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Sandoval County deputies solve community mailbox burglaries

—Douglas C. Wood, Sheriff, Sandoval County

On June 15, 2014, a resident of Placitas reported that the community mailboxes located at Highway 165 and Perdiz Canyon had been damaged and that mail had been stolen from pried open mailboxes. Information was received that a male individual had been observed breaking into the mailboxes at around 2:20 a.m. that morning. The individual was driving a white Ford Expedition and, upon fleeing, from the mailboxes, he was seen at 5 Canyon De Apache going into the residence.

Sandoval County detectives conducted surveillance on the residence to verify that the suspect lived at the residence. On June 18, Sandoval County detectives obtained a search warrant authorizing a search of the trash containers on the outside of the home. Detectives were able to locate stolen mail in the trash. Detectives obtained a second search warrant for the home and entire property. Detectives and deputies conducted a search and were able to recover additional stolen mail and stolen property. As a result of the investigation, 38-year-old Placitas resident Charlie Turnbow was arrested on charges of felony criminal damage to property. His bond was set by Magistrate Judge Baca at fifty thousand dollars—cash only. Further investigation concerning Charlie Turnbow’s possible involvement in other crimes is currently being conducted by detectives.


Deputies use bait car to catch vehicle burglars

—Douglas C. Wood, Sheriff

In response to recent reported automobile burglaries, Sandoval County Sheriff’s Detectives and the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office Special Services Unit conducted a three-day bait car operation in early June. A “bait car” is a vehicle that is filled with valuable items and then parked in a conspicuous area. Surveillance is conducted by deputies of the Special Services Unit. Although no arrests were made, Sheriff Doug Wood said this type of operation is “another proactive step” toward reducing crime in Sandoval County. Several similar innovative operations are planned in the upcoming summer months.


Wildfire Disaster Funding Act could make a big difference

—Vicki Gottlieb

Many Sandoval County residents prefer a more rural lifestyle—often with close proximity to forests—which puts them squarely in the midst of forest management tradeoffs that qualify as a Catch 22. The June 9, 2014, Fire Transfer Impact by State report by the Department of Agriculture U.S. Forest Service (USFS) shows how dollars meant for forest restoration and wildfire preparedness often get diverted to fighting wildfires. It’s been that way for years. As fires get bigger and more expensive to fight, the problem only worsens. In the past two years more than one billion dollars was “borrowed” from USFS programs to cover firefighting shortfalls. Even the relatively small, fifty-acre, man-made Piedra Fire in Placitas last year cost New Mexico state government close to forty thousand dollars, in addition to Bureau of Indian Affairs and special equipment expenses, to contain in a week due partially to rugged terrain.

The USFS now spends forty percent of its budget on firefighting, compared to just 15 percent in the early Nineties. This year, it expects to spend about $1.5 billion dollars and will probably overrun the fire budget by close to five hundred million dollars. To cover these costs, the agency transfers funding from other forest management programs, which means that all kinds of important projects, including those meant to reduce fire danger, go begging, e.g. the ones below discontinued or delayed in 2012 and 2013 in New Mexico:

• Road decommissioning projects being planned for Travel Management implementation on the Santa Fe National Forest were canceled.

• On the Carson National Forest, oil and gas projects required to meet the timeframes of the Energy Policy Act were delayed or canceled.

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, H.R. 3992 in the House and S. 1875 in the Senate, would go a long way toward stemming “borrowing” like this. The bill would give the Department of the Interior and the USFS access to emergency fire-fighting funds outside their discretionary budgets, similar to the way the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) can tap emergency money for major natural disasters. The Act has strong bipartisan support; is backed by a broad spectrum of 160 conservation, timber, tribal, recreation, sportsmen, ranching, and employer groups; and President Obama’s 2015 budget follows the Act’s lead in improving fire disaster funding.

“Important USDA Forest Service programs can be, and are, significantly impacted by fire transfers, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund, urban and community forestry, roads and trail maintenance, wildlife, recreation” said Rebecca Turner, Senior Director of Programs and Policy of American Forests, “including the very programs that would reduce wildfire risk, like State Fire Assistance and restoration. This new proposed mechanism will help stop this from happening.”

“Healthy forest ecosystems are a long-term investment that requires meaningful and consistent contributions. This legislation provides the stability our federal foresters and their partners need to implement plans aimed at accelerating the pace and scale of management activities to improve forest health and resilience,” said Society of American Foresters’ President, Dave Walters.

Contact Senators Heinrich and Udall and Representatives Lujan, Pearce and Lujan Grisham to thank them for cosponsoring legislation that would increase the ability of public-lands agencies to do more wildfire risk mitigation activities.

