Life is not about industrial economies at the tail end of the second millennium. Life is a long-term crap game and the house rules should give everyone a roll with the dice. Imagine that the destiny of the planet is not about increasing the Gross National Product or making life nicer for human beings or easier for the Yaqui topminnows. Imagine that it is a mystery. Think how puzzled the tens of millions of vanished species must feel about the purpose of life.
—Charles Bowden, Blue Desert, 1986
April 22 marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day—a “holiday” that has grown monumentally in scope and influence.
It’s also garnered its share of critics—after all, one day a year isn’t close to enough to address the environmental challenges dogging the planet.
As for those challenges, let’s face it, we’re all pretty much responsible for them. We’ve been bingeing like a posse of drunken pirates, mining anything we can find beneath the earth, tossing out our cell phones and computers the instant a fancier model comes along, driving our own personal gas guzzlers and, oh, spewing so many pollutants into the skies that the climate is changing.
In fact, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, our habits are directly responsible for the endangerment of 12 percent of mammals, 12 percent of birds, 30 percent of reptiles, 30 percent of amphibians and 37 percent of fish.
So, yes, drink some organic beer, help clean up Santa Fe and plant some trees along the river (along with many other worthwhile events, see page 16). But also use this year’s Earth Day as an opportunity to pledge increased commitment the other 364 days of the year.
To get you started, we’ve assembled an A-Z look at New Mexico’s environmental scene—the agencies, groups, people, ideas and issues that help guide New Mexico’s eco-reality.
• A •
Audubon New Mexico
The state office of the National Audubon Society focuses on bird conservation, but also wildlife and their habitat. On the third Thursday of each month, from March to October, the Randall Davey Audubon Center in Santa Fe offers bird classes, followed by Saturday field sessions ($15 per weekly session, 983-4609).
Figure out how much energy your house consumes and how to cut use. Hire a pro or do it yourself: energysavers.gov/your_home/energy_audits. At 7 pm Tuesday, May 18, the Northern New Mexico Group, a chapter of the Sierra Club, hosts a free talk by Amanda Evans, a building performance analyst and instructor at Santa Fe Community College, on home energy audits. (United Church of Santa Fe, 1804 Arroyo Chamiso).
• B •
According to “Getting States Off the Bottle,” a March report from the nonprofit Corporate Accountability International, the state of New Mexico spent $78,000 on bottled water in 2009. The group called on Gov. Bill Richardson to spend that money instead on underfunded public water infrastructure.
• C •
Cap and Trade
New Mexico hopes to join other states and Canadian provinces to create a regional cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal- and natural-gas-fired power plants, refineries and compressor stations. For the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Cap and Trade 101, see
This local nonprofit fosters
participation in the restoration,
protection and appreciation
of the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains. One of the group’s current campaigns encourages the New Mexico congressional delegation to transfer management of the preserve from a nine-member board of trustees to the National Park Service.
This Navajo community was the site of the nation’s largest release of radioactive waste in US history. On the morning of July 16, 1970, a tailings dam at the UNC-Church Rock Uranium Mill failed, sending more than 90 million gallons of radioactive waste down the Rio Puerco. The spill released more radiation than the accident at Three Mile Island and, according to the Southwest Research and Information Center, ranks second only to the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown for radioactive materials released.
• D •
Drilling Mora County
This citizen group was formed in northern New Mexico to halt increased oil and gas drilling.
Drilling Santa Fe
This grassroots group is dedicated in large part to protecting the Galisteo Basin near Santa Fe from oil and gas drilling, and to urging Santa Fe County to adopt stricter plans and land development regulations.
• E •
Energy Information Administration (DOE, EIA)
This division of the US Department of Energy collects, analyzes and disseminates information related to the nation’s energy supplies, use and predictions.
For stats specific to New Mexico:
Environment Department, New Mexico
This agency is charged with protecting New Mexico’s environment and public health. Overseen by Secretary Ron Curry, the department’s divisions include those related to drinking water, environmental health and justice, groundwater and surface water quality, hazardous and liquid waste…and swimming pools. Plus, check out its interactive New Mexico atlases.
