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TUES: New Mexico Vax Prize Single Largest In U.S., Forest Fires Burn In Gila, + More

Morgan Lee via AP
In this April 20, 2021, file photo medical workers and volunteers administer the coronavirus vaccine at a drive-thru immunization clinic at an inn and RV park in Mora. Vaccinated residents can win up to $5M.


New Mexico Offers Largest Single Vaccination Prize In US - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

New Mexico bet big Tuesday that cash can persuade people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, offering the largest single cash prize among the growing number of states staging lotteries to promote inoculations.

Vaccinated residents who register on New Mexico's "Vax 2 the Max" portal can win prizes from a pool totaling $10 million that includes a $5 million grand prize, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced.

"Getting vaccinated is the right thing to do — for yourself, for your family and for your state," Lujan Grisham said. "I'm excited to add a little fun to our nation-leading vaccination push."

At least 55% of eligible residents in the state are fully vaccinated, but the Department of Health wants to reach 70% and close in on possible herd immunity.

Ohio and California are also offering lotteries that have shown some success in boosting vaccination rates. California previously offered the largest single prize of $ 1.5 million from a total lottery pool of $116 million.

The prize money offered by New Mexico would go far in the state that's one of the poorest in the country, ranking 48th in per capita income of around $45,800, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Lujan Grisham said the lottery program is funded by federal pandemic relief money.

Starting next week, New Mexico officials will draw prizes of $250,000 in each of four different regions of the state, as well as smaller prizes ranging from lottery "scratcher" tickets to in-state vacation packages and museum tickets. The $5 million prize drawing will be held in August.

To be registered for the drawings, residents must sign up online at vax2themaxnm.org, which is separate from the state's vaccine scheduling site. Winners will have to produce their vaccination cards.

Alamogordo Woman Indicted For Murder In 2017 HomicideAssociated Press

An Alamogordo woman has been indicted for murder in the 2017 death of man whose body was found in a Mesilla ditch.

The Third Judicial District Attorney's office announced Tuesday a grand jury in Doña Ana County indicted Bryanna Terry with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. She is also facing one count each of robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.

Prosecutors say Doña Ana County Sheriff's detectives found more evidence through new technology.

It was not immediately clear if Terry had an attorney to speak on her behalf.

Terry and her boyfriend, Justin Bullock, are both accused of killing 18-year-old Dakota Lunceford.

Lunceford's body was found in August 2017 by a farmer. His death was ruled a homicide. A medical investigator reported signs of blunt force trauma to his head.

At the time of his death, authorities said Lunceford had relatives in Alamogordo and that he was last seen alive there about a week earlier.

Police initially arrested Terry and Bullock for tampering with evidence related to Lunceford's death. They allegedly lied to police that their cellphones were broken to avoid having their devices seized.

New Mexico Congressional Election Tests Democrats' Dominance - By Susan Montoya Bryan and Morgan Lee, Associated Press

A special congressional election in New Mexico on Tuesday is testing political enthusiasm among Democrats in an increasingly progressive district last won by a Republican in 2006.

The winner of the four-way race for the 1st Congressional District will fill a seat left vacant by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland as she joined the Biden Cabinet. Republicans hope to prevail and erode the 219-211 Democratic majority in Congress ahead of midterm elections in 2022.

Democratic state Rep. Melanie Stansbury has aligned her campaign closely with initiatives from the White House on pandemic relief, infrastructure spending and interventions to slow climate change.

"Everything is on the line, from the well-being of our communities to the majority in the House and our ability to carry out the president's agenda," Stanbury told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

GOP state Sen. Mark Moores' campaign to flip the seat held by Democrats since 2009 has highlighted concerns about crime in Albuquerque and has painted his Democratic opponent as a progressive with a radical agenda to defund traditional police agencies. In the final days of campaigning, Moores highlighted his support for gun rights and outrage over Albuquerque's 50th homicide of the year.

Responding to Moores regarding public safety, Stansbury says she has corralled tax dollars for police initiatives as a legislator, but also believes policing reforms are needed to address systematic racism in the U.S.

Registered Democrats slightly outnumbered Republicans at the polls on Election Day as of 2 p.m., state election regulators announced. Unaffiliated and minor-party voters accounted for 14% of ballots.

Democrats dominated early in-person voting that ended Saturday as well as early absentee balloting — casting nearly six out of 10 ballots prior to Election Day.

Far fewer voters were likely to participate overall than in 2020, a record-setting year for voting in the 1st District.

