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Fifteen named to Outdoor Recreation Division advisory panel

By the Silver City Daily PressGVK photo
November 4, 2019

The New Mexico Economic Development Department has named 15 people to serve on the advisory panel for the Outdoor Recreation Division.

The group, which includes representatives from conservation, education, industry, and government, is charged with providing expertise and support, among other tasks, to the new office via monthly meetings and quarterly summits.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the law April 2 that made New Mexico the 15th state to create an Outdoor Recreation Division. The governor and Cabinet Secretary Alicia J. Keyes have identified outdoor business growth as an important element to diversify the state economy.

“Outdoor recreation touches every corner of the state,” Keyes said. “We are pleased outdoor advocates from throughout New Mexico, as well as tribal communities, have agreed to help us as we move forward to grow these businesses and create jobs.”

“Each member of this coalition brings some serious firepower to the outdoor-recreation table,” said Axie Navas, director of the Outdoor Recreation Division. “All told, the committee has more than a century of experience working in the nonprofit, governmental, and private sector worlds. I predict this incredible group will do amazing things for New Mexico’s outdoor recreation economy.”

The advisory panel members are:

• Marcy DeMillion, Rivers, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program, National Park Service;

• Jim Glover, Once a Day Marketing;

• Howard Gross, deputy commissioner of surface resources, State Land Office;

• Keegan King, policy and legislation bureau chief, Indian Affairs Department;

• Dustin Martin, executive director, Wings of America;

• Laura McCarthy, state forester, Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department;

• Patrick Moore, chair, history and heritage, Department of Cultural Affairs;

• Michael Slone, director, Game and Fish Department;

• Christy Tafoya, State Parks Division director, Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department;

• Mary Turner, deputy editor, Outside Magazine;

• Brian Vallo, governor, Acoma Pueblo;

• Gabe Vasquez, founder, Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project;

• Garrett VeneKlasen, northern conservation director, New Mexico Wild;

• Antoinette Vigil, deputy Cabinet secretary, Department of Tourism; and

• Kathy Whiteman, Ph.D., Outdoor Program and Center for a Sustainable Future director, Western New Mexico University.

This article originally appeared in the Silver City Daily Press.

House passes Chaco Canyon protection bill

By Scott Turner | Albuquerque Journal
October 30, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The U.S. House passed legislation Wednesday that would prevent the use of federal land for oil and gas development within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Canyon National Historical Park.

“We’re very proud of this piece of legislation,” U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., told the Journal. “It has the support of the governor (Michelle Lujan Grisham), the pueblos, the Navajo leadership and advocates of the environment.”

U.S. Reps. Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small, both Democrats, also supported the bill, known as the Chaco Culture Heritage Protection Act. It passed 245-174 and now moves on to the Senate.

“This piece of legislation removes more than 316,000 acres from oil and natural gas development, and the use of coal minerals,” Luján said, a move he believes will protect the more than 5,000 artifacts estimated to be within the greater Chaco region.

He said the bill protects the heritage and culture of both the Navajo and Pueblo people.

“This is a sacred site to many people who still live in the area,” the congressman said.

Haaland called Chaco Canyon “hallowed ground” in a post on Twitter. She said it “must be valued the same way we value other sacred places.”

Haaland said Chaco had been “time and time again, exploited by big oil companies.”

The bill does not affect land within the buffer that is privately owned, owned by the state or under tribal control.

“The passage of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act is the result of years of hard work and collaboration between New Mexico’s congressional delegation, tribal leadership and other stakeholders,” Torres Small said. “The joint effort ensures Chaco Canyon and its sacred lands are protected for generations to come.”

The bill contains protections for tribal and allotted land, specifically excluding trust and allotted land from withdrawal, stating nothing in the bill “affects the mineral rights of an Indian Tribe or member of an Indian Tribe to trust land or allotment land” and preserving tribes’ and allottees’ rights to build the infrastructure they need elsewhere in the withdrawal area in order to develop on their land.

