Last night before bed, I saw the Tweet from the Southwest Coordination Center that read:
Black Horse (NM-GNF): 14 miles ESE of Reserve, NM (33 38 58N, 108 32 30W) 3 Air tankers, 1 lead, and AA ordered. Local resources responding.
Crap, I thought. Not another fire in the Gila National Forest. I had camping/anxiety dreams all night and by 5 was jumpy to start making calls. (One lovely dream: Checking under rocks along the Middle Fork to find Hellgrammites for trout fishing. I digress.)
At 8 a.m., Sharma Huntchinson at the Reserve Ranger District returned my call and told me the fire had reached only an acre and a quarter. She explained that a 20-man crew was on the scene yesterday, and had ordered tankers and smoke jumpers. The smoke jumpers went in first, she said, and while the fire isn’t contained, they’ll continue to monitor it.
I’m totally aware of the fact that reporters aren’t supposed to cheer “YAY!” when talking to a source, but what the hell? I did. I was happy to hear that there wasn’t another giant fire burning in New Mexico. Especially in the Gila, which is one of my favorite places on the planet.
There were lighting strikes in the area yesterday, and they’re waiting for more, said Hutchinson, but the Gila has resources ready.
I should also mention that while Stage Two fire restrictions remain in place, all wilderness trails in the Gila have reopened after the Miller Fire.
As an aside, check out these photos of a mountain lion in the Las Conchas burn area. Shot by Los Alamos Police Department Chief Wayne Torpy, they were posted online by KOB’s Gadi Schwartz. And they’re a good reminder that yes, forest fires affect people, but also wildlife and ecosystems.
Anyway, links to the pictures:
I’ve been all-too-obsessively following the reports of the wildfires burning around New Mexico this summer, but am also trying to make sure other environmental issues don’t slip through the cracks.
So, if you’re looking for a break from fire news, you can read my recent op-ed about the New Mexico Game Commission’s decision earlier this month to end the state’s participation in the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program.
If the recent vote to withdraw support for wolves was no surprise, it remains a serious blow. Somewhat surprisingly, the state’s wildlife department had become an effective advocate for wolf recovery. In 2008 and 2009, it opposed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plans to remove wolves suspected of preying on livestock. Thanks to that stance, the federal agency changed its policy, and those two wolf packs still live in the wild where they have not been preying on livestock.
Now that the state wildlife commission is no longer a partner in the federal wolf recovery program, the department’s role has become murky. The state will apparently refuse any federal money to fund employees to work on the program, and the state’s representatives will no longer participate in the recovery team. The details are still unclear.
You can read the rest here.
In between my deadline and press time, Commissioner Jerry Maracchini (a former director of NMDGF) sent a reply to my email query for background on the decision. I’ve copied his letter below:
The Game & Fish Commission Directed The Dept. of Game & Fish
To Opt Out of The Mexican Wolf Recovery Program WHY?
At the June 9 Commission Meeting in Las Cruces the Game Commission decided to not participate any longer in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) planned and directed Mexican Wolf Recovery Program. A little historical background is in order here to fully understand this decision.
In the late 1990′s both I, as then Dept.Director, and the Commission at that time did not support the USFWS’s proposed Mexican wolf recovery plan. The reasons used then are just as valid today and, we have since found further proof of our original reasons. The areas proposed; White Sands Missile Range, the Gila National Forest, and the Apache National Forest in Arizona. None of these areas are or were traditional home range for the Mexican Grey
Wolf. Loners and small packs did venture into these areas but were quickly killed or driven out by their larger cousins, the Northern Grey Wolf (called timber wolves by many today) If wolves had been placed into White
Sands, they would have quickly left for either the Lincoln National Forest to the East, or the Gila to the West. Both the NMG&F and Arizona Game & Fish Departments stated that an adequate prey base did not exist in the Gila and Apache National Forests. Their traditional prey base was; Coues whitetail deer, javelina, Gould’s wild turkey, and the usual assortment of squirrels, rabbits, rodents, and quail. With prior apology given to the local residents, this traditional prey base exists in the Boothill portion of NM and extreme SE Arizona and encompasses the Coronado National Forest. The Mexican wolf’s primary habitat was and still is in Mexico and, our Southwestern United States was the northern periphery of their home range boundary.
Other significant reasons for our opposition were; the States impacted were not brought in early on for plan development, and the major criteria for high probability of success, local public support, was not acquired. Our
country has a history of rejecting programs or ideologies that are forced upon them, especially if they cause fear, economic loss, or property devaluation.
