Morning Word

Settlement Calls for Feds to Reconsider Extractive Leases on Public Lands

Valles Caldera to reopen as Cerro Pelado Fire reaches near containment

President to reconsider extractive leases on 4 million acres

A federal judge has signed off on three settlement agreements that environmental groups are calling a victory for the climate. WildEarth Guardians, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Western Environmental Law Center had filed lawsuits between between 2016 and 2021 challenging the sale of public lands for fracking in New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Under the terms of the settlements, the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management will review and reconsider decisions to sell nearly 4 million acres. “This is a big win for the climate and a real test to see if the Biden administration is going to get serious about confronting the climate impacts of selling public lands for fracking,” Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program director for WildEarth Guardians, said. “With the oil and gas industry bent on despoiling America’s public lands and fueling the climate crisis, this is a critical opportunity for the Biden administration to chart a new path toward clean energy and independence from fossil fuels.” US District Judge Rudolph Contreras issued an order Wednesday upholding the deal. “Our settlements give new hope that we can more effectively confront the climate crisis and protect our health from oil and gas extraction,” said Director of Environment & Health at Physicians for Social Responsibility Barbara Gottlieb.

In other big news for public lands, the Trust for Public Land on Thursday facilitated the acquisition of 54,000 acres of private land adjoining the Marquez Wildlife Area near Mt. Taylor and conveyed it to the state, making the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish property the largest state-owned recreation property in New Mexico. The area will be formally open to the public later, but for now it represents a return to access by members of the Pueblo of Acoma in particular. Theresa Pasqual, a program director for the pueblo, said in a statement that Mt. Taylor has always had an important role in the life and culture of her community. “It’s a dormant volcano that lies just to the north of the Pueblo of Acoma. It’s significant to Acoma in terms of how we orient ourselves to the landscape. This particular mountain is associated with the cardinal direction of north, and there is associated religious and cultural significance tied to it,” she said, adding that the acquisition represents “the potential for younger generations of Acoma children who have never seen those lands to now have a chance to get reacquainted with them.”

Cerro Pelado fire nears total containment

A fire that’s been burning near Los Alamos since April 22 has reached 95% containment, according to officials from the US Forest Service. The cause of the Cerro Pelado Fire, which burned 45,605 acres, remains unknown. The Santa Fe National Forest Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team has begun assessment of public land affected by the fire and a statement released Thursday notes crews will continue to patrol the entire perimeter of the fire, including the Peralta Canyon area, keeping an eye for any heat or smoke in those areas. The Valles Caldera National Preserve will reopen some portions today. As many public lands remain off limits due to fire danger, outdoor enthusiasts will welcome the preserve’s visitor opportunities including hiking along the La Jara and Valle Grande Pond trails; hiking, biking, and horseback-riding along the perimeter of the Valle Grande; exploration of the Baca Ranch Cabin District and History Grove; fishing on the East Fork Jemez River and Jaramillo Creek within the Valle Grande; plus ranger programs starting June 11. The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire north of Las Vegas measured 316,654 acres and 59% containment as of last night.

NM officials remain mostly quiet on COVID while rates increase

With COVID cases and hospitalizations rising as the third year of the pandemic continues, two regular fixtures of the health department’s public messaging ended in March: daily reports of statewide and county-level cases and hospitalizations; and weekly, livestreamed news conferences at which officials reviewed data and answered journalists’ questions. Morning Word readers already know SFR Senior Correspondent Julia Goldberg (who did not write today’s newsletter) has continued to report on the daily numbers, the weekly case rates and breakthrough case data by digging through the weekly epidemiology reports, and also questioned the department when numbers started to show there was a higher breakthrough rate for those who had completed their primary vaccination series and had booster shots than for those who had their primary series but did not have boosters. Then, at the end of April, the DOH temporarily eliminated reporting on the breakthrough cases, officials said, in order to update its methods to account for confounding variables.

The DOH again began including breakthroughs this week in its vaccination report (see additional information below), but there’s no word on the next possible news conference. This week, Source New Mexico takes a look at the health department’s approach to disseminating information and talks to Goldberg about the challenges in finding and interpreting the data for New Mexico and Santa Fe.  “At various times when the N.M. Health Department was holding pandemic news conferences, Dr. [Christine] Ross would talk about ‘situational awareness’ and the importance of individuals knowing what’s happening in their local county so they can protect themselves,” Source wrote. “I thought that made a lot of sense,” Goldberg said. “But I think people have to work kind of hard right now to be able to have situational awareness. I mean, I feel like I’m working kind of hard, and I know where all the data is.”

