Morning Word

Albuquerque Grieves Tragic Hot Air Balloon Accident

Feds release long-awaited UFO report in advance of Roswell festival

COVID-19 by the numbers

On Friday, New Mexico health officials reported 76 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total so far to 205,290. The health department has designated 194,015 of those cases as recovered. Bernalillo County had 19 new cases, followed by Santa Fe County with eight cases and Eddy and Sandoval counties each with six.

The state also announced one additional death: a female in her 60s from Eddy County who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions. There have now been 4,335 fatalities. As of Friday, 71 people were hospitalized with COVID-19. DOH will provide a three-day update later this afternoon.

Currently, 69.1% of New Mexicans have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 60.7% are fully vaccinated. In Santa Fe County, 77.4% have had at least one dose and 68.2% are fully inoculated.

The health department also reported on Friday it had sent 4,800 email and text messages regarding the $100 vaccine incentive program that took place the week prior. The messages include a redemption code and link to a $100 Vanilla eReward Visa gift card. The emails are being sent from sweepstakes@state.nm.us with the subject line: “Thank you for being vaccinated. Gift card attached.” The texts are being sent from (844) 450-7808 with the message “NM Dept of Health just sent you a Vanilla eReward Visa Virtual Account eGift Card {Link}- Reply STOP to end or HELP for help.”

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here. If you’ve had experiences with COVID-19, we would like to hear from you.

Hot air balloon accident kills five in Albuquerque

The Albuquerque Journal reports Saturday’s tragic hot air balloon accident may be the most deadly in Albuquerque’s history. Five people died, four upon impact, after their hot air balloon struck a power line on the city’s west side. Albuquerque Fire Rescue spokesman Tom Ruiz tells the Journal crews responded at approximately 7 am to the crash at Central and Unser where a balloon gondola had hit power lines and fallen 100 feet to the median on Unser, catching on fire at some point. Former Albuquerque police officer Martin Martinez and his wife Mary Martinez, 59, were pronounced dead at the scene, as was pilot Nick Meleski and passenger Susan Montoya. Passenger John Montoya died later at a hospital. All had connections to Albuquerque Public Schools—the balloon ride had been a farewell gift for Susan Montoya from her colleagues at Georgia O’Keeffe Elementary School in advance of her transferring to another school in the fall. Calling the accident a “terrible tragedy” during a news conference following the accident, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller added: “These were New Mexicans, these were Burqueños, and their families are experiencing deep suffering.” Authorities say the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.

Petroglyph National Monument search for cairn perpetrators

The Petroglyph National Monument on Friday released a statement announcing extensive damage by visitors creating several hundred rock “cairns:” human-made stacks, mounds or piles of rocks. According to a news release, the cairns were discovered June 17 by park neighbors, reported to park staff and currently are under investigation. “We ask that our visitors please respect these sacred landscapes and refrain from moving or stacking rocks and practice ‘Leave No Trace’ principles when visiting the Monument,” Superintendent Nancy Hendricks said in a statement. “Moving, stacking or making shapes out of rocks is a form of vandalism and will impact every visitor who comes after.” Moving rocks around can damage archeological sites and increase erosion by exposing, as well as disturbing wildlife, plants and insects. (You can read more about the damage cairns cause in this recent story from El Palacio magazine). Anyone with information on the Petroglyph National Monument damage is encouraged to contact the park at 505-899-0205, or by email at petr_interpretation@nps.gov.

Luján co-sponsors $30 billion bill for labs

A newly proposed bill from US Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, would spend $30 billion on deferred maintenance and other infrastructure needs at the country’s national laboratories. Last year, as a congressman for New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, Luján introduced a $6 billion version of The Restore and Modernize Our National Labs Act. “Success” for national labs such as Los Alamos and Sandia “depends on critical infrastructure that is often decades beyond its usefulness,” Luján said in a statement. According to a news release, the Department of Energy’s national labs “are experiencing a maintenance backlog from decades of underfunding that puts the labs’ mission at risk. Significant new federal investments are needed to repair and update laboratories, administrative buildings, and critical infrastructure like roads and power plants.” Fellow Democratic US Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Alex Padilla of California co-sponsored the legislation.

