Tree recycling available at new county landfill
With its new composting facility now up and running, the Sandoval
County landfill will for the first time take Christmas trees for
Trees will be accepted without charge at the landfill, located
in Rio Rancho at the intersection of Idalia and Iris Roads, county
public works director Phil Rios said. The resulting compost will
be used for erosion-control projects and offered to county communities
for local uses, he added.
The county decided to solicit the trees because the supply of
green waste, while abundant during growing seasons, slacks off during
the winter, Rios said.
Recycling began December 27 and will continue from Tuesday, January
2, through Friday, January 13. Landfill hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:00
p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.
Far right pushes to sell off forests, parks,
Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., continued his crusade against environmental
regulations in November, tucking provisions into a budget bill that
could lead to a massive public-lands sell-off. The proposal, masterminded
by Pombo and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., would put as many as 350
million acres up for sale, including parcels within national parks
and wilderness areas.
"This is the far right’s granddaddy of all land-grabs,"
says Roger Flynn, director of the Western Mining Action Project.
The provision would lift an 11-year moratorium on mining patents,
once again allowing mining companies to buy public lands. It would
also eliminate a long-standing requirement that mining companies
prove that there are valuable mineral deposits before they stake
a claim. That means that, for the first time, oil and gas companies,
real estate developers, casinos, ski resorts—anyone—could
file a claim and buy public land. "The only limit is the size
of a purchaser’s checkbook," says Flynn.
The mining law provision is just the latest in a growing list
of anti-environment proposals to come out of Pombo’s office.
In recent months, he has pushed to revise the National Environmental
Policy Act, and convinced the House to approve substantial changes
to the Endangered Species Act.
In September, Pombo proposed selling 15 national parks, along
with the naming rights to visitor centers and trails, to help balance
the federal budget; he quickly dropped the proposal when it came
under fire, saying it was just a conversation starter to get support
for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Jim DiPeso, policy director for Republicans for Environmental
Protection, believes that Pombo’s strategy may correlate in
a different way with the elections next year. He suspects that Pombo’s
urgency stems from a sense that the political winds are changing.
"He may be making the calculation that the gig may be up
for the hard-core right-wing Republicans," says DiPeso. "Anything
like wholesale privatization or opening up the coastlines and the
Arctic to drilling ... will slip away if the Republicans lose their
majority in the house."
The author is a High Country News intern.
Sell-off of public lands halted
On December 13, the Pombo Provision in the Budget Reconciliation
Bill which would have allowed the sale of much of our public lands,
including the Valle Vidal, was removed from consideration.
The legislation was opposed by New Mexico Representatives Udall
and Wilson, Senator Jeff Bingaman, and Governor Bill Richardson.
Wilson joined eight moderate Republicans who wrote, "If enacted,
this bill could lead to rapid sale of public lands throughout the
"It's a fire sale for developers and anybody that wants to
just take over our public lands," said the Governor, calling
it "horrendous" legislation that needs to be killed.
"I'm pleased that so many of my colleagues have come to recognize
the appalling results these mining provisions would produce. Clearly
the 1872 Mining Law is archaic and must be reformed, but reform
must be done in an open, transparent legislative process, not forced
into a budget bill with little deliberation," Udall stated.
Applications being accepted for USDA conservation
The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service has announced
that applications for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program
and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program are being accepted through
EQIP is a voluntary conservation program providing financial and
technical assistance to agricultural producers who want to mitigate
various natural-resource concerns (soil erosion, water conservation,
etc.) on their land.
WHIP is also a voluntary program, open to all individuals, who
want to implement conservation practices that will protect and enhance
The Albuquerque Field Office is planning public meetings in early
January to describe and promote these programs. Call the NRCS Field
Office, 761-4499, for details.
Special protection for Valle Vidal
may help prevent drilling
—NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF GAME AND FISH
Streams and lakes in northern New Mexico’s Valle Vidal are
better protected from further degradation in water quality with
the recent designation as Outstanding National Resource Waters by
the state Water Quality Control Commission.
The Commission voted 11-1 to approve the Valle Vidal nomination
by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Environment Department
and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. The Outstanding
National Resource Waters (ONRW) designation is a classification
allowed under the federal Clean Water Act. It does not prohibit
oil and gas drilling, but it does allow the state to impose stringent
restrictions and requirements on land uses that affect surface water
quality. The designation will not affect existing uses of the land,
which include hunting, fishing, other recreational activities and
some livestock grazing.
Proponents of the ONRW designation included Governor Bill Richardson,
state agencies, the Coalition for the Valle Vidal and others opposed
to drilling for natural gas in the Valle Vidal. El Paso Corp. has
asked the U.S. Forest Service to allow drilling for coal-bed methane
in portions of the 100,000-acre Valle Vidal area of the Carson National
Forest east of Red River. Drilling opponents argue that activities
associated with gas drilling will adversely affect area surface
waters. Governor Richardson has said the ONRW designation is the
first step in the state’s battle to protect the Valle Vidal
from natural gas drilling.
Valle Vidal streams, including Rio Costilla, Comanche, Ponil and
McCrystal creeks, are home to New Mexico’s state fish, the
Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Surrounding high mountain meadows, open
grasslands and mountains support the state’s largest elk herd
and many other wildlife species.