Which brings us to today. Perceptions (which become reality) now exist amidst affected ranchers and rural dwellers that they have been and are currently lied to by federal wolf program administers, that they are not adequately reimbursed for livestock lost to wolf predation, and fear for the safety of their children from wolves who have no fear of humans. My opinion; any predator that loses its’ fear of humans due to hunting/trapping bans becomes a threat to us and is hazardous to their own survival. We will tolerate and admire predatory animals, but we will not tolerate human mauling or death caused by them. I like many have been appalled at the wasted loss of so many of these precious Mexican wolves during this recovery program They are an endangered species!. They have been constantly trapped, radio collared, weighed and measured, and removed for confirmed livestock kills. Many have died during these processes and the rest not returned to the wild. We would have had many more if those wasted during this failed recovery program had been raised in southwestern zoos and rearing facilities to be made available when we do find and utilize the right recovery areas.
So what can we do? Work with Mexican federal and state government representatives and their local ranchers, farmers and rural inhabitants. Provide an economic INCENTIVE for reintroducing wolves. Select an area that
has an abundant traditional prey base. And, let wolves be wolves!
Throughout human history wolves have preyed upon domestic livestock and farm animals, such as chickens, pigs, goats, cats and dogs. The area selected and its’ inhabitants must be willing to accept this inevitability. They will only do so if it is an economic ADVANTAGE to do so. Pay them for harboring them. Do not quibble or argue over what killed what. Where does the money come from to do this? Foreign aid! We just recently gave billions to Pakistan to help with their flood and guess who we just found out was living there. Millions of dollars are given away each year to foreign countries and no one seems to know who appropriates it or what federal agency budgets have to be cut because of it. My congressmen won’t respond to my requests to find out what congressional committee appropriates foreign aid dollars, maybe yours will.
Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that if private property owners had an economic incentive, were paid to have threatened and endangered species on their lands, and that their property did not become devalued because of
their presence, there would be few if any threatened or endangered species. The current fire raging in Arizona may have been less devastating if timber harvest and thinning operations had not been curtailed due to critical habitat declared in this area because of the spotted owl. The entire Endangered Species Act is a failure, not because of the Act, but because there are no economic advantages to the local economies that harbor their presence!
I can assure you that I and my fellow commissioners have as strong a love for our wildlife and their natural environment as any other person. I spent twenty seven and a half years making wildlife management a career. But it was and is more than just a career, it’s my passion and life. Aldo Leopold, considered to be the Father of Wildlife Mgt. told us “wildlife management is both an Art and a Science” Let us put a little :”art” back into it.
While I appreciate the commissioner’s willingness to respond so generously to my request–he was the only one to send along a statement–I don’t agree with his assertion that perceptions become reality.
Additionally, ranchers have always been compensated for their losses–even when they were questionably attributed to wolf predation–by the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife as well as by the government.
At any rate, I’m sure some readers will have their own opinions, so please comment below. (Keep it civil, okay?)
For more information about the wolf recovery program, you can visit: http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/mexicanwolf/BRWRP_home.shtml
Photo: Hawks Nest pack release. Photo courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish Department.
UPDATE: You can read my op-ed online at: http://trinidad-times.com/nm-abandons-wolf-recovery-effort-p2148-86.htm
As friends and colleagues back East complained that it was raining again–and another friend posted a picture on my Facebook page of the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant surrounded by flood waters–I checked the National Weather Service’s website to see how much it had rained in Albuquerque this year. Memory is flawed of course, but I couldn’t remember when it had rained at my house for more than a few minutes.
So far this year, we’ve received 0.19 inches of rain in Albuquerque. That’s -2.77 inches from “normal.”
As I mentioned last week, I’m writing and editing a number of climate change stories. Even if I weren’t, however, it would be difficult not to contemplate what’s happening across the Southwest, the United States, the globe these days.
I’m currently writing and editing a number of climate change stories, so even if a giant bank of wildfire smoke didn’t blow into Albuquerque every day, I would still be obsessing over drought, flooding, tornadoes, food scarcity and safety, and such things.
But I just found this map of global warming effects from the Union of Concerned Scientists and thought I’d share the link: Climate Hot Map.
This was the view looking west from the South Valley of Albuquerque last night around 7:45. No, the bosque wasn’t burning. Rather, that’s smoke from the Wallow Fire in Arizona. (And obviously I’m no photographer. I just snap photos while researching and writing so I can better recall details later.)
It seems like wherever I’ve traveled in New Mexico over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve run into smoke or fire. First it was the Miller Fire in the Gila National Forest, and then last week, while in Rodeo, New Mexico, I got a firsthand look at the Horseshoe 2 Fire pouring out from the Chricahuas.
Here is what the Miller Fire did to the Heart Bar Wildlife Management Area:
Here’s the Horseshoe 2 fire from Rodeo last Thursday:
And driving north on Highway 80 out of Rodeo:
And the next evening, smoke from the Chiricahuas over Lake Roberts not too far from Mimbres, N.M.:
Right now, the Wallow Fire is pretty much completely out of control. It’s up to 311,481 acres and is 0 percent contained, while the Horseshoe 2 is 104,285 acres and 55 percent contained, and the Miller Fire burned 88,835 acres and is 98 percent contained. (To read for yourself, visit: Wallow Fire, Horseshoe 2, and Miller.) All three fires were human caused and are under investigation.
Kolbert is writing about tornados, but she might as well be talking about drought in the Southwest, which is only going to increase in severity. Here’s an excerpt, but you really need to go read the entire column:
For decades, climate scientists have predicted that, as global temperatures rose, the side effects would include deeper droughts, more intense flooding, and more ferocious storms. The details of these forecasts are immensely complicated, but the underlying science is pretty simple. Warm air can hold more moisture. This means that there is greater evaporation. It also means that there is more water, and hence more energy, available to the system.
What we are seeing now is these predictions being borne out. If no particular flood or drought or storm can be directly attributed to climate change—there’s always the possibility that any single event was just a random occurrence—the over-all trend toward more extreme weather follows from the heating of the earth. As the cover of Newsweek declared last week, “weather panic” is the “new normal.” The larger problem is that this “new normal” won’t last. Each additional ton of carbon dioxide that’s spewed into the atmosphere contributes to further warming, thus increasing the risk of violent weather. The day after the President visited Joplin, Fatih Birol, the chief economist for the International Energy Agency, in Paris, announced that, despite the economic slowdown, global CO2 emissions last year rose by a record amount, to almost thirty-one billion metric tons. “I am very worried,” Birol said. “This is the worst news on emissions.”
Brace yourself, New Mexico. It’s going to be a hot, smoky summer. And we all better figure out a better way into the future.
I recently wrote an essay for Ms. blog about the challenges (and rewards, too) of being a working-mom-journalist. Writing it brought back a lot of memories and reminded me of how many stories I’ve reported while bringing my daughter along for the ride.
What’s weird is that for the first couple of years I was super embarrassed to be a journalist and a mom. If she made a peep while I was talking on the phone, I’d totally freak out and extract myself from the interview. I’m not sure why I felt that way, but I’m sure grateful that she’s been such a good sport about all of this…
I’m sure that the legislative reporters will be all over this, but I just wanted to point out some interesting legislation:
If passed, it would consolidate the New Mexico Environment Department, the Department of Game and Fish and the Natural Resources trustee under the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.
The governor’s office has also released Martinez’s list of Environmental Improvement Board nominees. Their names and bios are straight off two press releases from the governor’s office:
James Casciano (manager of the Corporate Environmental Health and Safety program for the Intel Corporation in Rio Rancho)
Timothy Morrow (rancher from Capulin)
Deborah Peacock (managing partner of Peacock Myers, P.C., an Albuquerque law firm)
Elizabeth Ryan (Roswell attorney at Mark W. Taylor & Associates)
Jeff Bryce (Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Sierra Peaks Corporation)
Gregory Fulfer (rancher and business owner from Jal; he is also the Chairman of the Lea County Board of Commissioners.)
John Volkerding (General Manager of Basin Disposal, a salt water disposal company in Farmington; previous manager of New Mexico Department of Energy’s Oversight Bureau in Albuquerque.)
Despite the fact that President Obama didn’t even bother to mention climate change in his State of the Union address last night, here in New Mexico the issue is receiving a lot of attention.
Of course, that’s in large part because the state’s new governor, Susana Martinez, has nominated a climate change denier, Harrison Schmitt, to head the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.
But that’s not all that’s been happening.
In Martinez’s first days in office, she also terminated members of the Environmental Improvement Board, which had just approved a second new rule setting limits on carbon emissions. She then tried to prevent implementation of that rule, which was passed in December.
But this morning, the New Mexico State Supreme Court ruled that the governor violated the state Constitution when she prevented that rule from being codified.
According to a press release from the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, which represented the nonprofit New Energy Economy in its suit against the governor:
Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels stated, when announcing the court’s decision, the Court did not think it necessary to issue a writ against the Governor or the Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department. “The issue is whether the suspension of the printing of the rules was proper. We will issue a writ against the State Records Administrator. She has a non-discretionary administrative duty to follow the law.”
