News

Sabinoso wilderness bill passes House

Las Vegas Daily Optic

June 10, 2008

By Tom McDonald

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Monday that would set aside 17,638 acres of land about 40 miles east of Las Vegas as a wilderness area. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., authored the legislation, which passed the House unanimously as the Sabinoso Wilderness Act of 2008. Udall said he worked with a variety of groups “to make this a plan that everybody, from every part of the political spectrum, can support.”

The area is located northeast of Trujillo along the Canadian River in San Miguel County. Supporters of the bill say it’s home to a variety of wildlife, including several bird species, coyotes, mountain lions and gray foxes. The area is rich in canyon vistas, including the 1,000-foot tall Canyon Largo, and impressive rock formations — all part of a vibrant Great Plains ecosystem.

If passed into law, the act will designate the area as protected wilderness managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management and the state of New Mexico. The land would be available for grazing, hunting and other recreational uses.

Plans for the wilderness area were developed by Udall in consultation with Bureau of Land Management officials and local landowners, according to Udall’s office.

Among the groups supporting the designation are the San Miguel County Commission, the Las Vegas San Miguel Economic Development Corporation, the state House of Representatives (through a resolution sponsored by Rep. Thomas Garcia), the Wagon Mound and Springer town councils, and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

“It’s been a long time coming in getting public lands protected as wilderness areas in New Mexico,” Nathan Newcomer, media director for the Alliance, said Monday. “I think we’re starting to see more of it.”

Newcomer said New Mexico is the birthplace of wilderness protection; the Gila Wilderness Area north of Silver City was the first designated area after the Wilderness Act of 1964 was passed into law. Such designations protect areas by making development off limits while opening the land to the public, “which truly contributes to quality of life,” Newcomer said.

Udall touted the Sabinoso area’s environment and its history.

“Sabinoso is more than an incredibly beautiful patch of land,” Udall said in a news release announcing the bill’s passage. “It is a thriving ecosystem and a piece of New Mexico history. Visitors to the area will find horses, wild turkeys and other birds most people never get a chance to see. They will also find homesteads that go back generations and pristine wilderness that still looks like it did when settlers first came to this part of North America.”

Udall is pushing for passage in the Senate “as quickly as possible,” according to the release.

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23 Wild Lobos Left in New Mexico

mecian gray wolf2 300x187

Today’s news of a 12% decline in the wild population of Mexican wolves is a big disappointment but, frankly, not a surprise. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its cooperating state and federal agencies stopped managing for the conservation of endangered lobos four years ago, and the population has declined in three of those four years. The stated objective for 2007 was a 10% population increase, thus the Fish and Wildlife Service fell 22% short of their goal, leaving only 52 of these critically endangered animals in the wild. Of even greater concern is that the number of breeding pairs declined from seven at the end of 2006 to only four at the end of 2007. When breeding pairs are routinely destroyed or broken apart it is hard to grow a population. Indeed, only nine new pups were added to the population, and two of those have died already in 2008.

The Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, 4.4 million acres of remote public lands teeming with elk and deer, was identified by wildlife biologists as the best place for the first reintroduction of the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf. The objective for this initial recovery effort was to establish a viable, self-sustaining, wild population of at least 100 lobos by the end of 2006, eight years after the first releases.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should issue an immediate moratorium on any further killing and removal of wolves until the population rebounds to at least 100 wolves, as recommended by the American Society of Mammalogists.

Ignoring science and bowing to pressure from special interests, the Bush administration, and politicians, the Fish and Wildlife Service has abandoned its legal obligation to protect, conserve, and recover the Mexican gray wolf—the most endangered mammal in North America. Rather, conflicts (whether real or induced) are routinely resolved by killing or permanently removing wolves, risking the second extinction of this rare, ecologically important carnivore.

None of this is the fault of the lobos whose only interest is to survive and prosper in the remaining wild lands of the Southwest. The wolves have shown their ability make a living in their native habitat. They eat mostly elk and deer, consistently breed and reproduce in the wild, and very few die of causes other than those inflicted by humans.