• F •
The area is home to two coal plants—the 1,800 megawatt San Juan Generating Station and the 2,200 megawatt Four Corners Power Plant—as well as tens of thousands of oil and gas wells, each with their own diesel pumps and rigs. Recent studies show the area’s air quality is comparable to that of cities such as Houston, Denver and Los Angeles (see Justice, Environmental).
• G •
On June 3, 1924—40 years before passage of the Wilderness Act—the Gila became the nation’s first designated wilderness area. Today, the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico hosts the 202,016-acre Aldo Leopold Wilderness, the 29,304-acre Blue Range Wilderness and the 558,065-acre Gila Wilderness.
New Mexico has 865 groundwater wells—to see maps of individual wells and learn their active water levels:
• H •
Paul Horgan’s 1954 Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History remains the seminal history of New Mexico’s biggest river. Horgan also won a Pulitzer for his book, Lamy of Santa Fe, a biography of Archbishop Jean Latour.
• I •
Interstate Stream Commission
Along with the state engineer—currently, John D’Antonio—this eight-member commission develops water supplies and has authority over the state’s stream basins, including the eight that cross state lines—such as the Rio Grande, which originates in Colorado, travels through New Mexico and on into Texas and Mexico.
• J •
The US Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” For New Mexico examples, check out Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, northern New Mexico’s Tewa Women United and SouthWest Organizing Project.
• K •
Plain and simple: Get ’em outside. Not only because running around playing outside is fun and healthy, but also because nurturing a love of the outdoors in children will help them grow aware of their surroundings as well as the need to protect and respect water resources, wildlife and habitat. The Environmental Education Association of New Mexico’s website is a great place to start for ideas.
• L •
“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals…”—Walt Whitman
• M •
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
Every New Mexican would do well to live by this poem by Wendell Berry. Here’s an excerpt:
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Mexican Gray Wolf
Reintroduced to the southwest by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the canine’s current population status is 28 wolves with radio collars among nine packs, plus three single wolves. For information about the Blue Range Wolf Reintroduction Project and monthly status reports see
“The Myths of August: A Personal Exploration of Our Tragic Cold War Affair with the Atom”
In this 1994 book, Stewart Udall (see “Udall, Stewart Lee”) dispels two bits of wartime propaganda that Americans have folded into history books: The atomic bombing of Japan was necessary to save American lives, and Germany was close to detonating its own nuclear bomb. Udall also condemns the practice of nuclear testing.
• N •
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
Signed by President Richard Nixon in 1970, NEPA ensures that developers consider how a proposed project on federal lands or using federal funds will affect everything from endangered species to archaeological resources. For big projects such as new roads, dams or mines, information is assembled into a draft environmental impact statement the public can review. The final EIS is evaluated by the lead federal agency.
New Mexico Environmental Law Center
This Santa Fe-based nonprofit law firm takes cases related to everything from oil and gas drilling and uranium mining to environmental justice and acequia water rights. It also sells Justice Bars, organic chocolate bars made with local New Mexico ingredients.
New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
The Albuquerque-based nonprofit focuses on the statewide
protection and restoration of New Mexico’s wildlands and
wilderness areas. The organization also sponsors hikes and
volunteer service projects.
Considering we’re a cradle-to-grave kind of state for nuclear issues—we host uranium mines, two nuclear weapons laboratories, the world’s first nuclear bomb test site and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, an underground nuclear waste dump—there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. At Los Alamos National Laboratory alone, there is plenty to worry about, including the open-air burning of hazardous waste and a proposed new pit production factory. For more information or to get involved contact Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Los Alamos Study Group and Nuclear Watch of New Mexico.
• O •
Ogallala Aquifer (also called High Plains Aquifer)
This ancient groundwater resource that lies beneath Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming is the nation’s most heavily used groundwater source—and it’s disappearing fast. The New Mexico state engineer just approved an emergency authorization for drinking water wells near Clovis, due in part to worries over water shortages resulting from the depletion of the aquifer in the eastern part of the state. And a 2009 federal study warns that intense water use and leakage down inactive irrigation wells will result in long-term increases of contaminants such as nitrate and dissolved solids.
