More than a hundred cattle are currently grazing illegally in the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains. Environmental advocacy groups say three federal agencies must take steps to remove those cows and prevent them from returning. WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project and Caldera Action filed a notice of intent to sue the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, alleging that the agencies have failed to protect endangered species from the impacts of the cattle. They say the illegal cattle grazing has been documented going back to at least 2017. “Livestock trampling riparian areas of these protected lands has gone on far too long with federal land managers doing too little to stop it,” Cyndi Tuell, Arizona and New Mexico director of Western Watersheds Project, said in a press release.
On the edge of the Valle Grande in northern New Mexico stands a grove of towering ponderosa pines. The trees, many of them between 250 and 400 years old, comprise what’s called the History Grove, and they offer a snapshot into what the forests of the Jemez Mountains looked like centuries ago—before widespread grazing in the late 19th century and decades of fire suppression by the federal government. During a recent trip there, I was reminded of what goes into protecting and maintaining our forests and landscapes. Land management, as it’s called, is made of up of meetings and programs, line-item budgets and public comment periods. And sometimes, expensive lawsuits and bitter battles.
Six years ago this June, an enormous cloud above the Jemez Mountains was visible across northern New Mexico to south of Albuquerque. Punching into the clear, blue sky, it looked like a thundercloud, or even a mushroom cloud. That day, heat from a wildfire was rising so quickly that the winds couldn’t push it away, forming a pyrocumulous cloud. By the time it was extinguished, Las Conchas Fire had burned 156,000 acres. “The first day, I remember I was in Washington D.C., and got the report it was 40 acres in size,” said Jorge Silva-Bañuelos, who is now superintendent of the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
The state Senate Conservation Committee approved a ban Monday on coyote-killing contests in New Mexico after hearing from advocates, who called the contests barbaric, and opponents, who argued the competitions are a way to reduce coyote killings of livestock. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, and Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, moves next to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Similar legislation was approved in the Senate in 2015 but died in the House. Sen. Pat Woods of Broadview, the top Republican on the Senate Conservation Committee, voted against the legislation, Senate Bill 268. He said he received a call from a rancher in McCalister who reported he had lost 200 lambs since the beginning of the year to coyotes.