Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

  Eco-Beat

A short history of Las Placitas Association—defender of the Placitas environment

—Ty Belknap, Signpost

Las Placitas Association has been a regular contributor of articles to the Signpost over the years. Their name is almost synonymous with the Placitas Open Space and they are proactive defenders of the Placitas environment. But who are these guys?

The original Las Placitas Association (LPA) was a nonprofit corporation formed in 1972, mainly in protest over a move to create an off-road vehicle race course in the Placitas Open Space. The City of Albuquerque had acquired 640 acres of what became the Placitas Open Space from the Bureau of Land Management in 1966 under the Recreation and Public Purposes Act. When the threat of the race course went away, so did the LPA.

Twenty years later in 1995, a group of gun enthusiasts applied to the Albuquerque Open Space Division for permission to open a shooting range in the Placitas Open Space. The group of concerned citizens that argued against the shooting range were challenged by the Open Space Division to provide input about what the community would like to do with the open space. The terms of Albuquerque’s acquisition of the property requires that it must be used for public recreation purposes.

A handful of people formed the Committee for Las Huertas Creek Nature Reserve which merged with Las Placitas Association later that year and has remained actively committed to the protection and management of the Placitas Open Space to this day.

Carol Parker, who served as president of the LPA since 1995, marveled at the way local volunteers with various fields of expertise stepped up and took a role: botanist Bill Dunmire, ornithologist Hart Swartz, and former open space planner Charles Little, to name a few. Judith Hendry later took over as president when Parker moved on to found another local watchdog group—Citizens for Safe Pipelines—and eventually went on to study environmental law.

Hendry provided the following timeline of the evolution of LPA:

From 1995 to 2002, LPA devoted a good part of its efforts to raising money to have archeological, bird, and plant surveys done and to creating a master plan for the Placitas Open Space, in conjunction with the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division. During this time, they raised over $100,000, including funds from the State of New Mexico ($50,000), Diamond Tail Ranch ($10,000), Mid-American Pipelines ($25,000), a grant from the State Historic Preservation District ($4,000), the Albuquerque Archeology Society ($8,000 of volunteer site survey work), a grant from the Albuquerque Community Foundation ($4,000), and monies earned from the Annual Flowering Desert Garden Tour, along with membership dues and contributions.

In 1996, land developers Steve Gudelj and Tom Ashe granted public access toward the open space through Sundance Mesa subdivision. After some initial opposition, the Bureau of Land Management then agreed to build a road through a segment of BLM land to complete the final link to provide public access to the open space from the west. Another entrance to the open space exists from the east, also through BLM land.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. In 1998, LPA headed up community opposition to the opening of a new Lafarge (at that time—Western Mobile) gravel mine on BLM lands near the open space, contending that the mine would have a negative effect on the surrounding environment. There were four administrative appeals filed against BLM’s decision to permit the mine: two by local residents, one by the City of Albuquerque, and one from LPA. LPA also sought injunctive relief in Federal District Court. The appeals process took seven years before Judge James A. Parker decided in favor of BLM and the mine was allowed to go forward. The city settled its appeal with BLM and Lafarge, with Lafarge agreeing to contribute $30,000 per year to the Open Space Division for the management of the Placitas Open Space.

By 2001, LPA’s efforts met with great success when the State Cultural Properties Review Board voted unanimously to list the Placitas Open Space on the State Register of Cultural Properties. Nevertheless, in 2002, BLM notified the City of Albuquerque that it planned to rescind its patent agreement and take back the Open Space from the city because of its alleged failure to comply with the requirements of the original plan for development. LPA launched a letter-writing campaign to BLM officials and our Congressional delegation, and ultimately BLM worked with the city to resolve these issues. Unfortunately, BLM also terminated the three-way agreement between Lafarge, the City of Albuquerque, and BLM, releasing Lafarge from its commitment to pay $30,000 per year.

Gravel mining, as well as oil drilling and possibly uranium exploration, continue to threaten the environmental and recreational uses of the open space and surrounding BLM lands. The status of open spaces changes with changing government administrations and administrators.

In the spring of 2008, LPA hosted a community forum to discuss the BLM Rio Puerco Management Plan revision that will affect three tracts of BLM land in the Placitas area. The forum was attended by over 250 residents, as well as local, state, and federal officials who came to discuss the ongoing revision, which throws open the entire range of potential uses of these tracts that could include expanded gravel mining operations, residential development and/or commercial uses, and a large-scale energy transmission corridor. Residents overwhelmingly supported preservation of the lands for a range of managed conservation uses, including but not limited to: public open space, low-impact recreational use, cultural resource protection area, scenic area, wild horse preserve, and wildlife corridor.

BLM officials recently announced that the Placitas segment had been removed from the proposed West-wide Energy Corridor mostly because federal planners heard the tremendous public outcry from area residents who were organized and kept informed by the LPA. LPA president Reid Bandeen credits this success to politically well-connected residents and a bipartisan effort by our congressional delegation.

