State issues smoke advisory for newest fire
In response to New Mexico’s newest wildfire, the Cooks Peak Fire, the state health and environment departments yesterday issued smoke advisories for residents in the northeast part of the state, including Ocate, Rayado, Philmont Headquarters and Cimarron and surrounding communities in Mora County and Colfax County. The fire began Sunday afternoon on private land north of Ocate in Mora County and is 0% contained at approximately 2,200 acres. Officials expect smoke to travel north later today into tonight by strengthening southerly winds and spread across much of Mora County (info on assessing smoky days and protecting one’s health available here). Evacuation orders remain in place for several communities. Containment continued yesterday on the Hermits Peak Fire near Las Vegas, which was last reported at 7,545 acres and 61% contained. The McBride Fire, which burned more than 200 structures and took two lives in the Village of Ruidoso, has been 80% contained. All evacuations for the McBride and Nogal fires have been lifted; the Big Hole Fire in Valencia County had mostly been contained heading into the weekend. In response to the wildfires and the destruction they have caused, the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management yesterday launched a wildfires subpage on its website, which includes updates on the fires and recovery resources for those impacted. “It is an incredibly difficult situation for residents to navigate,” DHSEM Deputy Secretary Kelly Hamilton said in a statement. “Communities are anxious to know what happens next and that is what emergency response teams are diligently working on. We want to make the recovery process as easy as possible by providing thorough, consistent guidance to the public, but first we must prioritize everyone’s well-being.”
City campaign disclosure laws endure
The US Supreme Court yesterday declined to hear a challenge to the City of Santa Fe’s campaign disclosure laws. That means last year’s ruling from the 10th District Court of Appeals in Denver, which rejected the lawsuit from the Albuquerque-based Rio Grande Foundation, stands. That suit stemmed from a failed 2017 City of Santa Fe ballot measure, which would have taxed sugary drinks (aka the soda tax). The Rio Grande Foundation, which opposed the proposed tax, ended up suing over campaign finance laws that required disclosure of the donors behind their opposition video. In a statement yesterday cited by the Associated Press, Foundation President Paul Gessing said his organization “will more carefully consider restrictive local campaign finance rules if (and) when we choose to engage in efforts to educate voters on local ballot measures like Santa Fe’s soda and sugary drinks tax.” Paul Smith, senior vice president of Campaign Legal Center, which served as counsel for the city in the case, however, reiterated the position in a statement that “voters in Santa Fe, and in every municipality, have a right to know who is spending to influence ballot measure campaigns. We applaud the Supreme Court for denying review in this case and leaving the decision below in place. Special interests often run elections ads that are deliberately misleading, and today’s ruling means Santa Fe voters will be able to weigh the credibility of those ads and cast an informed vote.”
NM AG pushes GoFundMe for more transparency
Attorney General Hector Balderas, along with Mississippi and Louisiana AGs Lynn Fitch and Jeff Landry yesterday announced they had led a bipartisan group of 28 attorneys general to push GoFundMe to improve its disclosure policies. “GoFundMe has a duty to its donors and charities to be transparent and accountable,” Balderas said in a statement. According to GoFundMe, the crowdsourcing site has helped people raise more than $5 million through 50 million donors. The site’s terms of service, the AGs’ letter notes, allows the company to suspend or remove a user’s account, freeze a donation or stop payment to a fundraiser for “any activity that GoFundMe may deem, in its sole discretion, to be unacceptable.” In their letter, the AGs request GoFundMe explain in detail how it “investigates or analyzes fundraisers on its platform, and what criteria GoFundMe uses to determine whether those fundraisers are fundraising for acceptable purposes or not.” The letter also requests several other disclosures regarding the policy. “GoFundMe are not and should not be empowered to unilaterally make decisions regarding where donated funds will go or why,” the letter reads. “If GoFundMe is making opaque and unilateral decisions about which fundraisers are legitimate and which fundraisers to re-route donations to irrespective of initial donor choice, GoFundMe has likely crossed the line from fundraising platform to fundraiser itself. Such a role implicates significantly different regulatory schemes directed at ensuring transparency in charitable giving.”
