After cheering the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which secured permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), New Mexico wildlife and conservation advocates were shocked to learn every single project proposed to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) for LWCF funds was rejected.
The LWCF, created by Congress in 1965 to support public land management using offshore oil and gas royalties, received $900 million annually under the Great American Outdoors Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in August. It marked just the second time since its creation that the program is fully funded. The Great American Outdoors Act, which environmental groups considered a historic public lands conservation package, passed the Senate with what some dubbed “rare” bipartisan support on a 73-25 vote. The bill was introduced earlier this year by Republican U.S. Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana—both of whom relied heavily on the Act’s passage in their respective reelection campaigns. New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich also supported the bill, as did U.S. Reps.
Speaking in downtown Albuquerque Monday afternoon, New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall called the federal shutdown—currently in its 31st day—“sheer madness.”
According to what Udall called “conservative” estimates, 10,800 federal employees in New Mexico are working without pay or have been furloughed. The shutdown is also affecting government contractors and local economies. “I’ve heard from merchants all around Albuquerque, ‘We’re not seeing the business, people are not coming out to restaurants, they’re not coming out to stores,’” he said. And the longer the shutdown lasts, the deeper the economic impacts will be. The shutdown, he added, is hurting the country’s ability to move forward.
Tornillo, Texas, is a desert town east of El Paso, just 89 miles from Las Cruces. Fewer than 2,000 residents were recorded living there in the 2010 Census. But it hosts a port of entry across the U.S.-Mexico border—one that exposes the increasingly urgent moral battle over migration and human rights. Last week, the Trump administration announced a new facility at the port of entry to temporarily hold immigrant children separated from their parents. According to a story in the Texas Tribune, HHS is erecting tents in Tornillo for the children and teens.
Despite the rains that doused parts of New Mexico on Monday, the state officially entered into drought conditions on the Rio Grande when water levels in two key reservoirs dipped below a critical legal threshold. On Sunday, New Mexico entered into Article VII restrictions as storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs dropped below 400,000 acre-feet. Under Article VII of the Rio Grande Compact, that means Colorado and New Mexico can’t store water in any upstream reservoirs built after 1929. In the Rio Grande watershed, reservoirs capture and store native Rio Grande water and water piped from northwestern New Mexico via the San Juan-Chama Project. Each drop is earmarked for particular users and managed under the legal strictures of the compact.
HARDING COUNTY, N.M.—Descending the narrow dirt road into Mills Canyon, U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Michael Atkinson jokes that in the nineteenth century some homesteaders headed to California surely reached the rim of the Canadian River, peered down its 1,000-foot-deep canyon and decided to settle here in New Mexico. He points to a small stone building on the floodplain below and explains that in the 1880s, Melvin Mills planted thousands of fruit trees. For more than two decades, horses hauled up tons of peaches, pears, apples and cherries, as well as walnuts, chestnuts and almonds. But in 1904, a flood wiped out Mills Canyon Enterprise and now all that’s left are the stone remains of the storehouse and Mills’s home and this wagon road Atkinson twists down. That’s not the only story this floodplain tells.
About 739,000 acres of public lands in New Mexico became a big news story this year. At the end of April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review a number of national monument designations, including two in New Mexico, made under the Antiquities Act since 1996. See all of our year-end stories
The two New Mexico monuments were the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces
The executive order was a gift to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who had been seeking a way to diminish protections of two monuments in Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. At the signing ceremony for the order, Trump recognized Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah Sen. Mike Lee and in particular, Hatch. “Believe me, he’s tough.
The Trump administration announced big changes to some national monuments, but U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has said the boundaries of two monuments under review in New Mexico will be left intact. A day after President Donald Trump visited Utah and announced he would drastically reduce the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, Zinke released his recommendations for the other monuments under review. At the urging of Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, Trump signed an executive order earlier this year directing Zinke to review all national monuments designated since 1996 that are larger than 100,000 acres. That included two in New Mexico, Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces. During a press call on Tuesday, Zinke said he based his decision not to alter boundaries of the two New Mexico monuments on conversations with the governor, the state’s congressional delegation, ranchers, conservationists, and city officials.
At noon today, hikers, hunters and horseback riders will finally be able to enter the Sabinoso Wilderness Area in northern New Mexico. U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sent out a Tweet last night announcing that his office had finalized the transfer of private land to the federal government. “Excited to announce tonight that for the first time ever #hunters can access the Sabinoso Wilderness Area.”
Excited to announce tonight that for the first time ever #hunters can access the Sabinoso Wilderness Area. pic.twitter.com/THeFjHBMbr— Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) November 10, 2017
Congress designated the wilderness area in 2009, but people were not able to actually access the federally-administered lands because they were “landlocked” by private lands. At that time, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management contacted the Wilderness Land Trust and asked the nonprofit to buy a neighboring ranch and donate it to the federal government.
“I’m openly skeptical we’ll ever be able to fill Elephant Butte Reservoir again,” Dr. David Gutzler told attendees of a recent climate change conference. That’s given the trend toward diminished flows in the Rio Grande resulting from the continued global rise in temperature. The University of New Mexico Earth and Planetary Studies Department professor delivered the grim news on a crisp, yellow and blue fall morning along the bosque in Albuquerque. Since the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation completed the reservoir in 1916 to supply farmers in southern New Mexico and Texas with water, the reservoir’s levels have fluctuated—from highs in the 1940s to lows in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Many New Mexicans are familiar with the wet period that lasted from 1984 through 1993; between 1980 and 2006, the state’s population increased by 50 percent. But then the region was hit with drier conditions—and increasing temperatures.
The New Mexico State Land Office and the U.S. Department of the Interior are working out the details on a land trade involving more than 120,000 acres in the state, including some lands within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and the Sabinoso Wilderness. State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn announced this week that the federal government approved an agreement to transfer 43,000 acres of state-owned lands and mineral leases within the monument and the wilderness to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In return, New Mexico will gain about 78,000 acres in 13 counties from the BLM. Of the state trust lands “locked” within the national monument, Dunn said 25 percent of those aren’t currently leased for grazing. That means New Mexico isn’t earning all the income it could, he said, adding that “because of the way it’s checkerboarded with BLM, it’s hard to develop other things, like gravel or any other uses.”
The State Land Office administers nine million acres of surface lands and 13 million acres of subsurface mineral rights.