On July 20, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke at a closed-door meeting of conservative state legislators and lobbyists, raising questions about his stated goals of transparency in federal government. Zinke, a former Montana congressman, spoke in Denver at the annual meeting for the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry organization backed by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil and devoted to “limited government, free markets and federalism.”
ALEC, whose initiatives include a push for state control over federal lands, provides model bills for state legislatures and influences bills going through Congress. Because of the group’s funding sources and its interest in states holding public lands, conservationists see Zinke’s association with the group as problematic. Throughout his congressional confirmation process for the Department of Interior position, and in the early months of his job, Zinke has reiterated that he does not favor land transfers. “The things that Zinke has claimed he stood for, in terms of public lands, ALEC are the ones driving against that all these years,” says Aaron Weiss, media director at the Center for Western Priorities.
Sen. Martin Heinrich sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland requesting an area surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park be protected from future oil and gas development. Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, asked Haaland to administratively withdraw the federal minerals within a 10-mile radius of the park from leasing. This would provide time for legislation to be passed that permanently sets the area aside from leasing. Heinrich said in the letter that he plans to reintroduce this legislation and is working with other members of the New Mexico Congressional delegation to do so.
“As that legislation moves through the process on Capitol Hill, an administrative withdrawal would provide interim protection until permanent protection can be secured legislatively,” he wrote. Haaland has supported such initiatives in the past.
A big cat, largely absent from the United States since the 1960s after living in the southwest for thousands of years, could make a return to the area. Conservationists are now exploring reintroducing the jaguar to New Mexico and Arizona. A study published on Tuesday in the journal Conservation Science and Practice examines reintroduction, including how the jaguar could interact with livestock and other wildlife and the potential for ecotourism related to the cat. Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate for Center for Biological Diversity, is one of the authors on the study. He said government programs aimed at protecting livestock from predators essentially eliminated the jaguar from the United States.
Carol Davis, the director of the environmental advocacy group Diné CARE, recalled spending a few days camping near Counselor, New Mexico with other members of the advocacy group a few years ago and feeling sick from the emissions related to oil and gas production. “For me, being in a region where there’s just that air pollution, I seriously was getting headaches, feeling nauseous, and it’s just amazing that people have lived there for so long in an area where they’re exposed to that kind of pollution,” she said, adding that she had a panic attack that night. After researching the health impacts of emissions like methane, she said she realized the symptoms were not unusual. A recent report by the Environmental Defense Fund found that 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas, consisting primarily of methane, is released into the atmosphere each year from oil and gas operations on Navajo Nation lands. EDF argues this wastes a valuable commodity leading to the loss of $1.2 million of royalties and taxes to the tribe annually.
President Joe Biden has called for preserving 30 percent of the lands and waters in the United States by 2030 and, on Thursday, his administration released a report outlining how this could be accomplished. The report released on Thursday, called Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful 2021, states that three problems must be addressed to protect lands and waters—the disappearance of nature, climate change and inequitable access to the outdoors. The America the Beautiful report lists building more parks and outdoor spaces in areas with limited access to nature as one of the tools to reaching that goal. The America the Beautiful report released Thursday outlines eight principles:
Pursuing a collaborative and inclusive approach to conservationConserving lands and waters for the benefit of all peopleSupporting locally-led and designed conservation effortsHonoring tribal sovereignty and supporting the priorities of tribal nationsPursuing approaches that create jobs and support healthy communitiesHonoring private property rights and supporting voluntary stewardship efforts by landownersUsing science as a guideEmphasizing flexibility and adaptive approaches while building on existing tools and strategies
Greg Peters, public lands and wildlife advocate for Conservation Voters of New Mexico, said in an email to NM Political Report that state action will be needed to make the 30 percent by 2030 goal a reality. Peters said New Mexico can build on the success of landmark legislation like the Energy Transition Act, the creation of the Outdoor Recreation Division and the Outdoor Equity Fund.
Sen. Martin Heinrich said this week reinstating methane regulations that former President Donald Trump rolled back will buy time to take the next steps to addressing the climate crisis.
The Senate approved revoking the rollback of the methane regulations about a week ago and the House of Representatives, where the Democrats have the majority, will consider the measure this month. Related: Senate votes to reverse Trump’s rollback of methane regulations
Looking forward, Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, said a federal infrastructure package should have robust investments in things like transmission, which is needed to move renewable energy from one area to another. “More and more of our economy is going to be run off of electricity as opposed to combustion,” he said. “That means we have to be able to move electrons from where we have renewable energy to where that energy is consumed. We don’t have enough transmission to do that today.”
Heinrich met with NM Political Report while in Aztec, where he presented a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol to the San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas for efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
A fungus that causes the often-fatal white-nose syndrome in bats has been found in two caves in eastern New Mexico. These caves are located within the Bureau of Land Management’s Roswell Field Office in De Baca and Lincoln counties. BLM Wildlife Biologist Marikay Ramsey said New Mexico has not had any cases of white nose syndrome in bats in the past and the biologists will need to do further testing to determine if the disease is present in the state. That means euthanizing a bat and analyzing it in a lab. However, she said the fungus was found on cave walls and evidence of the disease were seen on certain bats.
When it comes to outdoor recreation, departing from designated trails can have negative impacts on the areas. Axie Navas, the director of the state’s Outdoor Recreation Division, said mountain bicycles, hikers and off-highway vehicles can all leave their tracks across the landscapes. But when the driver of an off-highway vehicle, like an ATV or dirt bike, heads off of established trails, it is much more noticeable, according to Roger Pattison, a board member of the industry group endeavOR New Mexico. Pattison has decades of experience with OHVs. He said a single person driving an OHV off of the established trail leaves obvious tracks that can result in more people following without realizing that it is not an official trail.
A report released Tuesday by Americans for a Clean Energy Grid includes two New Mexico transmission projects that it says could move from advanced planning to construction if certain policies are changed. The report concludes that federal policy reform is needed in three areas: permitting, financing and planning. There are 22 projects listed in the “Transmission Projects Ready to Go” report as “shovel ready.”
This includes the more-than 500-mile long SunZia line and the 240-mile long Southline. Both projects are located in southern New Mexico and Arizona. A fact sheet released by President Joe Biden’s administration today states that new financing opportunities through the U.S. Department of Energy as well as the ability to use right of ways from the U.S. Department of Transportation could help move the 22 projects identified in the report forward.
A donation of nearly 9,900 acres of land in San Miguel County for the expansion of Sabinoso Wilderness could increase access to the remote landscape. The Trust for Public Lands is in the process of donating 9,855 acres known as Cañon Ciruela to the Bureau of Land Management. Public comments regarding the transfer are being accepted through May 21. This donation would increase the size of the wilderness area by approximately 50 percent. It will also add an additional access point.
As the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish works to update its fisheries rule, a remote stream in the Gila wilderness could be opened for angling. Fishing has not been allowed in McKenna Creek in Catron County in an effort to protect a small Gila trout population. For decades, this population was believed to be one of the few remaining pure Gila trout populations. But now biologists say the trout found in McKenna Creek have hybridized with rainbow trout.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is updating its fisheries rule, which expires on March 31, 2022. The updated rule will likely remove the prohibition on angling in McKenna Creek as it is no longer needed to protect the Gila trout.