Firewise Placitas, an education and awareness group, organized May and June Wood Chipper events in Placitas, with the third and final one this year TBD in September.

You can make a difference by helping make Placitas fire wise. Contact Vicki Gottlieb at vicki.gottlieb@gmail.com or 404-8022 for more info.

The Firewise Placitas steering committee meets on July 3 and August 7 between 10:00 and noon, in the Collin Meeting Room of the Placitas Community Library.

Firewise® www.firewise.org is a volunteer program that focuses on education, awareness, and action that promotes wildfire safety in communities located near wildlands.


County Commission bans fireworks

—Sidney Hill

The Sandoval County Commission has banned the sale and use of fireworks in unincorporated areas of the county. The commission issued the ban on a unanimous vote at its regular meeting on June 5, at the request of Fire Chief James Maxon. The commission’s order bans the sale and use of missile-type rockets, helicopters, aerial spinners, stick-type rockets, and all exploding devices that can be heard while standing on the ground within the unincorporated areas of Sandoval County.

It also limits the use of sparkling and smoke-type fireworks—whether they burn on the ground or are held in a person’s hand—to areas that are paved or barren or that have a readily accessible source of water for use by the homeowner or general public.

The use of all fireworks is banned in the wild lands of unincorporated area of Sandoval County. The ban took effect on June 9 and will remain in effect until July 9. The chief can ask the commission to issue another thirty-day ban, if fire danger persists.

The fireworks ban is in addition to restrictions on open burning in unincorporated areas of the county that have been in effect since April. Under those restrictions, cooking and heating devices that use Kerosene, white gas, or propane as fuel may be used, as long as there is fire protection nearby and a defensible space around the device. However, “starting fires or conducting open burning of any kind is prohibited,” Chief Maxon declared.

Both the fireworks and open-burning restrictions will be enforced by the Sandoval County Fire Marshal and the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office. Anyone found in violation will be subject to arrest and penalties up to and including a three hundred dollar fine and ninety days in jail.

Citizens can report illegal burning or use of fireworks by calling 891-7226. For additional information, visit the  Sandoval County Fire Department website.


Fire danger to close Sandia and Mountainair Ranger Districts

 —Ruth Sutton, Public Affairs Officer

The Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands’ Sandia and Mountainair Ranger Districts are enacting closure orders effective 8:00 a.m. on Monday, June 30, 2014. “The districts have been closely monitoring conditions, and based on their assessments and the National Weather Service predictions of ongoing severe drought, I feel it is necessary to close these districts to prevent human-caused wildfires and to protect public health and safety,” said Forest Supervisor Elaine Kohrman.

The entire Mountainair Ranger District is closing

The entire Sandia Ranger District is closing, except for the following areas, trails and roads. These areas will operate under Stage II fire restrictions, which means that no open fires are allowed.

Open Areas include Sandia Peak Tram and associated facilities. Visitors are not allowed to access any National Forest lands at the top of the Tram. Visitation will be confined to use of the Tram facilities, the High Finance Restaurant and the observation deck. Those portions of Forest Trail 365, including secondary trails associated with Forest Trail 365, outside of the Sandia Mountain Wilderness and South of the Tram. The Tijeras Pueblo interpretive trail located at the Sandia Ranger Station. Visitors must stay on the official trail.

Forest Roads 242, 413, and 333 are only open for residential and through traffic. No one is allowed to park or leave a vehicle while traveling these roads. All other roads are closed. That includes Highway 536 (Crest Highway); Highway 165 (Las Huertas Canyon) and Forest Road 445 (Bernalillo Watershed area).

Although the Sandia and Mountainair Ranger Districts are closed, there are still many places on the Cibola where the public can recreate. Both the Mt. Taylor and Magdalena Ranger Districts are open for hiking, picnicking, mountain biking and camping. However, both districts are in Stage II fire restrictions, so no fires are allowed.

When closure orders are enacted, all areas of the districts are closed unless specifically listed as open. However, there are some exemptions:

  • Persons with a Forest Service permit specifically authorizing the prohibited act or omission.
  • Any federal, state or local officer or member of an organized firefighting force in the performance of an official duty.
  • Residents, owners and lessees of land within the restricted area are allowed to enter only to the extent necessary to access their land.

The Cibola’s fire restrictions can be found at: http://www.fs.usda.gov /alerts/cibola/alerts-notices

For more information, contact Karen Takai at Sandia Ranger District: e-mail: ktakai@fs.fed.us or 505-281-3304. Ruth Sutton, Public Affairs Officer can be reached at 505.346.3900 or rsutton@fs.fed.us.

 
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