Hydrologist and activist Bandeen says that the LPA strives to maintain positive relationships with government agencies and other local advocacy groups by attempting to recognize all sides of environmental and development issues. “One of our biggest functions is to keep an antenna out for any development that might come in under the radar to threaten the quality of life in Placitas,” he said.

The LPA board of directors is representative of an inclusive approach to community activism. It includes Elise VanArsdale, founding member of the wildlife corridor advocacy group Pathways; Sandy Johnson of the Wild Horse Observers Association; Lolly Jones, who has pushed for stream restoration projects; and Dan Dennison, who is a member of the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority. Orin Safier, co-founder of One Placitas and key player in Sandoval County’s ongoing Placitas planning process, is running for a seat on the LPA board.

LPA organizes a number of activities, including educational hikes led by experts who inform participants about birding, native plants, local history, and archeology. The organization’s annual star party offers both parents and children an opportunity to study the night sky and to appreciate the intrinsic value of “dark skies,“ with the assistance of knowledgeable amateur astronomers from the Albuquerque Astronomical Society.

Due to ever-expanding responsibilities and the time-consuming scope of public activities, LPA has begun to seek funding for the hiring of a professional staff.

Bandeen says, “In the meantime, LPA will continue to rely on the support of volunteer membership and encourages Placitas residents to get involved.” For further information, visit www.lasplacitas.org or write to: Las Placitas Association, PO Box 888, Placitas, NM 87043.


 Green Holiday Gifts

The Internet is teeming with online stores, catalogs, and environmental groups that sell green-friendly gifts for the holidays. Pictured here: a child's snail pull-toy from Earthentree, made by artisans in India from sustainable wood that is dyed with natural vegetable dyes and finished with lead-free, non-toxic organic resin.
(Photo courtesy of Earthentree.)

EarthTalkTM

—From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Can you recommend some sources for toys and other holiday gifts that are both safe and not harmful to the environment?
—Tracy Gately, Marblehead, MA

Given the massive recall of toys contaminated with lead last year, let alone all the other bad news about chemicals seeping out of just about every other conceivable type of consumer item, it’s no wonder that people are nervous about what might be inside the wrapping paper this next holiday season. Luckily, growing environmental concerns—and consumer demand—mean that plenty of safe and green-friendly items are available for those willing to do a little more than just walk around the closest shopping mall.

For kids’ items, Oompa Toys (www.oompa.com) is hard to beat. The Wisconsin-based company offers thousands of child- and Earth-safe items. On Oompa’s easy-to-use website, you can buy products ranging from toys, dollhouses, and stuffed animals to learning games, musical instruments, and art supplies to kitchen play accessories, kids’ furniture and tricycles, many items made with organic or recycled materials.

Another interesting online source for kids’ toys is Washington-based Earthentree (www.earthentree.com), which sells dozens of pull toys, rattles, stackers and other goodies to stimulate young hands and minds. All of their products are handcrafted by “fair trade” (fairly-compensated) artisans in India using sustainably harvested wood and natural vegetable-based dyes. And Hazelnut Kids (www.hazelnutkids.com) specializes in natural, earth-friendly wooden and organic cotton toys for kids and babies, and even offers gift-wrapping with recycled and recyclable paper.

For grown-up gifts, EcoArtware (www.eco-artware.com) sells a variety of items made from recycled and natural materials, from bath and kitchen accessories to pet products to jewelry, including many hand-made items. Everybodygreen (www.everybodygreen.com) is another good source for green-friendly jewelry. The company’s No Plastic charm bracelets are made with cornstarch-based resin, natural herbal tea dye, and recycled brass. For those holiday parties you might be attending, wine aficionados might appreciate a bottle of Boisset Family Estates’ Yellow Jersey Pinot Noir (www.yellowjerseywine.com), which comes from France in a one-hundred percent recycled (and recyclable) plastic bottle.

Looking for fair trade arts and crafts? Gifts with Humanity (www.giftswithhumanity.com) sells clothing, home décor, jewelry, and more from artists in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Organic Bug (www.organicbug.com) also sells fair trade items and other natural and organic products from clothing to home décor items to travel accessories. Other websites worth visiting for fair trade and/or green-friendly gifts include www.peacefulvalleygreetings.com, www.greenfeet.com, www.pristineplanet.com, www.nokiagreenstore.com, www.gaiam.com, www.acacia.com, and www.vivaterra.com. A simple Google search for “green holiday gifts” will turn up many more.

Another approach to the holidays, of course, for the sake of lessening one’s footprint and tightening the belt in a downturned economy, is to eschew traditional gift-giving in favor of donating to a local or national environmental group in the name of a friend or loved one. This can be accomplished by visiting the websites of your favorite green groups and making your way to their “Donate” page, or by visiting www.justgive.org or www.worldofgood.com (by eBay), both of which facilitate contributions to worthwhile charities.

Do you have an environmental question? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, PO Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881. You may also visit www.earthtalk@emagazine.com


Size matters when you go for “green“ bragging rights

—Monique Cole, High Country News

I was reading the Boulder County Business Report recently when an article about the “greenest home in North America” caught my eye. The house was being built to fulfill the dream of a businessman who specializes in renewable energy.

At first glance, Ronald Abramson’s project, now breaking ground ten miles north of Boulder, Colorado, seemed to live up to his lofty goal. The house harvests the sun’s energy through passive and active solar design; it utilizes carefully selected, earth-friendly materials. But then I noticed the elephant in the room—the house covers 6,500 square feet.

That’s nearly three times the median size for new homes in America, according to 2007 census data. For the past decade, super-sized homes have spread like dandelions across the West, testament to the outmoded consumer ethic that bigger is better—especially if it’s bigger than the Jones‘s. A host of derisive monikers have followed—McMansions, Hummer homes, prairie castles, and my favorite—humungalows.

But how can size not matter when it comes to green building? The resources required to build and furnish a larger home need to be factored in, as well as the fuel expended and pollution created to transport those resources to the site. Big homes like the Abramsons’ often are built far from urban centers. The rulers of these prairie castles must therefore burn fuel to get to work or an airport. Bigger homes also require more upkeep—think of the landscapers, housekeepers, window cleaners, and dog walkers who have to commute to service the home and its occupants. Adding solar panels and cork floors to one of these mansions is a nice touch, but is this going green, or is it green-washing?

The U.S. Green Building Council has recognized the inverse correlation of square footage and greenness, adding a new home-rating system this spring to its popular LEED (Leadership in Environmental Design) certification programs. Its system includes a “Home Size Adjustment” formula to compensate for “the over-arching effect of home size on resource consumption.”

A decade ago, the term “mansionisation” didn’t exist. Now, a national movement against it is gaining traction in the West. This May, the Los Angeles City Council passed new rules limiting most remodels in the city to three thousand square feet. Seattle’s planning board is currently grappling with its own home-size rules in response to a public outcry against the loss of neighborhood character. Boulder County, where the Abramsons are building, has passed new zoning rules to limit house sizes. But, there’s a loophole. Developers can exceed the limits by purchasing transferable development credits that will preserve vacant land elsewhere in the county.

In this case, Boulder was following the example set by pioneering Pitkin County, home to Aspen’s bazillionaires. In 2000, the county limited the size of new homes to 5,750 square feet. Of course, for those who can afford a new home in Aspen, the $300,000 for every extra 2,500 square feet turned out to be only a minor deterrent. Mega-estates were still being built, causing Pitkin County to set an absolute maximum of fifteen thousand square feet a few years ago.

Transferable development rights are like the carbon offsets of the construction industry. They allow the rich to buy indulgences to ease their guilt while continuing to commit sins against the environment.

Yet a small part of me feels bad about criticizing people like the Abramsons. They are, after all, helping to advance the sustainable building movement by paying an eight-to-fifteen percent premium to make their mansions greener. As in the case of organic foods, as green building materials become commonplace, prices will come down, and the rest of us will be able to afford them.

Still, if they’re striving to be the “greenest,” I can’t understand why the Abramsons couldn’t make do with a more modest house, say 3,500 square feet. That would still be twice the size of the median home in America thirty-five years ago.

I think that the “green” McMansion symbolizes what’s wrong with how Americans have faced climate change and resource devastation. Everyone’s looking for the silver bullets that will allow us to carry on our consumptive lifestyles just as we always have. But to be truly green, some sacrifices have to be made, such as giving up the home theater or that fourth bay in the garage.


Placitas Recycling Center announces new winter hours

The Placitas Recycling Association (PRA) has announced that the Recycling Center on Highway 165 will adopt new winter hours starting January 3, 2009. The new hours will be Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. “We felt it would be more comfortable for both users and volunteers during the colder winter months,” explained PRA President John Richardson.

“The idea will be to switch between summer and winter hours at the same time that Daylight Saving and Standard times go into effect. We wanted to give residents time to prepare for the change, which is why we are waiting until January to make the switch this winter. But in the future, the community can expect our hours to go back to 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. in the spring, when the country returns to Daylight Saving Time, and then to 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon again in the fall when Standard Time goes into effect.”

The all-volunteer Placitas Recycling Center provides recycling services to the Placitas community and nearby areas of Sandoval County that do not offer curbside pickup of recyclable materials. The main mission of the PRA is to reduce the volume of waste that is disposed of in landfills. However, because it is a volunteer-based non-profit organization, the materials brought to the Center must be separated into marketable commodities.

“The community can feel confident that items brought into the Center will be recycled and not just taken to the landfill,” noted Richardson. “That is why we don’t take materials we can’t find a vendor for, and why we ask that residents separate their materials before bringing them to the Center.” Proceeds from the sale of recycled materials are used to improve site services and support other community needs.

The Center currently accepts most types of paper (separating white/pastel office paper from other paper), cardboard (flattened), aluminum, #1 (PETE) and #2 (HDPE) plastics (except plastic bags), inkjet printer cartridges, rechargeable batteries, and polystyrene packing peanuts (bagged).

It does not accept waxed, laminated, or plastic-lined paper; egg cartons or milk cartons; napkins, paper towels, toilet paper, facial tissues, or tissue paper; glass; tin cans or metals other than aluminum; laser printer cartridges; lead/acid batteries; hazardous waste; or hazardous material containers. A complete list of items that are accepted and not accepted can be obtained at the Center during Saturday operating hours and can also be found at the PRA website at www.placitasrecycling.com.

“There has been some confusion about the plastics we take,” commented Richardson. “We are limited by what our recycling vendors will accept. They only accept #1 and #2, and the #2s must be separated between the translucent white milk bottles and the solid colored bottles that contain detergent, bleach, and the like. And it is most important that the bottles be rinsed out, for the safety of our volunteers and to avoid attracting vermin.”

The Placitas Recycling Center is located on Highway 165 one-half mile east of I-25. It is open Saturday mornings except Saturdays before Easter, Labor Day, and Christmas, and after Thanksgiving. Volunteers are always needed and are invited to sign up at the Center during operating hours.


More river otters in NM

Three more river otters were released this week in the Rio Grande watershed, where they will join five others released in October as part of an ongoing effort by Taos Pueblo, government agencies and conservation organizations to restore river otters to their native waters in New Mexico.

   The wild otters were released Friday and Saturday in the Rio Pueblo de Taos, and are expected eventually to make their way downstream to the Rio Grande and perhaps into tributaries including the Chama River. All eight were trapped and transported from Washington state by USDA Wildlife Services and Taos Pueblo. Lighthawk, a volunteer-based environmental aviation organization, flew the animals and their caretaker from Washington to Taos.

   River otters, members of the weasel family, are believed to have once inhabited the Gila, upper and middle Rio Grande, Mora, San Juan and Canadian river systems. They occasionally were mentioned in the journals of early settlers, but there have been no confirmed sightings of river otters in the state since 1953. Decades of trapping and habitat loss are believed to be two factors in their disappearance. Current regulations require trappers to release any otters caught in traps.

   Twenty states, including Arizona, Colorado and Utah have successfully reintroduced river otters.

   In 2006, the State Game Commission directed the Department of Game and Fish to initiate efforts to restore otters to state waters. A Department study identified several rivers as suitable restoration sites, including the Upper Rio Grande, White Rock Canyon and Middle Rio Chama in the Rio Grande Basin; and the Upper Gila, Lower Gila and Lower San Francisco rivers in the Gila River Basin.

   The New Mexico Friends of River Otters, a coalition of government agencies and conservation organizations, donated logistical support and funding to make the second release possible. Coalition members include Amigos Bravos, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Four Corners Institute, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.


 

Grape Holly

Grape-holly

Mountain wildflowers of the Southern Rockies and Central NM

Grape-holly Berberis repens Lind.
Barberry Family (Berberidaceae)

—Carolyn Dodson and William W. Dunmire

This diminutive ground-hugging evergreen shrub produces bright yellow flowers in the spring that develop into dark blue berries by the end of the summer. Blossom clusters consist of dozens of cuplike quarter-inch flowers, each with nine petal-like organs in three whorls. Grape-holly is best recognized by its compound leaves that are composed of three to nine paired leathery leaflets, having prickly holly-like margins. Its preferred habitat is dry coniferous forest where it grows in the shade—from the piñon-juniper to the Douglas-fir vegetation zone.

A close relative, Fendler’s barberry, is a four-to-five-foot-tall shrub with spiny stems and simple leaves growing in the spruce-fir zone in the southern part of our mountains.

Human Uses

Settlers of the west collected grape-holly berries, which were sometimes mixed with apples, for boiling down into jelly. For Native Americans, the principal use was medicinal. The dark yellow root and inner stem bark contain berberine, a strong alkaloid that can relieve upset stomach and other internal pains.

Boiled roots produce a yellow dye that traditional Native American craftspeople still employ for dyeing fibers from wild plants, which are then woven into baskets. Traditional Navajo rug weavers boil the leaves and stems for a greenish-yellow hue that is applied to their wool yarn.

Excerpted from Mountain Wildflowers of the Southern Rockies, by Carolyn Dodson and William W. Dunmire. Published by University of New Mexico Press.

 

     

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