For more information about the Valle Vidal and the ONRW nomination,
please visit the Department of Game and Fish Web site, www.wildlife.state.nm.us.
Trouble on the Valles Caldera
The Valles Caldera National Preserve is a sweeping landscape of
grassy meadows and meandering streams that lies above its namesake—a
collapsed volcanic crater—in the Jemez Mountains of northern
New Mexico. Though the volcano has been at rest for a million or
so years, recent rumblings may portend a new type of upheaval, one
that could jeopardize the West’s most recent experiment in
Five years ago, the federal government paid $101 million for the
privately owned Baca Ranch, home to one of the West’s largest
elk populations, as well as to archaeological treasures and camera-ready
vistas. When Congress passed legislation declaring the ranch a preserve,
it made two things clear: The goal was preservation, but the 89,000-acre
property was to be managed differently from other federal lands.
It would remain a working ranch, run by a board of trustees appointed
by the president.
In its early days, the board of the Valles Caldera Trust, appointed
by President Clinton, worked cooperatively with the grassroots groups
who had lobbied Congress for the preserve’s creation. Those
groups, which came together as the Valles Caldera Coalition, included
local conservationists, hunters, recreationists and ranchers.
"Our approach was not to be confrontational, but to work
collaboratively with the board of trustees," says Ernie Atencio,
who coordinated the coalition from 2001 to 2003. "Though of
course things weren’t perfect, by and large the coalition
felt (the board members) were heading in the right direction."
In 2004, the board hired former New Mexico Land Commissioner Ray
Powell as the preserve’s new director. Powell wanted to welcome
scientific researchers, educators and recreationists to the preserve,
along with the local ranchers. Not only would they help the preserve’s
managers better understand the ecosystem, he reasoned; they would
also bring an infusion of money to the place.
But in August, after only 11 months at the job, Powell resigned,
citing differences with the board, which was by then made up of
Bush administration appointees and included four more people tied
to the ranching industry than the original board. "I was looking
at [the preserve] as a crown jewel that had a strong component of
being a working ranch," he says. "But the board looked
at it as a working ranch that had the component of being a crown
A SPLIT MANDATE
The conflict over the Valles Caldera stems from the compromise
under which it was created. New Mexico’s senior senator, Pete
Domenici, R, has long been hostile to the creation of any more public
lands in his state, which is already 32 percent federal land. It
was Domenici who insisted on running the preserve as a "wholly
owned government corporation"—and that it become financially
self-sufficient within 15 years.
From the beginning, this mandate has translated into pressure
to lease the preserve for livestock grazing. In 2002, the board
re-opened the preserve to grazing, despite a lack of environmental
studies and public comment. This August, the board extended the
grazing program, and although it is moving forward with a grazing
study, it now says it lacks the resources for a comprehensive management
plan, including promised research on wildlife, recreation, prescribed
fire, roads and potential geothermal leases.
The current grazing program allows for up to 2,000 head of cattle
on the preserve. That’s still far shy of the 5,000 head that
roamed the ranch in the past. But it shows that the board is "putting
the cow before the fish, elk, birds and streams," says Billy
Stern, grazing program coordinator for Forest Guardians.
Not only that, says Stern, but because "running cattle costs
more than it brings in," it’s likely to keep the preserve
from ever becoming financially self-sustaining.
A just-released report from the Government Accountability Office
says the preserve still needs to determine how it will become self-sustaining.
Nevertheless, at its November meeting, the board unveiled plans
for increasing livestock on the preserve, despite the fact that
the new program would be unlikely to generate profit: "It’s
a very expensive program," says trust chair Tracy Seidman Hephner.
"We’re losing a significant amount of money with the
THE PUBLIC FEELS LOCKED OUT
The board is searching for a new director, but its members have
avoided discussing the friction that led to Powell’s resignation.
When asked about it at a September meeting in Albuquerque, Seidman
Hephner said only that the board "has a responsibility to set
policy." Trustee Jim Gosz added that a director who wants to
create policy "was not what we wanted."
Powell, for his part, says he has nothing against grazing, but
that the land has been left battered from previous grazing and logging
operations. "People think this is a pristine place," he
says. "In reality, it’s been working land for a hundred
years, and it needs a lot of help to restore it back to health."
But what most disturbs members of the Valles Caldera Coalition
is the feeling that the public, once enthusiastically included in
the management process, is now being locked out. The preserve has
been without a communications director for almost nine months. Board
meetings are now announced only five days in advance—and only
to those who have requested notification. Seidman Hephner announced
at the September meeting that the board will no longer hire a court
reporter to record public meetings; any comments for the record
must now be submitted in writing.
And five years after the preserve’s creation, the public
has unrestricted access to just two short hiking and ski trails.
Hunting is tightly restricted, and even fishing access is determined
by a lottery held three times a year.
Coalition chair Dave Henderson, who is also a state game commissioner
and executive director of Audubon New Mexico, says that what began
as a collaborative experiment is becoming confrontational. The coalition
is even considering legal action against the trust, for failing
to allow public input on its grazing plan.
"The board of trustees need to learn they work for the public,
not vice versa," he says. "They need to learn to involve
the public and not be threatened by them."
High Country News (www.hcn.org)
covers the West's communities and natural-resource issues from Paonia,
Colorado. The author, Southwest editor for High Country News, lives