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THURS: Federal official propose changes to wolf management, NMSU mandates vaccine, + More

AP21301686082238.jpg
Susan Montoya Bryan
/
Associated Press
This Jan. 30, 2020, file photo, shows members of the Mexican gray wolf recovery team preparing to load a wolf into a helicopter in Reserve, N.M., so it can be released after being processed during an annual survey.

  

US proposes changes to Mexican gray wolf management - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Federal wildlife officials are proposing to change the way Mexican gray wolves are managed in the American Southwest, saying removing population limits and setting goals for genetic diversity will help the endangered species recover.

The proposal also would allow more wolves to be released into the wild in New Mexico and Arizona, and place restrictions on permits issued to ranchers or state wildlife agencies that allow the killing of wolves if they prey on livestock, elk or deer.

Management of the predators has spurred numerous legal challenges over the decades by both ranchers and environmentalists. The latest proposal follows one of those court fights. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the proposed changes would better align with revisions made to the species' recovery plan.

The Mexican gray wolf, the rarest subspecies of the gray wolf in North America, has seen its population nearly double over the last five years. A survey done earlier this year showed at least 186 Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona. Ranchers and rural residents have argued that's an undercount and a more accurate number is needed.

Environmental groups consider the proposed changes a step in the right direction but say more needs to be done to ensure a viable population of Mexican wolves.

They say the boundaries established by the Fish and Wildlife Service for recovery of the wolves in New Mexico and Arizona are among the limiting factors. If the animals travel beyond the boundaries, they can be trapped and relocated, returned to captivity or potentially killed.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department captured a wolf in August that was roaming near Flagstaff outside the recovery project's boundaries and relocated it to an area near the Arizona-New Mexico border.

Environmentalists said the wolf known as m2520 has trekked back, but the Arizona Game and Fish Department didn't immediately say Thursday what it plans to do with the animal.

Environmentalists also have called for reforms aimed at limiting conflicts with livestock and releasing more captive packs into the wild.

"We stand ready to return to court on behalf of lobos (wolves) if the final rule is insufficient to conserve this critically imperiled species," said Kelly Nokes, an attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center.

Ranchers in the mountainous regions of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico where the wolves roam say livestock deaths due to predation are escalating as the population grows. The latest report from wildlife managers put the number of confirmed livestock deaths for the year at 95.

The wolf recovery team uses feeding caches to draw wolves away from cattle, but ranchers say the wolves are becoming more brazen and that efforts to scare them away using range riders on horseback or flagging along fence lines hasn't worked. They also say they don't receive timely compensation for livestock lost to wolves.

"It is an incredible management hurdle for those of us on the ground to deal with the wolves," said Tom Paterson, who ranches along the New Mexico state line and is a member of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association. "Even if we put our cattle on private pastures where we are every day going around and looking, they still kill our cattle."

Paterson has lost several cows and calves this year. He described a trail of blood that stretched 150 feet along a creek and cases in which cattle were attacked and their unborn calves eaten.

"This is a broken program," he said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is planning virtual public hearings and information sessions on the proposed changes. The public will have 90 days to comment.

Once common throughout the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico, the Mexican wolf was all but eliminated by the 1970s, prompting the U.S. government to develop a captive breeding program. There are about 350 Mexican wolves in more than 55 zoos and other facilities throughout the United States and Mexico.

___

Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this story.

NMSU drops testing option, requires workers to be vaccinated – Associated Press

New Mexico State University is dropping a previously offered alternative of weekly testing for COVID-19 and announced it will require all of its over 7,500 employees to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8.

The policy change is being made to comply with federal requirements for federal contractors and includes student employees, the university said in a statement  Wednesday.

"The NMSU system maintains millions of dollars in federal contracts that support research and development in a broad range of disciplines," NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu said in the statement. "We are among hundreds of universities across the country who are considered to be federal contractors."

The university said employees may apply for a medical or religious exemption to the vaccine requirement.