Encompassing Albuquerque, rural Torrance County and other outlying areas, the district's voters have heavily favored Democratic candidates in recent years. They shunned President Donald Trump with a gap of 23 percentage points in 2020 and reelected Haaland with a margin of 16 percentage points as voter participation reached an all-time high.

Two additional candidates are vying for votes in the race in a state that has strong currents of libertarian politics.

Independent contender Aubrey Dunn Jr., a former Republican elected to statewide office as land commissioner without seeking reelection in 2018, has cast himself as a staunch defender of gun rights and an experienced steward of public lands.

Libertarian nominee Chris Manning campaigned on an unorthodox plan to reduce health care costs by eliminating employer-based coverage and insurance requirements.

Stansbury has highlighted her hardscrabble upbringing in Albuquerque, while Moores frequently invokes Latino family ties that date back to the region's Spanish colonial era, in a state where Hispanic pride is an enduring staple of politics.

The seat has consistently been a stepping stone to higher office for Republican and Democratic politicians, including now-deceased Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr., former U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

More New Mexico Schools Commit To In-Person School In Fall - Associated Press / Report For America By Cedar Attanasio

More New Mexico schools are committing to offering full-time, in-person learning this fall, with some virtual learning options.

Schools confirming their commitment to widespread in-person learning over the last several weeks include districts that were the most hesitant to reopen, including Albuquerque and Santa Fe. That signals that parents across the state can expect to send their kids through school doors in the fall.

"There may be a few schools — and they're still working on this — that offer some online element. But the reality is the majority of that will be picked up at eCADEMY," said Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Scott Elder. The district's online only district school is named eCADEMY.

In a letter to parents last week, Santa Fe school officials said classes will be in-person only starting next fall. However, students can register for online school with Desert Sage Academy.

The announcements came as school districts sort out enrollment for the fall. State education officials have taken a hands-off approach after a year of strict pandemic restrictions loosened in the middle of the spring semester. 

Since the widespread reopening of New Mexico's public schools in early April, a few schools have had to shut their doors because of COVID-19 outbreaks, while over 800 schools have kept the virus in check within their facilities or have been in communities that managed to do so.

Schools and nonprofit groups in New Mexico are still making preparations for summer programs.

In June, the state Public Education Department is expected to update its COVID-19 guidance for public schools based on state health department guidelines.

Health Secretary Tracie Collins said in a briefing this month that surface disinfection guidelines for public schools will remain in place for now, though they "may change in the fall."

Based on previous guidance, school districts like Las Cruces are hiring night crews to disinfect surfaces.

In April, the Center for Disease Control updated its own guidance to reflect a growing consensus on the low transmissibility of COVID-19 on surfaces, which it put at about 1 in 10,000.

Last week, the federal agency updated guidance on summer camps, loosening mask restrictions for children who are vaccinated.

The agency said children who aren't fully vaccinated should still wear masks outside when they're in crowds or in sustained close contact with others — and when they are inside.


New Mexico Fires Burn Over Memorial Day Weekend Amid Drought - Associated Press

Fires in New Mexico's Gila National Forest have burned nearly 70 square miles after lightning strikes earlier this month.

One of the blazes is mostly under control, officials said Monday. 

The Doagy Fire in western New Mexico is now 86% contained, National Forest spokeswoman Marta Call said. The blaze has burned around 20 square miles on federal land in the Gila National Forest.

A separate fire in the same forest also started after a lightning strike this month, the Forest Service said. The Johnson Fire has burned around 46 square miles. Fire officials didn't include a containment estimate in a Monday update. 

Fire officials say they will allow burning that is healthy for forests, but are monitoring the threat the Johnson Fire may pose to the nearby Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, a treasured pre-Colombian settlement preserved in rock.

Trails into the Gila will close to the public on June 1 to protect public safety.

A much smaller fire started Friday outside of Cuba, in northern New Mexico. The cause remains unknown. The fire could threaten local property and oil infrastructure, the Forest Service said.

Fire season in New Mexico is on track to be even hotter and drier than usual, with lower flow in many of its rivers.

Pecos River Conservation Projects Awarded $1.5M In Grants - By Adrian Hedden Carlsbad Current-Argus

Conservation projects in the Pecos River area got a boost this year as about $1.5 million in grants were awarded to organizations in southeast New Mexico and West Texas to restore habitats and maintain the health of the river.

The Pecos Watershed Conservation Initiative, a consortium of private companies and government agencies created in 2017, released its fourth annual grant funds last week providing dollars for seven projects along the river.