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported June 2:

New cases: 980; 537,552 total cases

Deaths: Six; at last count, Santa Fe County had 300 total deaths; there have been 7,803 total fatalities statewide. Hospitalizations: 152. Patients on ventilators: 16

Case rates: According to the most recent DOH report on geographical trends for COVID-19, Mora County has the highest daily case rate per 100,000 population for the seven-day period of May 23-29: 50.1, followed by Santa Fe County with 44.7 and Grant County with 44.1.Vaccination break-through report: After discontinuing a four-week look at vaccination breakthrough at the end of AprilDOH this week once again began reporting COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths for the last four weeks, with the caveat that “trends in reported case rates by vaccination status have become difficult to interpret due to differences in the vaccination categories (unvaccinated, primary series completed, primary series completed with booster) by a number of factors that affect the risk of having a positive result reported to NMDOH, including behaviors that increase exposure to the virus, testing practices, prior infection and time since last vaccine dose. Surveillance data are unable to control for all of these factors, making them inaccurate for interpreting vaccine effectiveness.” That being said, between May 2-30, 44.8% of cases were among those who completed a primary series with a booster; 36% were among the unvaccinated; and 19.2% were among those who completed a primary series without a booster. For hospitalizations, the percentages are: 39.3% for the unvaccinated; 38.3% for vaccinated with a booster; and 22.4% for a primary series without a booster. For deaths, the percentages were: 50% among the unvaccinated; 28.6% for a primary series without a booster; and 21.4% for primary series with a booster.Community levels: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “community levels” tracking system—which uses case rates along with two hospital metrics in combination to determine the state of the virus on a county level—classifies eight NM counties as “yellow” or medium for risk: Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, Los Alamos, Sandoval, Bernalillo, Grant, Harding and Mora counties. The rest of the state remains “green” for low community levels. The CDC updates its community levels on Thursdays. CDC recommendations for individuals and communities based on the community level rankings can be found here.

Resources: Vaccine registrationBooster registration Free at-home rapid antigen testsSelf-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.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.

Listen up

If you’re looking for ways to improve your physical health this summer, a podcast from two New Mexico fitness coaches is worth a listen. The latest of The Bearded Barbell’s 10 episodes, “Building Your Own Workout,” includes strategies for the “biggest bang for your buck return” on types of exercises in the gym and some Greek philosophy (as well as analysis of how many times they’ve each watched The Office), but listeners might also be intrigued by what Coach Willie and Coach Tony have to say about the return of Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza in the prior episode, “Eat Out Without Worry.”

Cannabis testing for pesticides presents hurdles

When New Mexico’s recreational cannabis sales began in April, products hit the shelves without undergoing pesticide testing that regulators say is necessary to protect health. That’s because pesticide testing requirements were in effect for eight days this spring when the division—citing “a large burden” that would be placed on the state’s two labs capable of testing for pesticides—decided to delay them until July 1. SFR worked with a local lab that says it is ready to perform the tests and a spot check of bud for sale this spring reveals some of the products were over proposed limits. While most of the cannabis we bought passed the test, some growers say they are still navigating the emerging regulatory landscape. “In talking with other growers, I know there are lots of things that are used at scale to grow cannabis that either aren’t specifically permitted or are prohibited that are in wide use in other agricultural mediums, but also in wide use in cannabis in other states that have had legal adult use for longer than New Mexico has,” says Ben Lewinger, executive director of the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce. The state Cannabis Control Division announced Thursday the sales figures for the month of May: $38.53 million (just below the April revenue of  $39.47 million.) Santa Fe is the city reporting the second largest amount of revenue at $3.337 million for the month, following Albuquerque with $14.6 million.

Earthen architecture inspires art exhibition

Building buffs might not want to miss the City of Santa Fe Arts and Culture Department’s exhibit, “Brick X Brick: Artworks Inspired by Earthen Architecture,” which opens tonight from 5 to 7 pm at the Santa Fe Community Gallery.”For residents of New Mexico, the ubiquity of adobe and earthen architecture can easily be taken for granted. For most visitors, the aesthetic of our vernacular architecture is a charming, sharp contrast to the built environments they are familiar with. It is our hope that this exhibit will help visitors learn more about our architectural traditions and remind our locals how distinct and special our built history is,” Rod Lambert, Arts and Culture Department assistant director, said in a statement. The list of participating artists is long—check them all out here. The show runs through Sept. 1.

Don’t get excited

Today’s forecast in Santa Fe calls for isolated thunderstorms after 3pm, but don’t get excited. The National Weather Service also says there’s “little or no precipitation expected.” The day will be mostly sunny, with a high near 83 and southeast wind 10 to 20 mph becoming west in the afternoon.

The (substitute) Word couldn’t help but think “poor kitty-kitty,” when she saw the picture of a California mountain lion that “casually walked through campus and decided to go into an English classroom,” according to a San Mateo County sheriff’s detective. Oh, to be a juvenile cougar.

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