“We can’t solve a problem unless we can name it. Name the problems. Talk about them. Seek solutions.”
That advice, from former New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission Director Norman Gaume, is universal. It’s especially important for facing up to New Mexico’s water challenges.
On New Mexico in Focus last week, Gaume talked about the 2023 Water Security Planning Act, some of the state’s water problems—from the Ogallala aquifer to the Middle Rio Grande—and the need for community-driven solutions. We also talked about his time at the ISC more than 20 years ago. Today, Gaume is president of New Mexico Water Advocates and a tireless proponent of tackling the state’s water crises. You can watch the interview on YouTube or the PBS App.
Speaking of problems and solutions, the Albuquerque City Council will vote this week on one unique way to address air pollution and environmental injustice in our city.
During Wednesday’s meeting, councilors are expected to consider a bill from Councilor Dan Lewis abolishing the current Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board and creating a new air board. Lewis also introduced a bill that, if passed, will set a moratorium on the board’s actions through February 1, 2024. (Hit this link for more information on Wednesday’s City Council meeting.)
According to the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, these bills represent an attempt to prevent the Air Board from hearing and passing the Health, Environment and Equity Impact rule, a regulation NMELC says would “address cumulative impacts from toxic and polluting industry when the City’s Environmental Health Department (EHD) makes air pollution permitting decisions in Bernalillo County.”
In a written statement, NMELC’s legal director, Eric Jantz, noted: “Councilor Lewis’s proposed purge of the Air Board is a gross overreach, obviously targeting the Health, Environment and Equity Impact rule. It’s very troubling that a member of City Council is willing to interfere with an independent regulatory agency’s legal process, based solely on the bidding of polluting industry.”
Opponents to Lewis’s bills include South Valley neighborhood associations, Los Jardines Institute, the UNM Law Clinic, and the Pueblo of Isleta. Meanwhile, opponents of the Health, Environment and Equity Impact rule include asphalt companies, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, Kirtland Air Force Base, the National Nuclear Safety Administration, and concrete manufacturers.
Last week, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish announced that an intrepid wolf was on the move—and had crossed Interstate 40. As I’m sure you all remember, under federal law, Mexican wolves are only allowed to live within the Mexican wolf experimental population area in southern and central Arizona and New Mexico.
This is the same wolf who dispersed from her pack about a year ago and made it back and forth across I-25 north of Socorro, spent some time in the Manzano Mountains, and then crossed I-40, once near Moriarty and again near Santa Rosa. (She’s tagged as F2754 and was named Asha in a school competition.) Throughout her journey, biologists monitored her activity and notified local ranchers of her presence. By January 2023, she’d made it to east of Angel Fire, where she hung around long enough that a private landowner asked officials to capture her. She was held in captivity and then returned to the experimental population area.
But F2754 clearly doesn’t want to hang out with her natal pack. She wants to head north.
This time, however, she took a different route, and was, at last notice, in the Jemez Mountains.
According to Aislinn Maestas, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as of Monday, she was in a forested area where “capture is not feasible.”
Maestas says the agency is monitoring her movements and is working with partners (including the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish) to “capture her at the earliest opportunity.”
If she’s captured, she’ll be placed in captivity and paired with a male—and then translocated back into the wild next spring, hopefully with pups.
Meanwhile, environmental groups, including Defenders of Wildlife and a coalition including the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, New Mexico Wild, Wolf Conservation Center, Rio Grande Chapter Sierra Club, and Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Program are urging wildlife agencies to allow the female wolf to disperse—and a press release from the coalition notes that successful recovery of the species requires “three interconnected subpopulations of at least 200 wolves each, one in the Gila Bioregion, one in the southern Rocky Mountains, and one in the Grand Canyon Ecoregion.”
Hopefully, F2754 will stay safe—from roads, from human malice or carelessness, and from people who might inadvertently shoot her during hunting season. I know things aren’t easy for her right now, as she’s exploring new territory and living entirely on her own. Earlier this year, I spoke with Brady McGee, Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, while we were standing around in the snow, waiting for the helicopter to deliver tranquilized wolves to the mobile vet unit set up near Apache Creek. He said they didn’t know what F2754 was eating during that first journey north; that she was maybe scavenging food. And he said, she was small and hungry when they captured her.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m cheering her on.
And just a reminder that Mexican wolves outside the experimental area are protected under the Endangered Species Act. They can’t be hazed or harassed, and anyone convicted of killing, harming or harassing an endangered Mexican wolf is subject to a fine and/or criminal charges.
On Sunday I had a fascinating conversation with author Ben Goldfarb, who was in Santa Fe promoting his new book, Crossings: How Road Ecology Is Shaping the Future of Our Planet. We talked all about road ecology, ways to make infrastructure safer for animals, funding in the Infrastructure Act for wildlife crossings, bucket brigades—and about compassion for animals.
It’s always remarkable to me how much Americans love their dogs, yet dismiss the deaths of millions of deer, bears, rabbits, coyotes, foxes, armadillos, and other species as “roadkill” and an inevitable part of our modern lives. (Just on my drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, I tallied 16 dead animals on the road and saw an extremely vulnerable squirrel who was at risk of being hit, too. As Goldfarb pointed out, those were just the carcasses big enough to be seen while driving at a high speed. There are also countless insects, lizards, birds, rodents, and other small animals hit all the time.)
Like his book, Eager, which energized people about beavers, Goldfarb’s Crossings is sure to fire people up about better protecting animals from vehicle collisions and lessening the impacts of roads on species—and individual animals—across the world. If you haven’t read the book yet, do check it out. It’s really good. And if you know about any local bucket brigades or other community-scale efforts like that in New Mexico, please let me know!
Lastly, just oh hey, a reminder: if you are compelled to rake your leaves don’t use—or hire anyone else to us—a leaf blower.
They’re not only the most annoying and unnecessary creation on Earth, they disrupt habitat and emit vast amounts of greenhouse gases. The Washington Post has a story about a new study that shows how gas-powered lawn and garden equipment just in the state of Massachusetts “generated more than 600,000 tons of carbon dioxide in 2020 — an amount equivalent to the pollution from about 135,000 standard cars.”
And if you need to convince any of your friends or neighbors to “leave the leaves,” here’s some good information from the Xerces Society.
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