The requirement applies to undergraduate and graduate student employees, contract and temporary employees and employees working remotely, including in other states, the university said.

Students who are not university employees still have the option to not get vaccinated and instead test weekly for COVID-19, the university said.

The university said it has 7,561 employees, including faculty members, staff and student workers, and that more than 85% have already submitted proof of vaccination.

Unions, school bus company, trade blame in Las Cruces strike - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press, Las Cruces Sun-News

Unions and a school bus company blame each other for a school bus driver strike that shut down much of the public school transportation serving 3,500 students in Las Cruces.

Drivers picketed the office of southern New Mexico district school bus contractor STS New Mexico on Thursday, demanding better pay and working conditions, the Las Cruces Sun-News reports.

Bus driver shortages have strained schools across the state, as education officials struggle to hire and train more workers. Some offer free training, signing bonuses and other perks for new employees.

The shortage has led the company to push mechanics into driving service, meaning there aren't mechanics to fix buses when they break down, a bus driver union representative told the Sun-News.

"We're just going to do the best that we can do," STS General Manager Van Wamel told the paper.

District officials told parents by text message Thursday to "please make alternative transportation arrangements if possible."

A coalition of unions representing school workers said the the bus company is responsible for its strike, and suggested it would end Friday.

"Today's one-day unfair labor practice strike was avoidable, but due to the continued failure of STS-NM to meet our demands surrounding student safety, worker dignity, and fair treatment of employees, the Las Cruces Transportation Federation regrettably was forced to take this drastic action," said local union president Dean Abrams.

Abrams said negotiations began in July.

The school also notified parents Wednesday evening, said spokeswoman Kelly Jameson, adding that children who cannot make it to school will be provided online work and an excused absence.

The bus company is pinning culpability for the shutdown on the union, saying the group increased wages over the past two years and a new demand for increased pay "makes it difficult to reach a fair and reasonable agreement."

"We truly regret the inconvenience the union strike has caused and are doing everything we can to continue providing service to our students," said Joshua Weinstock, spokesman for The Kincaid Group, which operates STS in Las Cruces.

Jameson said that special education students with transportation specified in their individualized learning plans won't be affected by the strike.

Interior preps guidelines for Native youth service corpsAssociated Press

The Interior Department issued draft guidelines Thursday for a new conservation corps that will allow Native youth to work on projects that benefit their own communities.

The department scheduled a series of consultations in late November and early December to get feedback on the guidelines from Native American tribes, Alaska Native corporations and Native Hawaiians.

The Indian Youth Service Corps was created through a bill that expanded the Public Lands Corps Act in 2019. The Interior Department was tasked with coming up with the guidelines on how it will be implemented.

Tribes and Alaska Native corporations will be able to work with the Interior, Agriculture and Commerce departments to carry out conservation projects on public land, tribal land and Hawaiian homelands. Projects can include restoring trails, removing invasive species, gardening, sampling water or soil, and preserving historic structures.

Apprentices in vocational programs could work on construction, electrical or plumbing projects.

Anyone between the ages of 16 and 30, or veterans who are 35 and younger are eligible to apply for the temporary positions.

"The Indian Youth Service Corps program has the potential to transform the lives of Indigenous youth all across our country," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a news release. "Young people are the future stewards of our lands, waters, and resources."

Congress did not appropriate funding for the program. The Interior Department said federal agencies are encouraged to redirect existing funding to support the service corps.

Arizona regulators OK belt-tightening in utility rate caseAssociated Press, Arizona Republic

Arizona utility regulators considering a rate case for Arizona Public Service Co. have voted to abolish a fee paid by customers with rooftop solar panels and to not make customers pay for some of APS' spending on a New Mexico power plant.

Various changes that the Arizona Corporation Commission has approved so far in the ongoing rate case would reduce APS' annual revenue by an estimated $125 million, the Arizona Republic reported.

The commission on Wednesday approved several changes that followed others. The commission plans to vote on the rate package on Nov. 2 when it expects to receive calculations of the financial impacts for APS and its customers.

The regulatory panel sets rates and decides certain operational matters related to rates for Arizona's investor-owned utilities.

Elimination of the "grid-access charge," which was implemented in a 2017 rate case, would save an APS customer with a 7-kilowatt-hour rooftop system $7 a month.

The commission voted to not permit APS to charge customers for $215.5 million of its i$450 million in spending on environmental controls for the Four Corners Power Plant near Farmington, New Mexico.

APS has tried to recover the Four Corners expense since its 2016 rate case, but the commission approved an amendment saying that spending the $215.5 million was imprudent because APS now plans to close the plant nearly a decade earlier than anticipated.

In other changes approved Wednesday, the commission voted:

— To shorten to three hours from five the "on peak" time period for time-of-use electricity plans.

— to provide $10 million to communities, including the Navajo and Hopi tribes, affected by closing coal plants.

The commission previously voted to reduce the potential profits of APS by trimming the company's authorized profit on its expenses to 8.7%, down from 10%.

The company earlier this week threatened to sue if the commission's cuts are too severe.

Challenge to residency requirements for assisted-suicide lawAssociated Press, Oregon Public Broadcasting

A lawsuit has been filed saying the residency requirements for Oregon's assisted suicide law violate the U.S. Constitution.

Oregon was the first state to legalize medical aid in dying in 1997, when it allowed adult residents with a terminal diagnosis and prognosis of six months or less to live to end their lives by taking a lethal dose of prescribed medication. The new lawsuit is by the national advocacy organization Compassion & Choices and an Oregon Health & Science University professor of family medicine.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports experts believe the legal action could have broad implications as the first challenge in the nation to raise the question of whether such residency requirements are constitutional.

Oregon's law was the basis of the laws that have since been adopted in eight other states and Washington, DC. California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Vermont and Washington state allow aid in dying for residents of their states only.

The lawsuit was filed in US District Court in Portland on Thursday. It asks the court to prohibit Oregon officials from enforcing the residency provision of the law.

It says the residency requirement violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause in Article IV of the Constitution and the Commerce Clause in Article I.

The plaintiff in the case, Dr. Nick Gideonse, is a family practice physician and associate professor of family medicine at OHSU and a longtime supporter of medical aid in dying.

"I've been providing medical aid in dying since the early days of Oregon's law. It's profoundly beneficial to patients who have nothing left but suffering at the end of their life," Gideonse said.

Washington also allows medical aid in dying, but according to the lawsuit, Gideonse cannot offer his Washington patients medical aid in dying without risking his medical license or criminal prosecution.

How it happened: Inside movie set where Baldwin's gun fired - By Morgan Lee, Susan Montoya Bryan and Gene Johnson Associated Press

Light from a high afternoon sun slanted through the tall windows of the weathered wooden church, catching on the plank floorboards and illuminating the stained glass. Outside, the arid ground of the northern New Mexico foothills stretched for miles — a picturesque setting for an Old West gun battle.

The actor Alec Baldwin, haggard in a white beard and period garb as he played a wounded character named Harlan Rust, sat in a pew, working out how he would draw a long-barreled Colt .45 revolver across his body and aim it toward the movie camera.

A crew readied the shot after adjusting the camera angle to account for the shadows. The camera wasn't rolling yet, but director Joel Souza peered over the shoulder of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins to see what it saw.

Souza heard what sounded like a whip followed by a loud pop, he would later tell investigators.

Suddenly Hutchins was complaining about her stomach, grabbing her midsection and stumbling backward, saying she couldn't feel her legs. Souza saw that she was bloodied, and that he was bleeding too: The lead from Baldwin's gun had pierced Hutchins and embedded in his shoulder.