State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard earlier this year placed a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on state trust lands within the greater Chaco region.

New Mexico Oil and Gas Association communication director Robert McEntyre told the Journal earlier this year that a few legacy oil and gas wells are in operation within the proposed buffer zone. He said the industry supports the protection of archeological and cultural sites, but questioned what the 10-mile buffer would accomplish. He said there is a process through the National Environmental Policy Act that the industry must go through before it can drill, and that the industry is forbidden from drilling in an area where artifacts are found.

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt put on hold for a year new oil and gas leasing on federal lands in the Chaco area earlier this year after touring the park with U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.

In June, the House passed the Interior appropriations package that included a one-year moratorium on oil and gas drilling near Chaco. Similar protections are included in an Interior spending bill that is waiting for a vote in the Senate.

This article originally appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

Mining the Resistance

By Leah Cantor | Santa Fe Reporter
October 30, 2019

"The majority of the visitors we get into the Pecos area actually live in Santa Fe. Santa Fe needs to be on this and we do need more people on this, though we already have tremendous support from many," Frank Adelo, president of the Upper Pecos Watershed Association, tells SFR outside Hondo Volunteer Fire Department No. 2 on Saturday. He had just attended the most recent community meeting about a mine proposed by an Australian company, New World Cobalt, through its US-based subsidiary Comexico LLC.

The fire station sits about 11 miles from the Santa Fe city center, just past the intersection of Old Pecos Trail and Highway 285. While many of the more than 100 attendees drove from Pecos and Las Vegas, up to an hour away, organizers say part of the purpose of holding the meeting there was to make it easier for Santa Feans to attend. Getting people in Santa Fe to see the potential mine as their problem, too, is part of a grassroots strategy to oppose the development.

Comexico's original proposal speculated that the site near the Pecos Wilderness Area could potentially hold more than 5 million metric tonsof extractable ore at sites near the old Tererro mine. But the path from a proposal to full-fledged mining operation is a long one, and Comexico is still in the first stage of applying for a prospecting permit to drill for ore samples at 30 spots across the proposed site to confirm to investors and regulators that the site can bear out the claimed potential.

Even if the Forest Service approves the prospecting permit, Mike Haynes, general manager and CEO of New World Cobalt, told the Santa Fe New Mexican in August that there is only a "1 in 200 or 1 in 300 chance that there is enough mineralization there to look into a mining feasibility study," adding that residents were responding to "hysteria and misinformation."

But a vocal contingent of Pecos residents are determined to stop even the slightest chance that striking a rich mineral vein could lead to another mine there.

"Even if the chance was 1 in 1,000, we'd fight back," SFR overheard one woman tell another at Saturday's meeting. Both wore identical gray baseball caps with the words "Tererro Mine" struck through in red.

"The people who live around here, we are citizens, we are taxpayers, we are voters, many of us are property owners and business owners, we have an investment here and the executives from the mining company do not have a stake in this community," said Roy Montibom, a resident of Las Vegas who added that Hayes' comments were a "complete mischaracterization" of local concerns.

According to the company's original timeline, residents should have been able to expect public hearings on the permits to begin as early as November, but Comexico's applications to both the New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division and the National Forest Service are still pending due to the company's delays in providing the required cultural and natural resource reports.

Now, grassroots organizers expect hearings might not begin until after the first of the year.

They say they plan to use the time to continue building resistance. Reaching a wider audience than the 1,300 residents of the Pecos village itself is an important part of the plan.

Already, the efforts are gaining traction. A group of students from the UNM Wilderness Alliance were among the attendees at Saturday's meeting, and opposition to the mine has attracted the support of both Santa Fe and San Miguel counties, as well as from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

"We have such small amounts of intact public land left and it's really important for us to protect what we have left for future generations," UNM student Kai Hollenberg tells SFR at the meeting.

Rachel Conn, projects director at Amigos Bravos, a Taos-based organization for the protection of New Mexico waters, tells SFR by phone that organizers are asking concerned residents to call the state agencies and request they hold upcoming public hearings in Santa Fe and Las Vegas as well as in Pecos to allow a wider swath of impacted New Mexicans to publicly raise their concerns.

