Not another ‘ghost river,’ please
Writers on the Range, Nov. 11, 2014
Unlike the Rio Grande, which has been manhandled by diversions, dams and reservoirs, the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico runs how it pleases. If the rains don’t arrive, it trickles. When storms roar across the Mogollon Mountains, it swells and surges.
Right now, New Mexico is facing a big decision on the Gila.
Thanks to a string of court decisions and a law passed in 2004, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission has had 10 years to decide a big question: Should New Mexico spend $66 million in federal money to meet future water needs in four rural counties through conservation and efficiency? Or should the state accept an additional $34 to $63 million from the federal government to help build a diversion dam on the Gila, just downstream from where the river pours out of the nation’s first congressionally designated wilderness area?
Humble Commitment: Terry Tempest Williams and a conservation author’s sacred rage, Santa Fe Reporter, October 14, 2014
Writer Terry Tempest Williams has struck the word “busy” from her vocabulary.
“I think it’s an excuse not to engage,” she says, calling from rural Maine, where she was visiting Katahdin Woods & Waters Recreation Area. “I feel focused at times; I feel committed to community at times. But I’m just so grateful for the rich life that I have.”
One of the wisest—and loveliest—voices for conservation in the Western United States, Williams was on the East Coast for the People’s Climate March and the Religions for the Earth Conference in New York City.
These days, she’s also teaching, working on a new book about seven National Parks and advocating for the expansion of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. In part, she’s committed to protecting more of that landscape because of her friendship with the late Stewart Udall, father to Sen. Tom Udall and former Secretary of the US Department of the Interior during the Johnson and Kennedy administrations. The senior Udall had a hand in everything from the Clean Air Act to the Wilderness Act and remained a fierce defender of the West’s landscapes until his death in Santa Fe in 2010.
“I think of his influence continually,” says Williams. “Whenever I write, I feel his hand on my shoulder.”
My Unhard Heart
The Last Word on Nothing, October 2, 2014
Having grown up in Connecticut, I spent most of my childhood exploring streams, creeks, shorelines and marshes. Some of those places weren’t just mucky, they were dirty (as in “this is why we have the Clean Water Act” dirty). But all around, there were lush, green, magical places.
When I moved to the arid Southwest, I couldn’t wait to plunge into the Rio Grande. As I kid, I’d envisioned a mighty river carrying Spanish galleons and tossing barges about.
So, um, yeah, it’s nothing like that.
I loved the Rio Grande anyway. I probably loved it more because it was unlike any river I’d ever seen. I loved its shallow, muddy waters and the maze of paths and game trails through the bosque. Even though the non-native Russian olive, salt cedar and Siberian elms heartily out-compete the cottonwood trees in many places, those riverside thickets are rich with songbirds and porcupines, coyotes and raptors.
Stop Kvetching and Do: Top 5 ways you can help your environment
Santa Fe Reporter, October 16, 2013
For two years, I’ve been lucky enough to write this column about environmental issues for SFR each month. Now, the time has come to embrace other projects and make way for new voices. Thanks, readers, for all the story tips and letters—and thanks most of all for your time. Since this is an opinion column, I thought I’d fire away one last time before saying goodbye.
1. Still arguing with people about whether climate change is real or human-caused? Drop it. The climate is already changing. Don’t take my word for it. Instead heed the University of New Mexico’s David Gutzler. He’s a professor in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department—and one of the authors of the most recent assessment from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Over the past few decades, temperatures in New Mexico have already risen by several degrees Fahrenheit, he says. Snowpack has decreased, the snowline is rising—in elevation and latitude— and snows are melting earlier in the season. No, scientists don’t know the precise rate of change and how it fits in with the natural variability of wet years and dry years, says Gutzler. But don’t let scientific talk of uncertainty fool you into thinking there’s anything uncertain about the warming trend. “There’s nothing we see, in the record or the model estimates,” he says, “that leads me to see anything other than continued warming and the hydrological effects that go along with continued warming, like lower streamflow.”