A medic began trying to save Hutchins as people streamed out of the building and called 911. Lighting specialist Serge Svetnoy said he held her as she was dying, her blood on his hands. Responders flew Hutchins in a helicopter to a hospital, to no avail.

A week after the Oct. 21 shooting on the set of the movie "Rust," accounts and images released in court documents, interviews and social media postings have portrayed much of what happened during the tragedy, but they have yet to answer the key question: how live ammunition wound up in a real gun being used as a movie prop, despite precautions that should have prevented it.

During a news conference Wednesday, Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said there was  "some complacency" in how weapons were handled on the set. Investigators found 500 rounds of ammunition — a mix of blanks, dummy rounds and what appeared to be live rounds, even though the set's firearms specialist, armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed, said there should never have been real ammo present.

"Obviously I think the industry has had a record recently of being safe," Mendoza said. "I think there was some complacency on this set, and I think there are some safety issues that need to be addressed by the industry and possibly by the state of New Mexico."

Mike Tristano, a veteran movie weapons specialist, called it "appalling" that live rounds were mixed in with blanks and dummy rounds.

"In over 600 films and TV shows that I've done, we've never had a live round on set," Tristano said.

The shooting occurred on Bonanza Creek Ranch, a sprawling property that bills itself as "where the Old West comes alive." More than 130 movies have been filmed there, dating back to Jimmy Stewart's "The Man from Laramie" in 1955. Other features have included "3:10 to Yuma," "Cowboys and Aliens" and the miniseries "Lonesome Dove." The Tom Hanks Western "News of the World" and "The Comeback Trail" starring Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones and Morgan Freeman were filmed there in recent years.

Workplace disputes beset the production of "Rust" from its start in early October. In the hours before the shooting, several camera crew members walked off the set amid discord over working conditions, including safety procedures. A new crew was hired that morning, but filming was slow because they were down to one camera, Souza told detectives.

At 24, Gutierrez Reed had little experience working as an armorer. She told detectives that on the morning of the shooting, she checked the dummy bullets — bullets that appear real, save for a small hole in the side of the casing that identifies them as inoperable — to ensure none were "hot," according to a search warrant affidavit made public Wednesday.

When the crew broke for lunch, the guns used for filming were locked in a safe inside a large white truck where props were kept, Gutierrez Reed said. The ammunition, however, was left unsecured on a cart. There was additional ammo inside the prop truck.

After lunch, the film's prop master, Sarah Zachry, removed the guns from the safe and handed them to Gutierrez Reed, Gutierrez Reed told investigators.

According to a search warrant affidavit released last Friday, Gutierrez Reed set three guns on a cart outside the church, and assistant director Dave Halls took one from the cart and handed it to Baldwin. The document released Wednesday said the armorer sometimes handed the gun to Baldwin, and sometimes to Halls.

Gutierrez Reed declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press on Wednesday. She wrote in a text message Monday that she was trying to find a lawyer.

However Halls obtained the weapon before giving it to Baldwin, he failed to fully check it. Normally, he told detectives, he would examine the barrel for obstructions and have Gutierrez Reed open the hatch and spin the drum where the bullets go, confirming none of the rounds is live.

This time, he reported, he could only remember seeing three of the rounds, and he didn't remember if the armorer had spun the drum.

Nevertheless, he yelled out "cold gun" to indicate it was safe to use.

"He advised he should have checked all of them, but didn't," a Santa Fe County sheriff's detective wrote in the affidavit released Wednesday.

It's unclear whether Baldwin deliberately pulled the trigger or if the gun went off inadvertently.

In the commotion after the shooting, Halls found the weapon — a black revolver manufactured by an Italian company that specializes in 19th century reproductions — on a church pew.

He brought it to Gutierrez Reed and told her to open it so he could see what was inside. There were at least four dummy bullet casings, with the small hole in the side, he told detectives.

There was one empty casing. It had no hole.

___

Montoya Bryan reported from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Johnson reported from Seattle. Associated Press writer Cedar Attanasio in Santa Fe, New Mexico, contributed.

  As immunity wanes, New Mexico pushes vaccines and boosters - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico was among the first states out of the gate when the COVID-19 vaccine push began. Now, top health officials say it looks like the state is among the first to see immunity from the shots wane. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said Wednesday during a briefing that waning immunity is among a long list of possible reasons the state is stuck on what officials described as an uncomfortable plateau. More than 72% of adults in the state are vaccinated and a mask mandate remains in effect for public indoor spaces but cases have yet to trend downward. 

In a handful of New Mexico counties, state data shows roughly 4 out of 5 people are fully vaccinated and yet the rate of spread within those communities remains at unacceptably high levels. The data also shows that more than one-quarter of the new COVID-19 cases reported over the last four weeks were among vaccinated people, a number that is expected to rise as vaccine immunity wanes.

"We don't know everything and it's become a real challenge," Scrase said. "I was thinking I was sort of bulletproof when I was vaccinated. I don't think that anymore. I got my booster and as sort of my civic duty I'm still being twice as careful."

The other factor, he said, is the delta variant is more infectious than other strains since the virus' ability to find a new person to infect is very efficient. He called it a formidable foe.

State epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross said health officials were talking early on about the magic number that needed to be hit for herd immunity. She said that number is elusive and that New Mexico obviously hasn't reached it. She repeatedly stressed that more people need to get vaccinated.

Only about 8% of adults have received boosters as that effort recently began. Asked how many people would need to get boosters to see a downtrend in cases, Scrase said officials don't know. He added that the primary strategy is to get the unvaccinated inoculated.

With nearly 960 cases reported Wednesday and another 15 deaths logged, officials said they don't expect New Mexico's public health mandates to be relaxed any time soon. 

Scrase also said there has been no discussion about whether boosters would have to be mandated at some point. He explained that officials would be "super careful" about considering any changes when it comes to defining what it means to be fully vaccinated and would have to start "at the ground up and really reconsider the pros and cons of those kinds of decisions."

State health officials also acknowledged that the virus is sure to mutate and that the vaccination strategy over time will have to chase those mutations. 

"We're trying to find a way to live with this virus until we find a better way to completely eradicate it," Scrase said.

How live ammo got on set still a mystery in Baldwin shooting - By Morgan Lee, Susan Montoya Bryan And Gene Johnson Associated Press

Light from a high afternoon sun slanted through the tall windows of the weathered wooden church, catching on the plank floorboards and illuminating the stained glass. Outside, the arid ground of the northern New Mexico foothills stretched for miles — a picturesque setting for an Old West gun battle. 

The actor Alec Baldwin, haggard in a white beard and period garb as he played a wounded character named Harlan Rust, sat in a pew, working out how he would draw a long-barreled Colt .45 revolver across his body and aim it toward the movie camera.

A crew readied the shot after adjusting the camera angle to account for the shadows. The camera wasn't rolling yet, but director Joel Souza peered over the shoulder of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins to see what it saw.

Souza heard what sounded like a whip followed by a loud pop, he would later tell investigators.

Suddenly Hutchins was complaining about her stomach, grabbing her midsection and stumbling backward, saying she couldn't feel her legs. Souza saw that she was bloodied, and that he was bleeding too: The lead from Baldwin's gun had pierced Hutchins and embedded in his shoulder.

A medic began trying to save Hutchins as people streamed out of the building and called 911. Lighting specialist Serge Svetnoy said he held her as she was dying, her blood on his hands. Responders flew Hutchins in a helicopter to a hospital, to no avail.

A week after the Oct. 21 shooting on the set of the movie "Rust," accounts and images released in court documents, interviews and social media postings have portrayed much of what happened during the tragedy, but they have yet to answer the key question: how live ammunition wound up in a real gun being used as a movie prop, despite precautions that should have prevented it.