Organizers have also encouraged attendees to comment on the Santa Fe National Forest's draft of a new forest management plan before the deadline for public comments on Nov. 7. The plan is a 20-year update on forest management policies that dictate everything from forest fire and prescribed burn management to roads and hard-rock mining requirements.

Forest Service spokeswoman Julie Anne Overton tells SFR the new forest management plan will likely not go into effect for at least a year and concerned residents can take more immediate action by commenting on the National Environmental Policy Act process involved in Comexico's application for a prospecting permit during the upcoming scoping period.

Several organizations are seeking signatures for petitions to federal agencies like the Forest Service in opposition to the mine. But Overton tells SFR that petitions are not an effective way to take action.

"Comments are most valuable when they are original, -substantive and include specifics … these comments very much help us define the scope and requirements of a project," Overton says. "Comments are not votes … quantity is not a determining factor. Substance is."

This article originally appeared in the Santa Fe Reporter.

Addressing the many threats to wildlife

By Ken Jones, New Mexico Wild Board Member
Santa Fe New Mexican | August 31, 2019

The elk, mule deer, pronghorn, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, Rio Grande cutthroat trout and other wildlife that call the Upper Rio Grande Watershed home don’t recognize boundary lines like the state line between New Mexico and Colorado or those between the Carson, Santa Fe and Rio Grande national forests that together make up one of the best-connected wildlife landscapes in America.

That’s why it is critical that the three national forests comprising almost 5 million acres across Northern New Mexico and southern Colorado coordinate their forest planning and management efforts to protect critical habitat and wildlife migration routes from new road building, mineral extraction and energy development.

The recent release of the Rio Grande National Forest’s final land management plan and the draft plans released last week by the Carson and Santa Fe national forests, reveal some progress and several glaring gaps in the Forest Service’s approach to addressing landscape connectivity in the Upper Rio Grande.

Landscape connectivity is a critical ecological function, and the Upper Rio Grande is an important landscape for many species in the southern Rockies. Connectivity ensures wildlife can access breeding grounds, migrate seasonally, maintain diverse genetics, adapt to human development and respond to range shifts in the face of fire and climate change. A key tool to facilitate connectivity is the identification and management of corridors to support wildlife movement between core areas and across landscapes.

The Carson and Santa Fe National Forest draft plans include important improvements for habitat protection and connectivity, including the Caja del Rio Wildlife and Cultural Interpretive Special Management Area, the San Antonio Management Area and the Valle Vidal Management Area. As some of the most ecologically rich habitats in North America, these areas will help connect a vital wildlife corridor that runs from Colorado to Mexico.

Unfortunately, the Rio Grande National Forest failed to include important special-interest areas, and none of the three plans yet includes strong enough language about prohibiting road building and motorized trails, mineral extraction or energy development in the special wildlife management areas.

In addition, all three forests provide critical habitat for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, an iconic species that has begun the slow process of recovery after years of decline. The Rio Grande, Carson and Santa Fe plans should all include Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep as a “species of conservation concern,” given that bighorn populations remain vulnerable due to habitat fragmentation and loss and the threat of disease.

The Upper Rio Grande Watershed offers a unique opportunity to get it right and provide landscape connectivity, rather than a patchwork of habitat, to allow critical wildlife species to recover and thrive. To accomplish appropriate regional corridors for wildlife, forest plans should acknowledge that coordinated actions between forest administrative units and other stakeholders must occur.

There is still time to improve all three national forest land management plans. With our rapidly developing and ever-changing landscape, it is critical that national forest land management plans are better integrated and create appropriate adaptive management practices to develop scientifically sound and balanced multiuse plans that address the many threats to wildlife while maintaining the important culture and traditions tied to this iconic landscape.

Ken Jones is a retired banker, avid hunter and serves on the board of directors of New Mexico Wild.

This guest column originally appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican.