Sandoval Signpost


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  The Gauntlet

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c. Rudi Klimpert

letters, opinions, editorials

re: keeping our Dark Skies

I’ve just read Charlie Christmann’s “Night Sky” column, confirming yet again my passion for New Mexico’s dark skies. That inspires me to ask, “What ARE all those lights?” When I first moved into River’s Edge III a few years ago, there were only a few lights visible around Bernalillo and Placitas. Now, they sprawl south along the interstate and N.M. 313 with, it seems, more appearing every month.

In our rapidly growing nation it is becoming ever-more difficult to view the night sky due to light pollution. In New Mexico, only Santa Fe, Santa Fe County, and Alamogordo, to my knowledge, have passed laws to protect the night sky. (Corporate-owned media ignore—or actively misrepresent—that we are the 3rd most populated nation behind only China and India and one of just 8 fueling half of all growth on the planet, with roughly 80 percent of that growth driven by our nation accepting more immigrants a year than all the other nations of the world combined.)

Alamogordo, in particular, has an amazing Dark Sky ordinance—and resulting savings on lighting and energy costs—through special low-energy lighting to protect a nearby observatory from light pollution. Tucson, Arizona, has an ordinance for the same reason. Originally opposed by its police chief, he quickly became the law’s staunchest supporter when he discovered crime actually fell because, without bright lights casting a harsh glare and creating shadows where the bad guys could hide, crime actually decreased.

Must the New Mexico Department of Transportation erect a chain of glaring street lights all the way into Albuquerque with no thought to light pollution, energy costs, global-warming emissions and that many believe bright street lights actually increase driver distraction and safety issues? Musts every new home around Placitas have bright outdoor lighting? Must everyone south of Bernalillo put up street lights? Will Bernalillo, Rio Rancho and Sandoval County lead to protect the precious darkness north of the Duke City or will our stunning view of the night sky disappear piecemeal, one street light or porch light at a time?

—Kathleene Parker, Rio Rancho

Lights out!

—Signpost Staff

We are thankful to report that on the day before Thanksgiving, PNM finally turned off the security lights at the switching station just west of the Placitas Open Space. Several affected households had been in communication with PNM’s community relations staff almost daily since east-facing spotlights had been left on 24/7 since September. PNM emails explained that the lights were necessary to repel copper thieves, thereby keeping utility rates down. The emails stated that PNM would not turn off the lights until they could figure out a way to replace them with more appropriate, downward facing security lights that would only illuminate the facility.

Meanwhile, the spotlights illuminated the entire night sky for miles around for two months. They lit up the open space and shined directly into the window of the Signpost office. But PNM listened to residents’ complaints, implemented different security measures, and suddenly the lights were out. It is so wonderfully dark out there again. The stars are brilliant in this Las Huertas Valley again. Thank you for listening, PNM. Thank you. Thank you.

re: dying piñon trees

The Signpost might want to look into an issue that is little understood but may have serious consequences for our natural vegetative cover in Placitas.

Apparently, according to Scott Duell, a Placitas resident who learned this when he was taking certification classes to become a master gardener (Scott and wife Nancy Kellum-Rose sell produce from their home garden at local farmer’s markets), the local piñon pine are suffering from a worm infestation that is compounded by our long-term drought. The signal is a distinctively orange color on the branch tips of piñon.  I can see this clearly on piñon trees along Camino de Las Huertas, and I’ve noticed it on piñon on my own property on Windmill Trail South. Apparently, the worm only impacts piñon, not juniper.

It would be a great community service if the Signpost were to investigate this via local plant specialist and or others familiar with the disease.

According to Scott, most folk think this is simply an indication of drought when, in fact, it is an invasive pest that will kill the piñon over time.

A story bringing this to the attention of the community seems in order.

Thanks for giving this consideration.

—Dan Arreola, Placitas

[Editors note: Here is one viewpoint on the subject. See article below.]

US Forest Service report shows fewer trees dying in nation’s forests

Bark beetle damage in West slowing down

The number of dead trees on 750 million acres of public and private forests across America is on the decline for the second straight year, with most of the reductions seen in western states where bark beetles have infested millions of trees—according to a report released on September 10 by the U.S. Forest Service.

The report, Major Forest Insect and Disease Conditions in the United States: 2011, shows that damage caused by the mountain pine beetle is on the decline largely because the insect is running out of its favorite food source: lodgepole pine. Acres of forests with dead trees due to the mountain pine beetle, declined from 6.8 million acres in 2010 to 3.8 million acres in 2011 in western states.

“Native insects and diseases run in cycles, and right now we are grateful the trend is downward,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “While the news is good, we are certain to continue to face challenges, such as the effects of climate change and the introduction of invasive species. We must manage our lands across all boundaries to ensure the vitality and health of our natural resources.”

This marks the second straight year with reduced mortality rates after steady increases between 2006 and 2009. Although Forest Service surveyors attribute some of the reductions to fewer available lodgepole pines, ponderosa pine and high-elevation white bark pine are still at risk.

“Forests play a crucial role in the lives of Americans by maintaining the quality of the environment and contributing to the quality of their lives,” said Agriculture Under Secretary Harris Sherman. “Healthy forests clean the air, filter our water, give homes to wildlife and provide recreation, jobs, and materials for a healthy community and economy.”

The mountain pine beetle is not alone in its attack on forests. The spruce beetle, the most significant natural enemy of the mature spruce, has caused four consecutive years of increased mortality with dead spruce trees found on 428,000 acres nationwide. The fir engraver, common in western coniferous forests, is responsible for tree deaths on approximately 323,000 acres, most of which are in California. Death of subalpine fir, caused by bark beetles and other mortality agents, was found on more than 274,000 acres.

In the East, tree mortality due to insects and disease continue to remain low, with southern pine beetle-caused mortality at historically low levels. The southern pine beetle outbreak in New Jersey declined from 14,000 acres in 2010 to about 6,700 acres in 2011. However, that lower number of acres is still considered very high for New Jersey. Invasive forest diseases and insects, such as the emerald ash borer and the Asian long-horned beetle remain a big threat to eastern forests.

The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Forest Service lands contribute more than 13 billion dollars to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide twenty percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at 27 billion dollars per year.

re: a third option for the “Buffalo” Tract

Folks in Placitas think that they will get to decide on whether the Pueblo Tribes or the BLM should be chosen to administer the use of the 3200-acre BLM “Buffalo” Tract north of Placitas. For some, there seems to be a rush to judgment about the matter, quickly moving to the side of the Tribes. Apparently, they see the BLM as the bad guy, and the Tribes as the good guys.

Well, they sort of get to help choose who gets the job. They can write their US Congressman or Senator and tell their elected representative to please get an “Act of Congress” to give the BLM land to the Tribe. They just can’t stand the idea of waking up one morning and finding out that the BLM leased the Placitas Buffalo to Lafarge. Neither can I. 

The job gets tougher when Placitas has to support one tribe or the other. Both the Santa Ana and San Felipe pueblos have pretty good stories.

The Santa Ana pueblo says they created this wildlife corridor on tribal land that comes down out of the Jemez Mountains, and the wildlife need to swim across the Rio Grande, then travel under a nonexistent tunnel under I-25, and then across the Santa Ana Tribal gravel mine being operated by Lafarge, then across the 3200-acre BLM Placitas Buffalo (that they want back because they have an ancestral claim), down through the BLM/Placitas Open Space, and on through the Placitas neighborhoods to an opening somewhere in the Sandia Mountains. The path they seem to be talking about might be the Las Huertas Canyon. Las Placitas Association, are you listening? Que Pasa?

The San Felipe Pubelo’s story seems a little simpler to try to explain. They say, “The land belonged to us four-hundred years ago. The Spanish King gave it to us, and we want it back. And by the way, we’ll let the wildlife and the wild horses use it too. Besides that, we already have a crossing under I-25.”

The thing is, we don’t hardly know everything we ought to about the Pueblo Tribes, just sort of what we’ve seen to date on their slide shows and at their gravel mine. We’ve been told that if they get the BLM land given to them, they won’t do any more gravel mining, and they’ll write some “covenants” that will be put in trust, and then administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Wait. BLM vs. BIA?

Well anyway, as I told you, there are some friends I have down in Lincoln County that had a better idea about ten years ago. At Fort Stanton, just north of Ruidoso, they asked the BLM to turn 24,000 acres of BLM multi-use land in to a 24,000-acre multi-recreational project (go to It’s still administered by the BLM, but now it’s used by campers, hikers, bicycle riders, and equestrians. No minin’, drillin’, lumberin’, shootin’, huntin’, or ATVin’. Wildlife frequent the acreage because the BLM, and a bunch of private organizations, obtained donations and grants to build water supply pipelines, tanks, and fencing. There is space for informal overnight camping and a parking lot that provides RV camping for organized events with a full-time camp host.

Anyway, I just thought you’d like to know that there is a third option out there for the ‘Ol Placitas Buffalo.

 —Marty Clifton, Placitas

re: voter suppression

The situation with long lines in Rio Rancho was simply voter suppression. Take a picture of voter suppression; it would look like the picture on the front page of the Journal Wednesday morning (November 14). Mr. Gutierrez, our entrenched bureaucrat and Bureau of Elections Chief, has pulled this stunt before. For those who defend by focusing elsewhere, too few machines were provided to the same polls in 2004. The mid-school was the focus of long lines and voting past 10:00 p.m. The culprit, again, was Mr. Gutierrez. As a challenger in 2004, my calls to the clerk, starting at 10:00 a.m. were rebuffed. It took news cameras at 4:00 p.m. to get machines, arriving at 5:30 p.m., and still, we finished voting after 10:30 p.m. Same decisions, same guy, and same district.

To those who would redirect attention: the Clerk is to blame, not Secretary of State, per state statutes: “1-10-2. The county clerk shall prepare and supply the ballots… The secretary of state may assist in preparing and supplying ballots….” Key words here are shall and may. Finger pointing about calls to the Secretary of State around October 28 are meritless. Blaming the county commission by arguing they approved the sites and machines: it was the Gutierrez who gave the information excluding the fact that each machine produces ninety ballots per hour. Why was information omitted? Here’s the math: 15 machines times ninety ballots equals 1350, times 12 hours equal 16,200 ballots produced for a population of 90,000.

Either no thought or a whole lot of thought went into allocation of resources. If it is much thought, then you must conclude bias. If it is little thought, then you must conclude ineptitude. Either route leads to a decision that Mr. Gutierrez must be fired. He chose not to deal with the issue, and the county commission chose not to ask during the canvassing board: a mistake by both. After Mr. Gutierrez’s failure to explain to the press and the public during the canvassing board meeting on November 14, firing is the only acceptable response. Voters should not have to endure such inexcusable behavior, and it should not be tolerated. If any one of us had performed this poorly, we would surely be fired.

—Todd R. Hathorne, Rio Rancho

re: too many horses?

I am concerned with the increase in the numbers, as well as the increased presence, of the horses in residential areas of Placitas. About 18 months ago, I counted approximately two hundred horses on San Felipe land off the Hagan Road north of Placitas. At that time, the terrain was badly overgrazed and in bad shape from the lack of water. About six months later, in November of 2011, we began having horses in Ranchos de Placitas subdivision. Now they are a common sight in and around our neighborhood as well as in many other areas of Placitas.

There are often times when I can see three groups of horses from my back porch. That is thirty to forty horses from one viewpoint at one time. I recently revisited the area where I saw the two hundred horses, and this time, I could only find fifty to sixty. And the land on San Felipe was in such bad shape that it couldn’t possibly support the numbers that were there 18 months ago. I also checked the Placitas area for horses, and in a three-hour period, I saw seven different groups totaling over sixty horses. I was unable to cover every canyon and every possible part of Placitas. These are not the same horses that are still on San Felipe land and these are not the only horses in the Placitas area. I guestimate that from the north boundary of San Felipe to the north boundary of the Sandia reservation there are still in the neighborhood of two hundred horses, or possibly more.

I think that it is important that people know the true number of horses. I will try to get some help and plan to make an organized effort to get an accurate count on these horses. Maybe you could assist in this effort. I love to see these horses living wild as much as anyone, but you just need to ride out to look at the San Felipe land, or go even closer and visit Ideal Acres, and you will see that these numbers are not sustainable. In order to help in an acceptable solution to a local issue, I believe that an accurate count is mandatory. At the same time, some cataloging of the individual horses could be done. This is not an anti-horse effort. This is a pro-horse effort that can help in improving a deteriorating situation.

 —Mike Neas, Ranchos De Placitas

re: running lady of Placitas

Early morning commuters have the pleasure of being waved at by a marathon running lady who brings good community spirit back to a place that is growing and becoming a bit anonymous regarding neighborhood. Our pretty waving runner is from the midwest. She also doesn’t have a history here long enough to remember times when Placitans waved at each other while driving on Hwy. 165. In those olden times, we had the one-finger salute, then we graduated to the “V” salute, but now we get more recently the middle finger salute because Placitas has changed—rapidly—and people are in a hurry. Old Placitas is gone.

But this lovely running lady keeps the Spirit of Placitas alive each morning as she runs and waves enthusiastically at cars no matter who is in them. She is cheerful, and isn’t this a good send-off to those who pass her by? Placitas was a sweet place a few years back and so, thank you, running lady. You are appreciated.

Keep that stuff going.

—Chris Huber, Placitas Trails

Leon Martinez

Leon Martinez, Placitas post office, delivers goods

Photos credit: Zane Dohner

re: brownies saved

Thanks to Leon Martinez at our Placitas Village Post Office, I did receive a package from the East Coast containing a batch of home-baked brownies!

Serial baker/friend Mercedes in Arlington, Virginia sent them out west here via Priority Mail on October 10. Along the way, the “to” shipping label, except for our Zip Code, 87043, got separated from the package. The box did arrive at Placitas and the postal persons waited several days for someone to come in inquiring about it. After no one showed, Leon used Mercedes’ name and address on the shipping label to get her telephone number and called her. She gave my name to Leon to write on the package, called me the same day, November 7, to let me know where the brownies she had baked had ended up and suggested I “give them to the birds.” No chance of that! I picked up the priceless package at our post office, whisked it home, opened it, and then from the sealed plastic food storage bag within, extracted a cured, firm brownie, dunked it in coffee, and enjoyed a long-awaited sweet chocolate delicacy.

Thank you, Leon, for caring and making that long-distance call!

—Zane Dohner, Placitas

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