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MON: Ted Turner Ranch To House Relocated Wolves, State Reinstates Job Searches Requirements, + More

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Mexican gray wolf


One of Ted Turner's ranches in southern New Mexico will be the new home for a pair of Mexican gray wolves and their pups as federal wildlife managers look at more options for boosting the genetic diversity of the endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is teaming up with the Ladder Ranch for the project. While the ranch has been involved over the years with captive breeding efforts and other endangered species work, this will mark the first time a translocation of Mexican gray wolves has been done on private land.

Mike Phillips, director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, said the invitation for wolves to roam the ranch has been open for many years and the team is excited that the arrival of the new pack is imminent. He said the pair and their pups deserve a shot at trying to make a go of it in the wild.

"The lion's share of the credit for this goes to the Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of New Mexico for taking yet another positive smart step in the direction of advancing wolf recovery," he said Monday during an interview.

The male wolf is considered one of the most genetically valuable wolves in the wild population. The wolf, his mate and the pups soon will be moved from their temporary home at a wildlife refuge in central New Mexico to the ranch, where they will be kept in a remote chain-link pen for a couple of weeks so they can acclimate to the area.

With the pups being so young, officials said they expect the wolves to establish a home range near the translocation site. They also said the timing will coincide with elk calving, which will provide a food source for the pack.

Aside from introducing more diversity into the wild gene pool, officials said the goal is to find a place where the pack can establish a territory with few to no conflicts with livestock.

For more than two decades, the effort to return Mexican gray wolves to the wild in the U.S. Southwest has been fraught with conflict as ranchers have complained about the challenges of having to scare away the wolves to keep their cattle from being eaten. Many have said their livelihoods and rural way of life are at stake.

Environmentalists argue that wolf reintroduction has stumbled as a result of illegal killings and management decisions they contend are rooted in the Fish and Wildlife Service's attempt to accommodate ranchers and the region's year-round cattle calving season.

Brady McGee, the agency's Mexican wolf recovery coordinator, said his team worked with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to analyze translocation options based on a number of factors — from proximity to homes and grazing allotments to the distance from the wolves' prior territory and the availability of prey.

"The translocation site on the Ladder Ranch is ranked as the best option due to its large, resident elk herd and distance from active grazing allotments on the Gila National Forest," he wrote in a recent email to landowners and others.

The Seco Creek area on the western side of the ranch features grasslands and pine forests in the foothills of the Black Range. It's about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the nearest grazing allotment on national forest land.

Spanning more than 243 square miles (630 square kilometers), the Ladder Ranch has worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service for years, providing a site for captive wolves and other endangered species projects through the Turner Endangered Species Fund. Across Turner's vast land holdings, that work has ranged from breeding endangered Bolson tortoises to providing habitat for aplomado falcons, threatened Chiricahua leopard frogs, endangered black-footed ferrets and gray wolves in the northern Rockies.

North America's rarest subspecies of gray wolf, the Mexican gray wolf was listed as endangered in 1976 after being pushed to the brink of extinction. From the 1960s to the 1980s, seven gray wolves — believed to be the last of their kind — were captured and the captive breeding program began.

Wolves started being released in the late '90s. The wild population has seen its numbers nearly double over the last five years, with the latest annual census finding about 186 Mexican wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona.

Federal officials had faced a court-ordered deadline next week for rewriting the rules that govern management of the species. Despite the objections of environmentalists, a federal judge has agreed to push that deadline to July 2022.

State Hits 1M Mark For Vaccine DosesAlbuquerque Journal, KUNM

Over 1 million New Mexicans have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Albuquerque Journal reported the state hit the 1 million mark on Monday and it means New Mexico is on track to reach the goal of fully vaccinating 60% of adult by the end of June.

The New Mexico Department of Health has set that target for fully reopening the state.

As of Monday, 60% of people 16 and older have received at least one vaccine dose and 48% are fully vaccinated. Vaccines are available to anyone 16 and older and appointments may be scheduled at vaccineNM.org.

On Monday state health officials reported three days worth of new coronavirus case numbers covering Saturday, Sunday and Monday. There were 570 additional cases and 8 more deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 4,106 since the pandemic began.

New Mexico Awaits $1.75B In Federal Pandemic ReliefAssociated Press

New Mexico's state government will receive $1.75 billion in pandemic relief from the federal government under the economic recovery plan from the Biden administration and Congress, the U.S. Treasury Department announced on Monday.

The relief funds can be delivered to New Mexico on a faster schedule that most states to counteract lingering unemployment.

The Treasury also provided new detailed guidance on how states and local governments can spend the relief.

Specifically, the guidance allows states to replenish unemployment trust funds to pre-pandemic levels. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had no immediate comment on the guidance or her administrations plans for spending the money.

She and the Democrat-led Legislature both have signaled an interest in using a large portion of relief funds to rebuild the state's unemployment fund. That would limit future increases in payroll taxes that underwrite unemployment insurance for the private sector.

At the same time, Lujan Grisham and the legislative leaders are locked in a standoff over which branch of government has authority over spending federal aid from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Lujan Grisham in April vetoed the Legislature's plan to devote $600 million to the state's unemployment fund, $200 million to roads, $100 million to a college scholarship program and more.

The Democratic governor said in her veto message that "the Legislature lacks the authority" to tell her how to use the money and that the state should wait for federal guidance.

New Mexico Invests In Prekindergarten Literacy Software - By Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press/Report For America

New Mexico officials are rolling out a new platform that will track progress among preschool children to better prepare them for kindergarten and make it easier for parents to keep tabs.

School, state, and legislative officials trained teachers on the program Monday in a Zoom call aired from a Santa Fe hotel, according to a contractor who is providing the software. The tool provides a 15-minute daily curriculum for young children.

After the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to turn to remote learning, the state experienced a 20% decline in prekindergarten enrollment and a 12.5% decline in kindergarten enrollment, according to state Public Education Department statistics cited in a recent report from the Legislature.

To prepare 4-year-olds for kindergarten, officials who oversee early childhood education and K-12 are partnering up to get the tool into parents' hands. The initiative will cost around $875,000.

"Parents will also have access to the backend data, so they can hop in anytime and see how their child is doing," said Kim Fischer, spokeswoman for Waterford, the early childhood education company that secured the contract.

She estimates around 10,000 children will have access to the tool, which will be required for teachers to use in the vast majority of districts this fall. The orientation Monday followed a limited rollout this spring.

The Early Childhood Education and Care Department says it believes that children will also have more access to in-person programming than in 2019 after being at half-capacity last year because of the pandemic.

"ECECD is also expanding our Summer Jump Start program that works with incoming kindergarteners in public, private, and tribal preK programs (previously it was only open to private preK programs) focusing on school readiness, early literacy, and social emotional skills. Our summer nutrition program serving children across the state will be operating at full swing as well," said spokesman Micah McCoy, in an email.

Man Fleeing Albuquerque Police Fatally Hit By Car On I-40Associated Press

Albuquerque police say a man trying to flee from officers was killed after being hit by a car on a highway.

Police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said the encounter began around 10:45 p.m. Sunday when officers working outside a hotel were informed someone was hurling rocks at cars in the parking lot.

Responding officers located a suspect and tried to detain him.

Gallegos says the man left on foot and circumvented several fences before reaching I-40.

According to investigators, he tried to cross the freeway but ended up getting struck.

Gallegos says paramedics tried to treat him but his injuries were too great.

The man's identity has not been released.

The investigation remains ongoing.

Navajo Nation Reports 30 New COVID-19 Cases, 1 More Death Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Monday reported 11 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and no additional deaths.

Tribal health officials also said there were 19 new coronavirus cases and one death Sunday, but the numbers weren't immediately reported due to the Mother's Day holiday.

The latest combined figures pushed the total number of cases since the pandemic began more than a year ago to 30,620 on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The known death toll now is at 1,285.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said more than half of the reservation's adult population has been vaccinated, but people still need to stay home as much as possible, wear masks and avoid large gatherings.

The Navajo Department of Health recently loosened some virus-driven restrictions and transition to "yellow status."

Restaurants are allowed to have in-door dining at 25% capacity and outdoor dining at 50% capacity and parks are permitted to open at 25% capacity but only for residents and employees.

Navajo casinos are open at 50% capacity, but only for residents and staff.

Mother, Boyfriend Facing Charges In Death Of New Mexico Baby Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A Mesquite man has been arrested in connection with the death girlfriend's 5-month-old daughter last month, according to Doña Ana County Sheriff's officials.

They said 23-year-old Israel Ramirez is facing one count of intentional child abuse resulting in the death of a child under 12 and one count of intentional child abuse resulting in great bodily harm of a child under 12.

Both charges are first-degree felonies.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the child's mother — 23-year-old Danielle Lujan — is facing charges with child abuse resulting in great bodily harm, also a first-degree felony.

Ramirez and Lujan were arrested Thursday and being held without bond at the county jail.

It was unclear Sunday if either Ramirez or Lujan has a lawyer yet.

On April 17, sheriff's deputies responded to a 911 call regarding a 5-month-old infant who was unresponsive.

Court documents show Ramirez told first responders that he had been watching the baby for a few hours while Lujan was at work.

Authorities said the infant was taken by ambulance to a hospital in critical condition with multiple fractured ribs and brain injury and later died.

New Mexico Reinstates Job Searches For Unemployment Benefits – KUNM News, KRQE-TV

New Mexicans who have received unemployment benefits during the pandemic must start actively seeking work again this week. 

The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions yesterday reimplemented the federal requirement for claimants to make at least two work searches each week. The searches must be logged in order to certify the benefits.

KRQE-TV reports the department says they’re discontinuing the pandemic-era waiver because spread of COVID-19 is down and more employers are beginning to hire again.

Over 81,000 New Mexicans are collecting unemployment benefits.

New Mexico Releases List Of Applicants For Marijuana Panel - Associated Press

New Mexico officials have released the names of dozens of people who are vying to be appointed to the state's new Cannabis Regulatory Advisory Committee. 

The list of 161 people was posted online Friday, with state officials saying they're committed to ensuring a transparent process as the state prepares for recreational marijuana sales. 

Under state law, the advisory committee must be established no later than Sept. 1. The panel will be charged with advising the Cannabis Control Division on the development of rules covering best practices, public health and safety, and the promotion of economic and cultural diversity when it comes to licensing and employment opportunities.

The committee will include the state's chief public defender and one representative each from the New Mexico Administrative Office of the District Attorneys, the New Mexico Sheriffs' Association, and the New Mexico Association of Chiefs of Police. 

The head of the state Regulation and Licensing Department also will appoint several members who are associated with specific groups or have certain professional qualifications.

Retail sales of adult-use cannabis in New Mexico are to begin no later than April 1, 2022.

Some States Plan Big Spending With Biden's Aid, Others Wait - By David A. Lieb Associated Press

Though still awaiting money from the latest federal coronavirus relief act, some governors and state lawmakers already are making plans to add the multibillion-dollar boon to their budgets.

Among their priorities: bailing out depleted unemployment accounts, expanding high-speed internet and providing additional aid to schools and businesses.

The $1.9 trillion pandemic relief law signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year contains $350 billion of flexible aid for state and local governments, plus billions of dollars more for specific programs such as housing assistance. Unlike earlier coronavirus aid, states have broad leeway to use the money to plug budget holes, invest in certain infrastructure or address the "negative economic impacts" of the pandemic.

States are expected to receive an initial installment soon, with a second round coming a year later.

"A billion dollars has just fallen from the sky, in some respects," said Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican. "It's here, right in front of us. We have to invest it wisely."

Like many governors, Scott hadn't accounted for a new influx of federal money when he presented a budget plan earlier this year. Now he's working with lawmakers to add it to the state's spending plan while still awaiting guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department on specific ways the money can — or can't — be used.

Scott wants to put the money toward economic development, climate change initiatives, water and sewer infrastructure, housing and high-speed internet. Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint also wants some to go toward workforce training.

In other states, the spending plans include bonuses for teachers and first-responders; aid to movie theaters and entertainment venues; construction at parks and public facilities; and grants to farmers, commercial fishing operations and food processors.

"Of course it's classical politics: They announce it, no details and everybody's filling in the void with what they want to spend it on," Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said.