During a news conference Wednesday, Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said there was  "some complacency" in how weapons were handled on the set. Investigators found 500 rounds of ammunition — a mix of blanks, dummy rounds and what appeared to be live rounds, even though the set's firearms specialist, armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed, said there should never have been real ammo present.

"Obviously I think the industry has had a record recently of being safe," Mendoza said. "I think there was some complacency on this set, and I think there are some safety issues that need to be addressed by the industry and possibly by the state of New Mexico."

Mike Tristano, a veteran movie weapons specialist, called it "appalling" that live rounds were mixed in with blanks and dummy rounds.

"In over 600 films and TV shows that I've done, we've never had a live round on set," Tristano said.

The shooting occurred on Bonanza Creek Ranch, a sprawling property that bills itself as "where the Old West comes alive." More than 130 movies have been filmed there, dating back to Jimmy Stewart's "The Man from Laramie" in 1955. Other features have included "3:10 to Yuma," "Cowboys and Aliens" and the miniseries "Lonesome Dove." The Tom Hanks Western "News of the World" and "The Comeback Trail" starring Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones and Morgan Freeman were filmed there in recent years. 

Workplace disputes beset the production of "Rust" from its start in early October. In the hours before the shooting, several camera crew members walked off the set amid discord over working conditions, including safety procedures. A new crew was hired that morning, but filming was slow because they were down to one camera, Souza told detectives.

At 24, Gutierrez Reed had little experience working as an armorer. She told detectives that on the morning of the shooting, she checked the dummy bullets — bullets that appear real, save for a small hole in the side of the casing that identifies them as inoperable — to ensure none were "hot," according to a search warrant affidavit made public Wednesday.

When the crew broke for lunch, the guns used for filming were locked in a safe inside a large white truck where props were kept, Gutierrez Reed said. The ammunition, however, was left unsecured on a cart. There was additional ammo inside the prop truck.

After lunch, the film's prop master, Sarah Zachry, removed the guns from the safe and handed them to Gutierrez Reed, Gutierrez Reed told investigators.

According to a search warrant affidavit released last Friday, Gutierrez Reed set three guns on a cart outside the church, and assistant director Dave Halls took one from the cart and handed it to Baldwin. The document released Wednesday said the armorer sometimes handed the gun to Baldwin, and sometimes to Halls.

Gutierrez Reed declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press on Wednesday. She wrote in a text message Monday that she was trying to find a lawyer.

However Halls obtained the weapon before giving it to Baldwin, he failed to fully check it. Normally, he told detectives, he would examine the barrel for obstructions and have Gutierrez Reed open the hatch and spin the drum where the bullets go, confirming none of the rounds is live.

This time, he reported, he could only remember seeing three of the rounds, and he didn't remember if the armorer had spun the drum.

Nevertheless, he yelled out "cold gun" to indicate it was safe to use.

"He advised he should have checked all of them, but didn't," a Santa Fe County sheriff's detective wrote in the affidavit released Wednesday.

It's unclear whether Baldwin deliberately pulled the trigger or if the gun went off inadvertently.

In the commotion after the shooting, Halls found the weapon — a black revolver manufactured by an Italian company that specializes in 19th century reproductions — on a church pew. 

He brought it to Gutierrez Reed and told her to open it so he could see what was inside. There were at least four dummy bullet casings, with the small hole in the side, he told detectives.

There was one empty casing. It had no hole. 

Facebook expanding Los Lunas data center by 2 new buildings - Associated Press 

Facebook is expanding its Los Lunas data center by two new buildings, according to company officials. 

Once completed, company officials said the nearly 3.8 million-square-foot data center will represent an investment of nearly $2 billion and will support more than 400 operational jobs. 

"The expansion proves New Mexico can meet the needs of large global companies which need a skilled workforce, modern infrastructure, and a strong and competitive business environment," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement Wednesday.

Facebook also announced a new goal to restore 200% of the water that the data center consumes into New Mexico watersheds. 