Just in case you’re interested, by the way, you can view information about contributions to the governor’s campaign here on the website of the National Institute on Money and Politics. Top contributors include these oil and gas companies, mining and utilities companies:
McElvain Oil and Gas
Barrick Gold Strike Mines
NM Rural Electric Cooperative Association
Altogether, oil and gas companies made up the second largest contribution to Martinez’s campaign. All told, she received $807,125 from the oil and gas industry.
It’s no surprise, then, that Martinez would so rapidly oppose emission reductions. The oil and gas industry, after all, has consistently opposed passage of any rules related to the reduction of carbon emissions.
Back in 2009, the New Mexico Environment Department had proposed a rule to the Environmental Improvement Board that would revise greenhouse gas reporting rules.
The proceedings never occurred because the department withdrew its proposal, but someone recently emailed me a copy of the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico’s intent to present technical testimony.
Guess who was expected to give two hour’s worth of “expert testimony” opposing the regulations?
Dr. Harrison Schmitt (whose name, incidentally, is misspelled at times within the document as “Schmidt”).
And so here we are, caught within the cycle of trying to deny the reality of human-caused climate change while propping up industry. (And consumers: No, you’re not off the hook. It’s our demand for fossil fuels that drives production.)
I was particularly dismayed to see the comments following a commentary in Monday’s Santa Fe New Mexican, titled “Climate change deniers ignore science.” It’s all too apparent that climate change deniers (heretofore referred to as “industry hacks and paid public relations flaks”) continue to try and deceive an American public woefully under-informed about the impacts of climate change that are already occurring in other countries.
And if you think it’s only places such as the Solomon Islands or Africa dealing with rising sea levels and drought, think again. Not only will the Southwest suffer in the coming years from higher temperatures, decreased snowpack and drier soils, but many coastal states and cities in the US are already trying to anticipate how rising seas will affect them. Consider this recent report from the New York State Sea Level Rise Task Force to the state legislature, which notes:
Our climate is changing, causing the world’s seas to rise. Since 1970, the Northeast has witnessed increases in average temperatures of more than 1.5°F. These changes have resulted in warmer winters and hotter summers and other changes in the form of fewer, but heavier, snows and heavier, more intense rainfall and storms. The warming produced by global climate change causes the sea level to rise because warmer water takes up more space, and higher temperatures are melting ice sheets around the globe. New York Harbor has experienced an increase in sea level of more than 15 inches in the past 150 years, with harbor tide gauges showing a rise of between 4 and 6 inches since 1960.
It’s easy to pretend that there is still a debate about the science of human-caused climate change. But let’s face it: There isn’t. States such as New Mexico can either prepare for the future, or be stuck in the past.
I wrote the following commentary for Blue Ridge Press, a national syndication service. (NJToday was one of the places it ran.)
With Feds Failing, Climate Change Action Goes Local
In December, the nations of the world agreed once again to do nothing about climate change.
And just as the science of climate change is more clear than ever, so too, are the politics: Whether led by President George W. Bush or Barack Obama, the United States is thwarting meaningful action on climate change. As people around the world lose faith in the U.S. government, it’s long past time for individual Americans to think rationally—about both science and economics. It’s time to act with compassion toward those whose lives are already being affected by climate change.
Following the closing of the United Nations climate talks in Cancún, Mexico, I shared an airport shuttle with a woman from South Africa. Delegates from every country except Bolivia had just agreed again to delay action on everything from carbon emissions reductions to funding adaptation projects in developing countries, where the impacts of climate change are most severe. She’s disappointed: “They agreed last night that they were pleased to be going home,” she said.
Adapting to climate change isn’t about saving the environment, she says. It’s about economics and survival. But the American people tell their leaders not to act, she says. In a democracy, after all, elected leaders carry out the wishes of citizens.
That wasn’t the first conversation I had in Cancún with someone baffled by U.S. behavior. Time and again, whether riding the bus, standing in security lines, or eating dinner, I met people from across the world who asked me what is happening in America.
They do not understand why the U.S. government has for 20 years challenged a binding international agreement to cut carbon emissions, mitigate the impacts of climate change, and help developing nations deal with drought, rising seas, or floods that destroy infrastructure. People from Senegal, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Panama, Columbia, India and across the European Union asked me why the American people don’t care about climate change.
Despite the actions of my government, I try to explain that many Americans do care about climate change.