The funds were matched by about $3 million from participating organizations, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported.

Last year, about $1.8 million was awarded to eight projects, matched with $3.7 million.

Partners in the initiative included oil and gas companies such as Chevron, Occidental Petroleum and XTO Energy and federal government agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management.

In a joint statement, the initiative's corporate members said the funding was intended to improve communities that host oil and gas extraction, such as those in the Permian Basin that spans southeastern New Mexico and West Texas along with the Pecos River Valley.

"Our people are on the ground every day in the Pecos, living and working, so it is essential that the initiative's investments provide real benefits to local communities, landscapes and wildlife," read the statement.

"By strengthening the health of existing habitats along the Pecos River and its tributaries in eastern New Mexico and West Texas, by improving the management and function of native grasslands, and by protecting some of the last remaining populations of native fish and other aquatic species found only in the Chihuahuan Desert, we are achieving this goal."

BLM New Mexico Acting Director Melanie Barnes said the projects were needed to support the diverse ecosystems in the Pecos River area, restore native grasslands and combat invasive species.

"Controlling invasive species brings restored grasslands and improved water quality and availability and modifying restrictive fencing brings unobstructed movement across these landscapes for both large and small game animals," Barnes said. "Both of these efforts are management priorities for public lands."

Between the 2020 and 2021, the 15 projects awarded funding led to the leasing of more than 13,000 acre-feet of water to support restoring aquatic habitats, restoration of about 26 square miles of grasslands in the Chihuahuan Desert, while improving grassland management of 36 square miles.

More than 60 miles of new fencing safe for native pronghorns was to be installed, while hydrology was restored at four habitat sites.


What projects along the Pecos River were funded for 2021?

New Mexico

Texas hornshell mussel: A project to improve stream flows in the Delaware and Black rivers for the native Texas hornshell mussel through the Carlsbad-based nonprofit CEHMM was granted $250,000 and was fully matched for total funds of $500,000. The project supported water transactions during times of low-flow and developed a long-term plan to maintain healthy river flows.

Blue Springs: The Carlsbad Soil and Water Conservation District was awarded $207,519 and matched $208,694 for a total of $416,213 for a project to improve the Blue Springs riparian area in Eddy County on the Black River. The project will see the removal of invasive salt cedar and Russian olive trees to enhance soil and vegetation in the area.

New Mexico Plains Pronghorn: About 8 square miles grassland habitat for the New Mexico Plains Pronghorn will be restored with a $105,041 grant and $1.6 million in matching funds for a total budget of about $1.7 million. Mesquite brush would be controlled and at least 5 miles of pronghorn-friendly fence would be installed.


Bird surveys: Bird monitoring will continue using new automated telemetry to study non-breeding ecology, movement and survival rates of Chihuahuan Desert grassland birds like the Sprague's pipit and chestnut-collared longspur. The project by the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies was granted $236,000, fully matched for a total of $472,000.

Pecos River flow: This project by Texas Water Trade looks to restore habitats on the river for multiple avian and aquatic species by addressing water quality and scarcity issues for both wildlife and agricultural purposes and the impacts of orphan oil and gas wells in Pecos County. The project was granted $299,331, matched with $266,500 for total funding of $495,831.

Grassland restoration: In northern Hudspeth County, $250,000 was granted and matched for a $500,000 budget to restore at least 9 square miles of dry-mixed prairie along the river, expanding native grasslands and eradicating invasive brush to improve habitats for species like the pronghorn.

Another grassland restoration project in Brewster and Jeff Davis counties by the Big Bend Soil and Water Conservation District was granted $105,041 and garnered about $1.6 million for a total fund of about $1.8 million.

Navajo Nation Reports 2 COVID-19 Cases, No Additional Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation is reporting two new confirmed COVID-19 cases and no additional deaths.

Tribal health officials released the latest figures Sunday night. They push the total number of cases since the pandemic began more than a year ago to 30,841 on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah and serves the largest tribal nation.

The known death toll on the reservation is now is 1,324, Navajo Nation health officials said.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez over the weekend urged residents to keep wearing masks, reminding them of the large spike in COVID-19 infections following Memorial Day last year.

He reiterated those comments in a statement Sunday night ahead of remembrance for veterans.

"Stay safe and keep taking precautions during this holiday weekend as we honor and remember our fallen warriors on Memorial Day," Nez said.

He added: "We are overcoming the pandemic, but we have to do everything we can to keep pushing back on COVID-19 and the variation."