The company has invested in five local water restoration projects to date.

Ronchetti enters Republican race for governor of New Mexico - Associated Press

Former Albuquerque television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti on Wednesday announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor of New Mexico.

Ronchetti said in a statement posted on a campaign website  that as governor he would focus on small businesses, education, crime and the border.

"Most importantly, I'll be a governor that does more than talk. I'll listen and find solutions that actually work," Ronchetti said.

In joining a crowded Republican primary field targeting Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Ronchetti is making his second run for statewide office.

Ronchetti was defeated in New Mexico's 2020 race for an open U.S. Senate seat by the Democratic nominee, then-Rep. Rep. Ben Ray Luján.

Ronchetti stepped down from his KRQE-TV job last week. He also stepped away from the station to run in 2020.

The seven other announced candidates for the GOP nomination for governor include state Rep. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences, Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block and Greg Zanetti, a retired U.S. Army National Guard brigadier general from Albuquerque.

Lujan Grisham is seeking a second four-year term.

US park service, tourism group partner to highlight tribes - Associated Press

The National Park Service has partnered with a tourism association to ensure the contributions, cultures and traditions of Native Americans are incorporated into exhibits and programming at sites across the country.

The park service says it highlights the history of Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians throughout the year. The five-year agreement with the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association will expand opportunities, officials said.

Sherry Rupert, the chief executive of the tourism association based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said previous partnerships at individual park sites have boosted awareness of nearby tribes. 

She pointed to the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, which stretches 1,200 miles from Nogales, Arizona to northern California. A guidebook has tribal attractions on or near the trail, and a map translates locations into Native languages. 

A similar project is in the works at Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail that runs 4,900 miles through 16 U.S. states, from Pennsylvania to Oregon, Rupert said.

"Native American tribes have ancestral connections to public lands that pre-date the formation of the National Park Service by millennia," Rupert said in a news release Wednesday. "These wholly unique perspectives can serve as the foundation for one-of-a-kind cultural content for National Park Service sites."

In Arizona, 11 tribes associated with the Grand Canyon partnered with the park service to create an inter-tribal cultural heritage site at a historic watchtower at the national park.

The park service said visitors increasingly want more authentic experiences and opportunities to engage with tribal communities and to support Native-owned businesses. The tourism association will host virtual and in-person forums for the park service to hear from tribes. 

Park service Deputy Director Shawn Benge said the tourism association's past work demonstrates its understanding of the historic connections tribes have to park sites. 

The agency oversees more than 131,000 square miles (339,288 square kilometers) of parks, monuments, battlefields and other landmarks. It employs about 20,000 people in permanent, temporary and seasonal jobs, according to its website.

President Joe Biden has nominated Charles F. "Chuck" Sams III to head the park service. If confirmed by the Senate, Sams would be the first Native American to hold the position. He is Cayuse and Walla Walla and a citizen of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon.

Navajo Nation reports 119 more COVID-19 cases, 9 more deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Wednesday reported 119 more COVID-19 cases and nine additional deaths.

It marked only the 10th time in the past 28 days that the tribe has reported a coronavirus-related death.

The latest numbers pushed the tribe's totals to 36,409 confirmed COVID-19 cases from the virus since the pandemic began more than a year ago.

The known death toll now is at 1,484.

"It's very alarming and cause for great concern," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. "We know that there is pandemic fatigue across the country and here on the Navajo Nation...We have to remain strong, do better, and continue to pray that we see a reduction in the spread of COVID-19."

Based on cases from Oct. 8-21, the Navajo Department of Health issued an advisory notice for 48 communities due to uncontrolled spread of COVID-19.

Tribal officials still are urging people to get vaccinated, wear masks while in public and minimize their travel.

All Navajo Nation executive branch employees had to be fully vaccinated against the virus by the end of September or submit to regular testing.

The tribe's reservation is the country's largest at 27,000 square miles and covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.