Scientific research has shown that wolves and other large carnivores improve the biological diversity and overall health of the landscapes where they live. Following the restoration of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, young willows and cottonwoods, formerly devoured by unwary elk, have returned to stream banks, beavers have returned, and songbirds are more numerous. A variety of scavengers including eagles, ravens, weasels, and foxes are flourishing from the free lunch left for them by wolves.

Southwest residents broadly support the wolf recovery effort and want to see lobos thrive in the wild once again.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a legal and moral obligation to protect and conserve endangered lobos and restore them to viable populations within their former range. But their continued authorization of excessive killing and removal of wolves is having the opposite result.

It’s like hiring a contractor to remodel your home and, instead, they tear it down. You would be outraged; and the American public should be outraged at the continued use of tax dollars by our public agencies to destroy endangered Mexican wolves.

Conflicts do arise between wolf recovery and other uses on our public lands, especially livestock grazing. The Fish and Wildlife Service has a proper role in seeking to minimize conflicts, but not at the expense of the conservation of endangered lobos. Wolves have a right to exist and are legally entitled to at least equal status on public lands.

It is wrong policy to give domestic livestock higher priority than endangered wolves on our public lands. Solutions will require abandoning the tools of the past—shooting and trapping—and adopting more innovative management practices and new policies that reflect modern ethics and public sentiment favoring the conservation of wild wolves.

New Mexico Mining Claims Jump 50% Since 2003 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 10, 2008

For Immediate Release

New Mexico mining claims jump 50 percent since 2003
State, county officials urge Bingaman, Domenici to pass reform legislation

Albuquerque, N.M. –In the face of a dramatic new increase in claims here, state, county and tribal officials called on Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici to lead a Senate committee to reform the 135-year-old law that governs the mining of gold, uranium and other hardrock minerals on federal lands in New Mexico and other western states.

A comprehensive bipartisan package that would modernize the Civil War era statute was passed by the House of Representatives in November. The Senate will host its first mining reform hearing this month.

“This year, New Mexico will take center stage in the effort to reform the 1872 Mining Law,” said Nathan Newcomer of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “Senators Bingaman and Domenici can play a lead role in protecting the health of New Mexico’s communities, lands, water and wildlife by producing a modern framework for mining that protects taxpayers and the environment. We all have a stake in their success. ”

The 1872 mining law, signed by President Ulysses S. Grant, offers special status to those filing claims on public lands – without safeguarding watersheds, wildlife or communities from the messy business of mining. It also allows mining companies to take minerals from public lands without compensating taxpayers, while oil, gas and coal industries have been paying royalties for decades.

New Mexico has had a significant share of mining-related disasters. In 1979, 94 million gallons of radioactive, acidic mine tailings spilled into the Rio Puerco. The release from the site, promoted as a modern and safe treatment facility, is the largest release of liquid radioactive waste in U.S. history. Thirty years later, the impacts of that spill still linger.

The need for reform has also been made more urgent by the dramatic increase in new mining claims in western states, including New Mexico. According to Bureau of Land Management data analyzed by the Environmental Working Group, the total number of hardrock mining claims in New Mexico is 50 percent higher in mid-2007 than in 2003. Claims totaled 11,348 in July of 2007.

“Counties have a stake in mining reform,” said Denna Archuleta, Bernalillo County Commissioner. “We’re dealing with an antiquated law where the taxpayers are left with the clean-up, and it’s a financial burden on everybody for a few to make a profit. We ask Senators Bingaman and Domenici to take this opportunity to take the lead at reform at the federal level.”

“Sportsman have a stake in mining reform,” said Kent Salazar, president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “Our public lands are the source of our best fishing, elk hunting and wildlife habitat, and we pay user fees to hunt and fish. It’s time the industry also paid its own way, and took on the cost of mine cleanup.”

Today’s event included participation from the New Mexico Division of Mining and Minerals, Haaku Tribal Water Office/Acoma Pueblo, Dine Against Uranium Mining, Conservation Voters New Mexico, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, and Environment New Mexico.

On January 24, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear testimony about the need for mining law reform and is expected to produce a bill by late February. The hearing follows passage late last year of H.R. 2262, which provided fundamental reform measures.

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