. However, it has not been seen in the Sacramento Mountains since 1966 and its population in the White Mountains is declining and could be destroyed by catastrophic events like fire or disease. The nonprofit advocacy group WildEarth Guardians petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the chipmunk as endangered in 2011, citing threats like habitat loss and degradation as well as climate change. Related: Climate change places some of New Mexico’s unique species at risk

Following the petition, the Fish and Wildlife Service found that listing the chipmunk as endangered is warranted.

BLM lease sale seeks to expand geothermal energy in New Mexico

As part of an effort to increase renewable energy, the Bureau of Land Management will hold a virtual geothermal lease sale this fall for three parcels totaling nearly 4,000 acres. These parcels are located in Hidalgo and Sierra counties in southwest New Mexico. This comes after President Joe Biden issued an executive order to increase renewable and clean energy sources. Additionally, the Energy Act of 2020 directed the BLM to permit 25 gigawatts of solar, wind and geothermal on public lands no later than 2025. According to the BLM, as of May there were 36 wind projects and 37 solar projects on federal lands across the United States.

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.

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.

Revenue diversification needed as NM looks to transition away from fossil fuels

As New Mexico looks at an inevitable end to oil and gas extraction, some environmental advocates say no new leases should be issued and the United States should work to phase out fossil fuels. This would not have a huge immediate impact on the state, but could result in less revenue and fewer jobs in the future, experts say. President Joe Biden and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a former congresswoman from New Mexico, issued orders in January pausing both leasing and permitting to enable a robust review of the federal processes. The pause in permitting ended after 60 days, but the leasing pause continued until a federal judge issued a temporary injunction earlier this month. The vast majority of federal land available for leasing in New Mexico is already leased for oil and gas production, which limited the impact that the leasing moratorium had on the state. 

“It’s not as if the bottom is going to fall out because of the moratorium,” Kayley Shoup of Citizens Caring for the Future said in a Zoom call hosted by the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter this week.

BLM releases draft environmental assessment for potash mine clay settlement facility

The federal Bureau of Land Management has released a draft environmental assessment regarding Mosaic Potash Carlsbad’s plans to use a nearly 1,000 acre natural playa as a clay settlement facility. The playa, known as Laguna Uno, has previously been used by the mine and, if approved, the mining company will use it as a secondary clay settling pond to reduce the amount of clay in the water that is discharged into an area known as Laguna Grande. A 30-day comment period began Monday on the draft environmental assessment and will remain open through July 23. The draft environmental assessment’s proposed action would allow Mosaic to use Laguno Uno as an additional clay settling pond. BLM considered other locations as well as the no action alternative, which would result in the application being denied.