Officials in Virginia and about a dozen other states told The Associated Press they are waiting for Treasury Department guidance before developing specific spending plans. Federal law prohibits states from using the aid to make pension payments or fund tax cuts. Some state officials are concerned that other uses also could be ruled out, trigging a provision requiring them to repay the federal government.

"If we don't know what the guidelines are, it makes it hard to spend the money, because we don't want to spend it in the wrong way and have it clawed back," said Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican.

The federal law, known as the American Rescue Plan, comes on top of $150 billion the federal government sent directly to states and local governments last year.

This year's law cites infrastructure for water, sewer and broadband internet as allowable uses. It's less clear whether money can be used for other infrastructure, such as roads and bridges. But some states are planning to do so, anyway.

A budget plan passed by the Indiana Legislature allots $192 million in federal aid to pay off bonds for an Interstate 69 project and $900 million for other "future state infrastructure projects." Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, rolled out a plan this week that allots $50 million for road and bridge work this summer.

A potentially wide-ranging provision allows states to use the federal aid for "government services" affected by a pandemic-induced reduction in revenue. States also can use the aid to provide extra pay for essential workers, such as the $1,000 bonuses included in a Florida budget for first-responders, teachers and early learning instructors.

Federal law allows states to address the pandemic's economic effects by providing aid to households, small businesses, nonprofits and industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality. But that doesn't necessarily prevent money from going to other purposes.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, wants to use more than half the state's flexible funds to plug budget holes over the next two years. But his plan also would spend millions on social programs.

Lamont wants to use $15 million to provide free admission for children at museums, aquariums, zoos and other venues from July through Labor Day; $3.5 million to help send low-income children to sports and specialty camps; and $1.9 million for programs that provide "safe, fun and healing spaces" for teenagers. He said the programs would provide a dual benefit — aiding children who were socially isolated during the pandemic and organizations that lost money because of a lack of customers.

Mills' wide-ranging plan would provide aid to Maine's agriculture and seafood industries, increase public support for private-sector research and subsidize health insurers to temporarily reduce premiums for small businesses and their employees, among other things.

Officials in Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine and Maryland are among those wanting to use part of their federal aid to replenish depleted unemployment trust funds. Doing so could spare businesses from temporary tax hikes that could otherwise be imposed to repay federal loans that funded benefits when jobless rates spiked during coronavirus shutdowns.

A plan passed by Kansas' Republican-led Senate would dedicate nearly $700 million to compensate small businesses that were forced to close or had their operations restricted because of the pandemic — a "pot of gold" that some Democrats said should be partly passed on to workers in higher wages.

Republican state. Sen. Mike Thompson said compensation should have been paid months ago, as pandemic restrictions were imposed.

"A lot of these businesses should not have been shut down," Thompson said.

In Kansas and some other states, the federal funding surge has generated spats over who can control how it's spent.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, vetoed bills passed by the Republican-led Legislature that sought to use $1 billion for property tax cuts, $308 million for local roads and $250 million to pay off transportation bonds. Nonpartisan legislative staff had warned that those uses might not be allowed under federal law. Evers said he will instead spend the money according to his own plans, not all of which have been detailed.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vetoed the Democratic-led Legislature's plan to devote $600 million to the state's unemployment fund, $200 million to roads and $100 million to a college scholarship program. The Democratic governor said in her veto message that "the Legislature lacks the authority" to tell her how to use the money and that the state should wait for federal guidance.

High Court Upholds No-Bail Release In Serial Burglary Case - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

The state Supreme Court on Friday upheld a lower court decision allowing the no-bail pretrial release of an 19-year-old with no prior criminal history who is accused of a string of residential burglaries in Albuquerque.

The ruling rebuffs public prosecutors who say risks to the community in the case linking as many as 80 nighttime burglaries in homes where people slept can't be mitigated by electronic tracking devices and supervision.

Justice Michael Vigil announced the court's decision following oral arguments Friday and an hour of private deliberations by the high court.

"The state failed to argue or prove ... that no conditions of release will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community," Vigil said. "The court will affirm the decision" of the district court.

The latest clash over New Mexico's no-money bail system focused on Jesse Mascareno-Haidle, who was released from detention in February pending trial and now wears a tracking device amid school-attendance and drug-test requirements. 

