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Zinke Won't Eliminate Monuments, Wet Weather Erases Drought

Lisa Phillips, BLM Las Cruces District Rangeland Management Specialist via Wikimedia
Bureau of Land Management
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

Zinke Won't Eliminate Any National Monuments The Associated Press

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says he is recommending that none of the 27 national monuments under review by the Trump administration would be eliminated but that changes would be made to a "handful."

Zinke told The Associated Press that unspecified boundary adjustments for some monuments are among the recommendations he planned to give the president Thursday.

None of the sites would revert to state or private ownership, he says, while public access for uses such as hunting, fishing or grazing would be maintained or expanded.

The administration's review has alarmed conservationists worried that protections could be lost for areas that include ancient cliff dwellings, towering sequoia trees, deep canyons and ocean habitats.

Trump acted on complaints that a century-old law had been misused to create oversized monuments that hinder energy development, logging and other uses.

Wet Weather Erases Drought, Dryness In New MexicoThe Associated Press

National weather forecasters are warning of more storms around New Mexico as the state celebrates the disappearance of any signs of drought or abnormal dryness from the map.

Weekly reports on the impacts of drought across the United States show New Mexico is free from any of the colors that indicate dry conditions, marking the first time that has been the case since 1999. That's when the U.S. Drought Monitor was established.

The latest map shows New Mexico is the only western state in the clear.

Like many places in the West, the arid state struggled to recuperate from an unprecedented drought that peaked in 2013. Even in March, the sting had yet to go away as a month of record-setting temperatures and little rain left dry conditions across the eastern plains and parts of southern New Mexico.

Officials Revisiting Bond Repayment Plan After Finding ErrorThe Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican

New Mexico officials are revisiting their bonds repayment plan after learning that some bonds cannot be repaid early.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Gov. Susana Martinez has scheduled an emergency meeting with state Board of Finance for Friday to figure out how they will pay the appropriate interest on bonds that are typically protected from being paid off in full within 10 years from the date they were purchased.

The original $154 million refinancing plan had been approved at the board's June 20 meeting in a 5-0 vote. Spokeswoman Julia Ruetten with the Department of Finances and Administration, which oversees the board, could not answer questions on the refunding and its impacts on Wednesday.

Authorities Arrest 4 Paramilitary Religious Sect MembersThe Associated Press

Authorities say four members of a New Mexico paramilitary religious sect rocked by child sexual abuse allegations have been arrested while trying to flee the state.

Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday that the members of the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps were arrested.

The Gallup Independent reports that the members were arrested late Wednesday on felony warrants for failure to register the births of their 11 children.

Mace says seven children, believed to be ages 4-17, were turned over to the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.

The newspaper reports that deputies say the group was attempting to flee the state.

The group's attorney, Robert Lohbeck, did not immediately return a phone message.

The sect was founded in California.

Sheriff Says Sect Blocking Child Abuse Investigation - KOB-TV, Russell Contreras, Associated Press

Members of a paramilitary Christian sect are no longer cooperating with authorities, who want to interview as many as 11 children still inside the rural compound in western New Mexico.

KOB-TV reports Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace said when authorities arrived at the compound near Fence Lake on Wednesday they were told the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps would not release the children or let investigators interview them.

Two members of the group are facing child sex abuse charges after a raid on the compound Sunday. Former members said the group evaded law enforcement authorities for years by hiding births, physically punishing followers and quietly operating in isolated areas.

In interviews with The Associated Press and in court documents, the ex-members also alleged that leaders exercised control over followers by forcing them into hard labor and refusing to give their children medical care.

When members complained, sect co-leader Deborah Green would hold "trials" against them for questioning her authority, which Green said came directly from God.

Deborah Green is facing child sex abuse charges and was ordered held on a $500,000 secured bond.

Sect member Peter Green, also known as Mike Brandon, was being held on a $5 million secured bond and faces 100 counts of sexual penetration of a child. The group, founded in California, says the allegations are "totally false."

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the sect as a hate group.

Watchdog Group Grades New Mexico LawmakersAssociated Press

A New Mexico watchdog organization on campaign finance and government oversight issues is grading state legislators on their support for reform measures backed by the group.

Common Cause New Mexico on Wednesday published online a report card that sums up each lawmaker's voting record on three bills and two constitutional amendments during the legislative session that ended in March.

The initiatives were aimed at greater financial disclosures by independent political groups and lobbyists, automation of voter registration, and the creation of independent commissions on redistricting and political ethics complaints. Four initiatives failed or were vetoed, while voters decide on the ethics commission in November 2018 elections.