• P •
Public Record Requests
Interested in learning more about an environmental issue in your neighborhood? Get your hands dirty and dig deep into the issues. All you need to know for filing a public record request with the New Mexico Environment Department:
Public Regulation Commission
Among other responsibilities, this five-member commission regulates the state’s utilities and oversees pipeline safety. In April, the PRC established new rules encouraging New Mexico’s electrical utilities to consider efficiency programs before building new power plants. There are active elections for three of the PRC seats this year.
• Q •
New Mexico faces some “difficult, precarious or entrapping positions”—not the least of which involves water. Climate change will make the region warmer and place an additional strain on already tight water supplies.
climate_change_nm.pdf (pdf download)
• R •
Author of Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water. This 1986 book remains the Bible of water issues in the arid West. And somehow this tome about water resources and policy is entirely engaging and readable.
• S •
Despite how definitively the human maw is ripping apart the planet, birth control and reproductive rights rarely make it on to the environmental movement’s radar screen. But maybe that’s going to change: Earlier this year, the Center for Biological Diversity unveiled its Endangered Species Condoms campaign.
San Juan Basin
Straddling northwest New Mexico and Colorado, the San Juan Basin contains the nation’s largest proven natural gas reserves (DOE, EIA). The region also hosts two coal-fired power plants (see Justice, Environmental).
Santa Fe River
Want to see the endangered Santa Fe River become a real living river? The Santa Fe Watershed Association does too.
This national environmental organization has six local chapters in New Mexico and focuses on everything from coal and clean energy to green transportation and public lands. Local chapters also host tree plantings and hikes.
• T •
The Tree Rings’ Tale: Understanding Our Changing Climate
Albuquerque Journal science writer John Fleck recently penned this book to help young readers understand climate change. The book starts with an introduction to John Wesley Powell, who explored the Colorado River in 1869, using his example to help students set up their own observational notebooks.
• U •
Udall, Stewart Lee (1920-2010)
He is a former Arizona congressman (1954-1961), secretary of the interior under John F Kennedy (1961-1969), father to Sen. Tom Udall, author, and an attorney who defended and helped workers sickened by uranium mining and nuclear weapons work. The Udall family holds a public memorial 9:30 am, June 20 (Father’s Day) at the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater (1510 Cerrillos Road).
Remember the point of the Dr. Seuss book The Lorax? If not, grab the book and read it again.
• V •
There’s plenty of work to do around the state. Join up with Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians’ Stream Team to plant trees and help restore sections of the Santa Fe River and Bluewater Creek.
• W •
Want to know if there is enough water in the Rio Grande for silvery minnows to survive? Hoping to avoid mud bogs in the Pecos? Check out real time streamflows.
Western Environmental Law Center
The Southwest office of this nonprofit, public interest law firm is located in Taos. Recently, the center reached a settlement with the US Bureau of Land Management, which agreed to evaluate climate change concerns related to 61 oil and gas leases covering more than 30,000 acres in Montana. A similar suit, still pending, involves 70,000 acres of leases in New Mexico.
• X •
Xeriscape Council of New Mexico
Just because you shouldn’t grow grass and lush English-style gardens in New Mexico doesn’t mean you can’t have a pretty yard.
• Y •
Getting out yonder, following trails along streams, tracing the paths of lizards through the desert and immersing yourself in all the landscapes New Mexico has to offer is the best way to appreciate what we have here. For guidebooks, check out Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area (Northern New Mexico Group of the Sierra Club), Hiking New Mexico (Laurence Parent), 100 Hikes in New Mexico (Craig Martin), 50 Hikes in Northern New Mexico (Kai Huschke), Best Hikes with Children in New Mexico (Bob Julyan) and New Mexico Wilderness Areas: The Complete Guide (Bob Julyan).
• Z •
Keep it local with web tools that allow you to learn more about what’s happening in your neighborhood. For instance, learn what toxic sites are being cleaned up with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s EnviroMapper for Superfund.
Check out Earth Day-related EVENTS