COVID-19 by the numbers
New cases: 477 (includes the weekend, but is almost 45% higher than last Monday’s three-day total); 520,288 total cases
Deaths: six; Santa Fe County has had 270 total deaths; there have been 7,416 total fatalities statewide. Hospitalizations: 41; Patients on ventilators: two
Resources: Vaccine registration; Booster registration Free at-home rapid antigen tests; Self-report a positive COVID-19 test result to the health department; COVID-19 treatment info: oral treatments Paxlovid (age 12+) and Molnupiravir (age 18+); and monoclonal antibody treatments. Toolkit for immunocompromised individuals. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453.
ICYMI, a federal Trump-appointed judge in Florida yesterday voided the mask mandate for airplanes and other forms of public transportation, which the Centers for Disease Control had recently extended through May 3. As of press time, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the administration was reviewing the decision, had not decided whether or not to appeal, but continued to recommend passengers wear masks. The Transportation Security Administration will reportedly stop enforcing the federal mask mandate following yesterday’s court ruling. City of Santa Fe Communications Director Dave Herndon told SFR the city also “supports the CDC recommendation that people continue to wear masks in enclosed public transportation settings to help prevent further spread of the virus.”
You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.
KSFR’s Garden Journal podcast delves into restorative agriculture on its most recent episode, hosted by Carrie Core, and featuring Aaron Lowden, the ancestral lands program manager for Acoma Pueblo. Lowden was the keynote speaker for last month’s Regenerative Agriculture Day (if you want even more soil-related conversation, be sure to check out the NM Healthy Soil Working Group’s YouTube playlist of Soil Stories). The Guardian also spent some time with Lowden for a story published yesterday on Indigenous seed-keeping in New Mexico.
A taxing story
The New Yorker magazine marked yesterday’s tax deadline with a story about an Albuquerque resident’s travails when she began filing again last year for the first time in a decade. The 10 years during which Gabriela Gallegos did not file included plenty of hardship, including her abusive husband’s murder and her own struggle with addiction. Clean for five years last year and being paid as a parent mentor at the New Mexico Family Advocacy Program, Gallegos took herself off her mother’s return as a dependent, making her eligible for tax credits and stimulus checks. We won’t spoil the story, except to say it involves the IRS and the federal government, so nothing goes smoothly. Gallegos also encounters issues of her own, including a high car payment that drained her savings. She was hoping to receive a full child tax credit with her 2021 filing, but wasn’t counting on it. “I don’t trust the government,” she said. “There’s just so much going on—mixing up the mail.” She had also tired of calling the IRS “being put on hold for hours, and getting off the phone more confused than she was before.” She tells the New Yorker: “It irritates me that I worked my ass off, and people just got money sitting around,” she said. She added, “Like, who doesn’t get their taxes until the following year? Like, who doesn’t get the tax credit? Me, I guess.”
Force of nature
New Mexico’s natural beauty receives some recognition, with inclusion in Forbes magazine’s roundup of the best places to stop and smell the roses (and other types of flowers) in the US this spring, with a specific shout-out to the Carson National Forest, where a hike on the Williams Lake trail from Taos Ski Valley “features vibrant colors of flowers like Osha, yellow avens, Richardson’s geranium, Parry’s thistle, pink common yarrow, light purple Jacob’s ladder, and more.” Be sure to peruse New Mexico Magazine’s recent primer on the state’s wildflowers as well. Backpacker magazine also pays tribute to the state in its collection of top “natural phenomena,” of which Valles Caldera is one. A stand-alone story explains Valle Caldera’s volcanic history (and its relationship to New Mexico’s Mars-like geology). Backpacker notes Valles Caldera is most likely dormant rather than extinct, “which is all the more reason to get to know this geothermal gem before she blows again.”
Is it fall yet?
Wind advisories and red flag warnings continue today. The National Weather Service forecasts mostly sunny skies with a high near 79 degrees and southeast wind 10 to 20 mph becoming west 20 to 30 mph in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 40 mph.