Common Cause Legislative Director Heather Ferguson wants citizens to be able see more clearly where lawmakers stood on those issues.

Santa Fe New Mexican Hires Phill Casaus As New EditorAssociated Press

A longtime journalist and Albuquerque native has been hired as the new editor at The Santa Fe New Mexican.

The newspaper announced Wednesday that Phill Casaus will replace Ray Rivera, who is leaving Sept. 8 for a job as deputy managing editor for investigations and enterprise with The Seattle Times.

Casaus, a former editor at The Albuquerque Tribune and The Rocky Mountain News, currently works as the director of the Education Foundation for Albuquerque Public Schools, the state's largest school district. He's expected to begin his new job at the paper in mid-September.

Casaus spent many years as a sportswriter with the Albuquerque Journal before going to work for The Tribune, which served as the city's afternoon paper until it closed in 2008.

Groups Make Last-Minute Push To Save National Monument Area - By Brady McCombs, Associated Press

Conservation groups are airing TV ads, planning rallies and creating parody websites in a last-minute blitz to stop Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke from downsizing or eliminating national monument areas that cover large swaths of land and water from Maine to California.

The deadline for Zinke to announce his recommendations is Thursday following a four-month review of 27 sites ordered by President Donald Trump. That includes two in New Mexico.

The outdoor recreation industry has hammered home its message that peeling back protections on areas where its customers hike, bike and camp could prevent future generations from enjoying the sites.

In addition, the Wilderness Society has created a parody website featuring Trump and Zinke selling luxury real estate at the sites.

Groups that want to see the areas reduced have been less vociferous, pleading their cases on social media and working behind the scenes to lobby federal officials.

They say past presidents have misused a century-old law to create monuments that are too large and stop development of energy and other resources.

NMSU's Outgoing Chancellor Explains Retirement Announcement Associated Press

New Mexico State University's outgoing chancellor says he announced his retirement earlier this month only after being told by school regents that his contract wasn't going to be renewed.

Garrey Carruthers said in a statement Wednesday that he would have liked to remain at the university.

He reportedly had publicly acknowledged his willingness to stay on for an additional two years.

But after he was informed by university regents during an Aug. 1 meeting that they didn't intend to extend his contract, Carruthers' made his retirement announcement two days later.

Carruthers' retirement is effective on July 1, 2018.

The former New Mexico governor was named as NMSU's chancellor in 2013.

The university has not announced when it will form a search committee to look for Carruthers' successor.

State Investment Council Bars Members Who Oppose Ethics CodeAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The New Mexico State Investment Council has decided to bar the state land commissioner and treasurer from participating in closed-door meetings and certain votes because they haven't signed paperwork acknowledging they've read the council's ethics code.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the dispute surfaced in a public meeting on Tuesday when the council — led by Gov. Susana Martinez — voted 7-2 in favor of imposing sanctions on four members who haven't signed the ethics code.

Martinez said the ethics code is especially important, given the investment scandal under the administration of her predecessor. But Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn said the sanctions are simply an attempt by the council to force him and others into a confidentiality agreement that shields the council's work from public view.

'Sci-Fi To Real Life': Us Invests $17 Million In Laser Tech - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The U.S. Defense Department is investing $17 million in high-powered laser technology that has the potential for practical uses on the battlefield, from destroying enemy drones to disrupting communication systems.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich announced the funding during a news conference Wednesday at a Boeing lab in Albuquerque, where many of the innovations needed to track targets and control the intensity of the high-powered lasers were developed.

A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the New Mexico Democrat said the biggest challenge has been getting colleagues in Congress and others to realize that the lasers are no longer science fiction but rather critical tools that the U.S. military can use in difficult situations.

He says the laser weapons systems are small and portable and would be more economic for the military to operate.

Lowriders Subject Of Upcoming Photo Exhibit In Silver CityAssociated Press

Lowriders, the iconic cars popularized by Mexican Americans, will be the subject featured at an upcoming photo exhibit at Western New Mexico University.

The Frances McCray Gallery of Contemporary Art will host an opening reception Sept. 7 to jump-start an exhibit highlighting the classic cars over several decades.

The images will showcase New Mexican residents who have customized, detailed, painted, and upholstered symbols of Hispanic culture, creating mobile works of art.

Lowriders describe cars whose suspension has been lowered to inches from the ground. The Spanish translation is bajito or suavecito, meaning low and slow.

The art exhibition will be open through October 5 on the university campus in Silver City, New Mexico.