A wildlife emergency is brewing at the border

On a sunny, brisk Saturday morning in October, a group of 10 people gathered along the newest portion of the border wall between the United States and Mexico, built east of Santa Teresa in southern New Mexico. Construction has halted for the weekend, and the morning air is filled with the sound of birds. “This is one of the most diverse areas in the U.S.,” said Kevin Bixby, the executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center and self-described “border tourism” guide for the group. Behind him, the newly constructed steel wall rose up out of the low brush that makes up the New Mexico portion of the Chihuahuan Desert, which stretches from the Rio Grande Valley south of Albuquerque southward across northern and central Mexico. Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwestern Environmental Center, stands before a section of border wall in southern New Mexico.

Border Patrol apprehensions dipped last month, but 2019 saw a dramatic increase from 2018

“Border Patrol apprehensions dipped last month, but 2019 saw a dramatic increase from 2018” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. EL PASO — The number of people who were apprehended by or surrendered to federal immigration officials on the U.S.-Mexico border dipped by nearly 20% last month, the Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday. After totaling about 64,000 apprehensions in August, the agency reported a September total of about 52,500 apprehensions — a decrease of about 18%. The September total is about 40% of July’s estimated 82,000 and the lowest monthly total of the 2019 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics.

Criminal justice race, ethnicity data may be coming to NM

A state senator says she’ll push for laws in the coming years to answer a long-troubling question in New Mexico: does the criminal justice system here disproportionately target non-white people? Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, an Albuquerque Democrat and former law professor, tells New Mexico In Depth she was “stunned” to learn during this year’s legislative session, her first in the Senate, that few agencies collect or share data on the race and ethnicity of people caught up in the system. “I thought, how was I not aware of this?,” she said in an interview this week. “It was really weird.”

So Sedillo Lopez is working up a memorial she plans to introduce at the 2020 session, which begins in January, directing the New Mexico Sentencing Commission to study how — and whether — the state’s jails and prisons gather demographic information on people who are locked up or on probation. Though she doesn’t yet have a detailed plan for the next step, she aims to use the study to bolster a bill in 2021 that would “ensure that this data is collected and continues to be collected regardless of who’s in charge.”

The Sentencing Commission says it’ll be glad to do the work.

The economy of words—and economics in elections

Words have meaning. But sometimes in politics, there are delineations between former job titles and former job duties. An Albuquerque city council candidate’s self-proclaimed experience as a city economist has raised a question: What is an economist? Since council candidate Zachary Quintero announced his candidacy for City Council District 2, which encompasses downtown Albuquerque, NM Political Report received numerous comments and concerns about one of Quintero’s claims. According to his campaign and at least one of his social media accounts, Quintero worked as an economist for the City of Santa Fe. But Santa Fe does not have a city economist.

More water or more wild: The decades-long struggle over the Gila River’s fate

This story was published in collaboration with Bitterroot, an online magazine about the politics, economy, culture, and environment of the West. On the sunny afternoon decades ago when M.H. “Dutch” Salmon first set eyes on the Gila River, he was not impressed. “This was no river,” he would later write. “It was a stream, and standing on the bank, I could see that if you picked out a riffle, you could cross on foot without wetting your knees.” Rivers he knew growing up in the East could float freighters. “This Gila,” he wrote, “would ground a canoe.”

Indeed, the Gila where Salmon first saw it runs shallow and warm in the summer.

Democratizing energy: Advocates want community solar in 2020 session

State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero would like to redefine energy production in New Mexico. Speaking on a panel about community solar, Caballero said she got the idea from the book Energy Democracy, which she uses as a textbook when she teaches. “The basic premise is that we treat energy as commons,” the Albuquerque Democrat said, “and we change how we understand energy production, from consumption and profit being an end, to an energy transition providing services essential to life and quality of living for all community members.”

Roybal Caballero is one of a group of advocates and activists who gathered at the Center for Peace and Justice in Santa Fe on Tuesday to discuss the benefits of community solar and its place in a just transition to clean energy. The event was organized by the nonprofit advocacy group Retake Our Democracy. “That’s an important premise, and one that we need to be grounded in,” she said.

More questions than answers on how to reuse produced water

While fresh water supplies in the state are slowly dwindling, oil and gas activity generates millions of gallons of produced water each year. The state is currently deciding how best to regulate the use of treated produced water, while researchers, oil and gas producers and other companies are trying to find new uses for the wastewater. Produced water is a byproduct of the oil and gas extraction activities currently going on in two energy-generating sections of the state, the Permian Basin in the southeastern portion of the state, and the San Juan basin in the Four Corners area. The wastewater comes into contact with hydrocarbons and drilling constituents, and is generally considered contaminated. As the state gears up to hold a series of public meetings on recycling produced water throughout October, there are some serious question marks over the feasibility of using treated produced water in applications outside the oil and gas industry.

AG warns against vaping, using e-cigarettes

New Mexico’s Attorney General issued a warning to residents about the health risks of e-cigarettes and vaping. The announcement came after the federal Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration each announced investigations into the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes. 

“I am warning all New Mexicans of the health and safety risks associated with the use of e-cigarettes of any kind,” said Attorney General Balderas. “My office will hold any bad actor civilly and criminally accountable that risks the lives of New Mexican children by falsely marketing these devices as safe.”

The New Mexico Department of Health said it had identified 14 vaping-related injury cases, each requiring hospitalization; 10 patients said they had vaped products with THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, while one said they had only used nicotine, which a department spokesman said is similar to national numbers. Earlier this year, reports of mysterious illnesses and deaths linked to vaping prompted investigations and media coverage of the problem. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that there are a reported 805 lung injury cases in 46 states, including New Mexico, and one U.S. territory, along with 12 confirmed deaths in ten states.

Insurers test new way to cut maternity care costs: Bundling

The thrill of delivering newborns helped pull Dr. Jack Feltz into the field of obstetrics and gynecology. More than 30 years later, he still enjoys treating patients, he said. But now, Feltz is also working to change the way doctors are paid for maternity care. Feltz’s New Jersey-based practice, Lifeline Medical Associates, recently partnered with the insurer UnitedHealthcare to test a new payment model. The insurer sets a budget with the practice to pay doctors one lump sum for prenatal services, delivery and 60 days of care afterward.

Balancing wildlife and wildfire in revised forest plans

The U.S. Forest Service is in the middle of a major update to forest management plans. Four National Forests in New Mexico — the  Santa Fe, Carson, Cibola and Gila national forests — are now in various stages of the multi-year process to update management plans from the 1980s. 

The Forest Service has the difficult task of balancing its management plan for a host of diverse uses, ranging from resource management, recreational use, wildlife conservation and wildfire management. There has been a recent push by conservation groups to protect wildlife corridors and habitat connectivity by designating more portions of the National Forest as wilderness. But the discussion on how best to protect habitat has shone a light on another important component of forest management — one that’s a bit more controversial among residents: wildfire. Earlier this summer, the Santa Fe National Forest released the Santa Fe Mountains Landscape Resiliency Project, a vegetation management project proposal designed to improve ecosystem resiliency to wildfire.