So. Let’s plan for how life will play out on landscapes and within ecosystems and communities as climate change happens. Alternately, if we’re not willing to plan, let’s acknowledge what we’re willing to kiss goodbye. Think of it like a diet plan: “First I’ll give up native fish and cottonwood trees. Next, it’s alfalfa fields and green chile. Finally, I’ll give up my house and drinking water. And then? I’ll move to Vermont.”
Canine Assets: Putting a price tag on the Mexican gray wolf
Santa Fe Reporter, March 12, 2013
One of the hallmarks of wolf recovery in New Mexico and Arizona is the intensity of emotion it ignites on both sides of the issue. (Wolves suck! Wolves rock!) For a moment, let’s set those emotions aside and talk numbers instead.Extirpated from the United States, Mexican gray wolves were reintroduced to the southwestern United States in 1998. Fifteen years ago this month, the US Fish and Wildlife Service released 11 wolves into the remote forests along the Arizona-New Mexico border.
According to the plan drawn up in the early 1980s, by 2006 there would be 100 wolves living in the recovery area. But by the time those first wolves were actually released, politics had intruded upon science to such an extent that what happens on the ground today is quite different from what scientists envisioned three decades ago.
Digging Deep in 2013: As environmental regulation weakens, watchdog reporting is ever more important, Santa Fe Reporter, Jan. 8, 2013
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been hearing a lot about industry influence—unprecedented industry influence—within state government, including the New Mexico Environment Department. Since Gov. Susana Martinez took office, her administration has certainly set the state back when it comes to climate change and renewable energy. It has also overturned or weakened regulations related to everything from groundwater protection to greenhouse gas emissions.
During her administration’s first days, Martinez terminated members of the state’s Environmental Improvement Board and then violated the state Constitution by preventing some of the board’s rules from being implemented. Other attempts to derail progress (or even just thwart the status quo) on issues such as clean air and water have occurred more quietly and with barely a mention in the press.
Last rites and forgotten landscapes: The murders of 12 young women, and what they tell us, High Country News, April 13, 2009
…. Just as archaeologists study artifacts to determine the ways in which past populations migrated, lived and died, we can find meaning in these modern remains, as well as in the patch of land that cradled them. …
An EPA staffer fights to the end
Writers on the Range, July 16, 2007
… The sad news made me think about the work our civil servants do for all of us, and the values that led them to those jobs. In almost every case, when the work involves the environment, I think it’s because these people are passionate about protecting wildlife and the public lands we all own. The work they do every day, which benefits us all in the form of safe drinking water and still-wild places, is important, but it’s taken a friendship to remind me that their personal lives almost certainly suffer because of their work. …
See more at: http://www.hcn.org/wotr/17134
Waiting for Rain
High Country News, Feb. 20, 2006
This year, I spent Christmas in Albuquerque lounging on my back porch, reading in a tank top and suffering a fool’s sunburn. Now, in late January, it’s sunny and in the mid-50s. And although two days ago, the local newspaper kept posting updates about a storm system heading into the state, here in the city, it snowed for about 10 minutes. The precipitation barely licked the dirt in our backyard, and I didn’t even bother inviting the dogs inside.
As a 10-year resident of the Southwest, I should be used to this: Drought has been deepening across the region for six years, and 2005 was the warmest year on record. In mid-January, the New Mexico State Drought Monitoring Committee released its updated map: The entire state is under a drought advisory, with conditions across half the state ranging from a “mild alert” to a “severe emergency.”
See more at http://www.hcn.org/issues/316/16131
While the nation goes to war, the Pentagon lobs bombs at environmental laws
High Country News, March 31, 2003
The first time I saw the movie Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Stanley Kubrick’s satirical depiction of Cold War America, I was too young to fully understand it. I watched it a second time while in college during the Clinton years, and found the flick brilliant, even though it was campy and outdated.
Now, I can’t watch it a third time, because I’m afraid it’ll too closely resemble reality. After interviewing conservationists and attorneys about the military’s campaign to sidestep environmental laws, and then watching Congress quickstep to President Bush’s war drum on the news, I’ve started lying awake at night. I keep imagining Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld straddling a missile, tailing a flock of endangered cranes — his whoops mingled with theirs.
See more at: http://www.hcn.org/issues/247/13845