Listen up

Colleen Caldwell, leader of the New Mexico Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit in the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Ecology at New Mexico State University, talks with KSFR about training the next generation of conservation scientists, as well as her own work focused on the health of the state’s waterways to support aquatic life. Much of her research, naturally, relates to climate change, such as the impact forest fires can have on native species. The drying out of the Rio Grande also has had devastating effects, she notes: “There are many species in the Rio Grande that have evolved in the Rio Grande,” she notes. “We’ve lost them, they’ve become extinct, they will never come back, we’ll never see them again.”

The truth is here...ish

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday released a long-awaited report on unidentified flying objects, examining, inconclusively, 144 UFO reports (which the federal government calls “unidentified aerial phenomena”) only one of which investigators could explain (it was “a large, deflating balloon”). Reactions to the report, the New Yorker writes, “was one of resignation. The report had not failed to disappoint almost everyone. As the first line of the executive summary put it, ‘The limited amount of high-quality reporting on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) hampers our ability to draw firm conclusions about the nature or intent of UAP.’”

On the night before the report’s release, the Guardian spent time in Roswell, where expectations remained high. “We are anxiously awaiting what the report says,” Juanita Jennings, the city’s public affairs director, said. “And I believe most of the visitors that we see come through Roswell are also anxiously awaiting, because we have visitors that come here from all over the world.” On the other hand, fourth-generation Roswellian Kyle Bullock, who helps run a jewelry store on Main Street, told the paper he thought the “average Roswellian just doesn’t think about UFOs and aliens…We’re concerned with the things everyone else is: your life, your family, your kids, your job.” He had never even had a conversation on the topic, he said, until he made a podcast on the topic. Either way, organizers expect a strong turnout for next weekend’s UFO Festival, and officials at the International UFO Museum and Research Center tell the Roswell Daily Record they expect it will be a record-breaking year for its UFOlogist Invasion July 1-4. As for the federal report, it’s preliminary and work will continue, with a senior official telling media while there are “no clear indications that there is any nonterrestrial explanation” for UAPs, the government would “go wherever the data takes us.”

Farming the Fine way

Forbes magazine takes a quick look at the field of regenerative farming, talking with hemp farmer and self-described “solar-powered goat herder, comedic investigative journalist” Doug Fine of Funky Butte Ranch in Southwestern New Mexico. “We’re in the ninth inning for humanity, two outs,” Fine tells Forbes. “Every farm-based enterprise has to operate the way humans always have—by treating its essential resources as vital to maintain and continually rebuild.” In Fine’s case, that means practicing and teaching “the lost art of rebuilding microbes in soil,” often collecting microbes from surrounding forests or fallen trees and moving them to nearby fields. “If the soil is vibrant enough and not chemicalized, those microbes multiply and combine with other nutrients, creating an ecosystem known as ‘rich top soil,’” and, according to Fine, “there’s a growing body of research that suggests that each cubic inch of this type of cultivation can sequester up to 3 billion tons of carbon annually—while also building the soil.” Fine first started this work in 2006, he told the Smithsonian in a 2008 story, to see “if I could reduce my oil and carbon footprint but still enjoy the amenities that we expect as Americans. In other words, to continue driving a motorized vehicle and have power at my house—not live like a total Grizzly Adams. Can I enjoy Netflix and the Internet without fossil fuels?”

Keep it coming

According to the National Weather Service, Santa Fe has a 60% chance for more rain today, with showers and thunderstorms primarily after noon, some of which could produce heavy rain. Otherwise, it will be mostly cloudy with a high near 70 degrees and southeast wind 10 to 20 mph. We may see more rain tonight and we may see—fingers crossed, knock on wood, etc.—more rain all week.

Thanks for reading! The Word has long wondered—vocally at times—why there must be so many meetings, and appreciated the New York Times’ attempt to answer what is apparently a question millenniums in the making.

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