New Mexico's no-money bail system was initiated by statewide vote in 2016 and implemented in 2017. It's unclear whether the changes have led to fewer or more offenses by defendants during the pretrial stage or better compliance with release conditions because of limited tracking by government authorities. District attorneys late last year began recording the portion of pretrial detention motions that are granted.

Mascareno-Haidle has pleaded not guilty to charges of burglary, larceny, taking a motor vehicle and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. 

Prosecutors have said investigators linked Mascareno-Haidle to as many as 80 residential burglaries in Albuquerque and possibly in Los Lunas over a seven-month period beginning in July. Some involved stolen cars and juvenile accomplices.

Prosecutors asserted that dangers are being overlooked in the decision to release the defendant. Requests for his pretrial detention were repeatedly rejected by lower courts.

In oral arguments Friday, the Bernalillo County district attorney's office said district courts should be giving greater weight to "serial unlawfulness" and burglary as a potentially violent crime when determining whether defendants can be released pending trial.

Prosecutor James Grayson also asserted that district courts are mistakenly basing bail decisions on prior violations of release terms — letting potentially dangerous first-time defenders off the hook because they have never skipped out on a trial.

The state Law Offices of the Public Defender said a district court judge acted reasonably in releasing Mascareno-Haidle given his compliance with investigators and extensive terms of release. Public defender Noah Gelb urged the Supreme Court not to tie the hands of lower court judges as they consider the dangers and conditions of pretrial release.

Responding to the ruling, Gelb said in a statement that "this case shows that judges can make decisions that protect the community and safeguard individual liberty."

Prosecutors say Mascareno-Haidle has acknowledged participation in 21 burglaries, though defense attorneys are reviewing whether the interrogations infringed on constitutional rights.

Court documents in the case include little or no data about the effectiveness of a pretrial release system that uses a complex assessment of flight risk, nor an analysis of how a ruling might influence outcomes.

In court filings, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez has said the burglaries in question were so inherently dangerous and defiant that pre-trial detention would be justified for Mascareno-Haidle.

Under current law, prosecutors must prove that no release conditions will reasonably protect the community in order to keep defendants incarcerated.

Public defenders have said that jailing Mascareno-Haidle pending trial would undermine a system that tailors conditions of release to the situation of individual defendants.

The dispute over bail procedures takes place amid divergent trends in crime in Albuquerque, where police are under public pressure to implement more effective and humane enforcement tactics. 

Reports to police of overall crime and property crime declined in 2020 amid the pandemic that kept many people at home, while reports of violent crime increased. 

Homicides in Albuquerque are setting a record pace this year with 42 as of May 1. The deadliest year for homicides was 2019 with 80, and there were 76 in 2020.

Concerns about crime and policing in Albuquerque are spilling over into a special congressional election on June 1. Last year, then-President Donald Trump deployed federal agents to Albuquerque and other Democratic-led cities where he decried unchecked violence.

Navajo Nation Reports 12 New COVID-19 Cases And 1 More Death - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation has reported 12 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death.

Tribal health officials said the latest numbers released Saturday night push the total number of cases since the pandemic began more than a year ago to 30,590 on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The known death toll now is at 1,284.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said more than half of the reservation's adult population has been vaccinated, but people still need to stay home as much as possible, wear masks and avoid large gatherings.

The Navajo Department of Health recently loosened some virus-driven restrictions and transition to "yellow status." 

Restaurants are allowed to have in-door dining at 25% capacity and outdoor dining at 50% capacity and parks are permitted to open at 25% capacity but only for residents and employees. 

Navajo casinos are open at 50% capacity, but only for residents and staff.

Many Las Cruces Municipal Employees Back To In-Person Work - Associated Press

Many municipal employees of New Mexico's second most populous city who have worked remotely during the pandemic are back at their regular work sites.

Most city workers were deemed essential and worked on site during the pandemic, but up to 40% of the workforce had been working remotely, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

That changed in the past week when employees were ordered to return to in-person work under a phase-in approach that has returning employees working on site at least three days a week.

The city cited Doña Ana County's declining daily coronavirus case numbers and increasing vaccinations against COVID-19.

In another change, an "extraordinary leave" policy enacted at the city last March to grant employees up to 15 days of paid leave during emergencies has been rescinded.