States like California are trying to lower greenhouse gas emissions and create incentives that help both businesses and regulators by reducing emissions and boosting the clean energy economy. A new rule in New Mexico ensures that soon the state’s polluters will have to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by three percent a year from 2010 levels. And the state approved a separate proposal paving the way for participating in a cap-and-trade plan under which 11 states and Canadian provinces have agreed to establish a regional, market-based emission reduction program.
In November, eight municipalities—Boston, Cambridge, Grand Rapids, Florida’s Lee County, Flagstaff, Miami-Dade, San Francisco and Tucson—received funding from a nonprofit organization to participate in a program to help local governments prepare for climate-change impacts that are already occurring. Connecticut, Maine, Colorado, and Florida already have statewide action plans to deal with climate change; others are studying its impacts and economic consequences.
In the United States, the significant action on climate change—whether state laws mandating the use of renewable energy or municipal improvements to public transportation systems and bike routes—is happening at a local level. But it’s not nearly enough. Citizens need to urge the federal government to act. And we each have work to do within our own lives.
Speaking during the UN’s opening ceremony, the chair of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, said that the warming of the climate system is unequivocal. But he also pointed out that lifestyle changes can contribute to climate change mitigation.
In other words, individual choices matter. Each of us can cut our consumption of electricity and fossil fuels. Consumer choices matter, as do investments in companies that act responsibility and reduce their carbon footprints.
Most of the people I met in Cancún have already accepted that the U.S. government will never lead on climate change. But they still wonder why the American people fall for the histrionics of industry-funded climate change deniers when the science of climate change is clear. They are waiting for Americans to pay attention to the rising seas, the Amazon’s burning forests and the glaciers melting from mountains across the globe. They are waiting for citizens to demand that the United States become a responsible member of the international community.
But they’re not going to wait for long. That became painfully clear to me as I headed toward the airport with my fellow South African passenger.
“Everyone used to want to be like America,” she said. “I think that is not the case anymore.”
Laura Paskus reported from COP 16 in Cancún as an Earth Journalism Network 2010 Climate Media Fellow. EJN is a project of Internews, an international media development organization. This is the project’s first year bringing U.S. journalists to the UN climate talks.Comment on this column at www.blueridgepress.com.
Unfortunately between my deadline and press time, New Mexico’s new governor nominated a climate change skeptic, Jack Schmitt, to the head of the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.
To understand why that’s an alarming prospect for the state, read an open letter to Schmitt on the brand-new blog, Puckerclust. That blog, run by Mark Boslough, is dedicated to “shining a spotlight on climate denialism.” Boslough’s letter is excellent, and everyone should go read it.
Gov. Martinez has also terminated all but one member of the state’s Environmental Improvement Board–which passed the greenhouse gas emissions reductions rules I mentioned within the commentary.
Then on Saturday, I learned of Martinez’s nomination to lead the state’s Environment Department–that is, the department in charge of protecting the state’s water and air quality and of regulating and inspecting pollutors.
According to Democracy New Mexico, nominee F. David Martin is an adjunct associate professor in the Petroleum Engineering Department at New Mexico Tech. He is also the former director of the Petroleum Recovery Research Center.
Yesterday, I was emailing with a friend of mine about the radical shift here in New Mexico, and she wrote: “Wow! Is NM trying to get in a race with TX to the bottom? We have a chicken poultry scientist–how to grow a chicken in a box kind of science–as head of our enviro. I think you guys topped us.”
Many people to the right of center argue that environmental regulation thwarts economic growth. But in Texas–where drilling is rampant, environmental protections lax and the state has even opposed the US Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases–the state is running a $25 billion deficit over the next two years.
At any rate, I didn’t mean to write this long a post, but the last line of my commentary seems especially relevant to me this weekend. I have a heavy, heavy heart with the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-AZ and others in Tucson, and the murder of nine-year old Christina Taylor Greene.
It’s easy to feel angry or fearful when something like that happens. And I’m glad I already had a new mantra in place for 2011: “I choose love, I choose truth, I choose love.”
I’m not being naive or idealistic. Nor does acting out of love mean backing down from a challenge. As I explained to my daughter recently: Stand up for what’s right, but do so because you love the person or place or thing you are protecting, not because you hate the “bad guy” or the system or the force that is causing harm.
Let’s face it, this has been a difficult beginning to the year. But I woke up this morning believing that love–for our homelands and landscapes and for one another–offers the only true way forward. That’s true whether we’re talking about Americans finally understanding how climate change is already impacting people across the globe, ensuring environmental protections here in New Mexico–or coming together as a nation in a time of crisis.