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WED: Possible deal to end Rio Grande SCOTUS case becomes public, + More

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Possible deal to end Rio Grande SCOTUS case becomes public - By Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico

A proposed agreement between Texas, New Mexico and Colorado was unsealed Monday, months after the states announced a deal to end nearly a decade-old Supreme Court case over Rio Grande water.

The deal would amend the 83-year old legal basis for how the three states split water from the river under the Rio Grande Compact. If allowed by the Supreme Court, the decree would end the lawsuit that’s called Original No. 141 Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado. The case has stretched over nine years and cost New Mexico and Texas taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

Among the changes, Texas’ share of Rio Grande water would be measured at a point on the state line at an El Paso Gage instead of NM’s current requirement to deliver Texas’ water 100-plus miles upstream at the Elephant Butte Reservoir.

The agreement offers a new set of calculations to determine what water is owed to southern New Mexico farmers and far west Texans, and incorporates groundwater pumping in the formulas.

Finally, it also offers conditions for New Mexico and Texas to handle disputes about over- or under-deliveries of Rio Grande water.

To provide water for those deliveries, the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer could shut down wells, or use other limits such as paying farmers to retire land from farming to save irrigation water, court documents show.

In sworn statements attached to the proposed agreement, top water officials from New Mexico and Texas urged the Supreme Court to accept the proposal.

Bobby Skov, the Rio Grande compact commissioner for Texas, called the deal “fair” and “consistent with the compact.”

State Engineer Mike Hamman, who is also New Mexico’s compact commissioner, said the agreement resolves the long-standing issues between the two states and offers clear directions for how to stay in compliance with the agreements.

“I anticipate the consent decree will help the states avoid future conflicts,” Hamman wrote.

A key change to the document includes transfers of water between New Mexico and Texas irrigation districts to balance out years when New Mexico pumping or diversions cause not enough Rio Grande water to reach the state line.

If the state fails to meet new delivery requirements for three consecutive years, then the agreement requires the state to send additional water from the New Mexico irrigation district to the Texas irrigation district.

In order to provide water to make up for any shortfalls, Hamman offered seven bullet points in his letter supporting the agreement.

Hamman said the N.M. Office of the State Engineer could curb groundwater pumping; monitor groundwater pumping, buy water rights to retire groundwater wells; fallow farmland temporarily; increase conservation in both municipal and agricultural use; or attempt to import water to the Lower Rio Grande.

Hamman warned the state office will enforce well shutdowns if voluntary or compensated measures aren’t working.

New Mexico is still embroiled in the lengthy court process that started in 1996 to determine the legal order of water rights between Caballo Reservoir and the state line for farmers, municipalities, businesses and the federal government.

As for next steps, a hearing on the proposed decree is tentatively scheduled for February 2023.

HOW WE GOT HERE

The Supreme Court case was sparked by decades of litigation over the Lower Rio Grande — the region between Caballo Reservoir and where the river often evaporates above Fort Quitman, about 90 miles along the Texas-Mexico border.

In 2014, Texas filed a complaint in the Supreme Court alleging New Mexico groundwater pumping below Elephant Butte illegally captured Rio Grande water promised to Texas.

The proposed agreement is the product of monthslong confidential negotiations between the parties in the case — New Mexico, Texas, Colorado and the federal government. The discussions included input from impacted organizations such as farming associations, the two regional irrigation districts, the cities of Las Cruces and El Paso, New Mexico State University, and water utilities in Albuquerque and El Paso.

In earlier filings, the federal government and El Paso’s major irrigation district asked the special master overseeing the case to throw out the proposed decree because it was the result of an incomplete settlement and makes concessions the states cannot enforce, according to legal filings.

Last week, Judge Michael Melloy overruled the federal government’s arguments that the proposed agreement must be kept secret, ordering most of the documents to be made public.

The United State’s objections to the proposed decree remain filed under seal, and are not public at this time.

APS Board encouraged to repurpose several schools - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

A committee at Albuquerque Public Schools has recommended the Board of Education repurpose several of the district’s schools, transferring their students elsewhere.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the advice intends to keep the state’s largest school district “academically and financially viable.”

Due to sagging enrollment, the Legislative Finance Committee told the district last year that it's reached a point where “right-sizing” is in their best interest.

The committee recommended five schools, mostly in the city’s North Valley, lose their student body and be used for different purposes. They include Polk and Taft middle schools, as well as Duranes, La Luz and Kirtland elementary schools.

The Journal reports the targeted schools were chosen based on criteria including enrollment numbers, academic performance and equity.

Some of the schools could become early childhood centers under the proposal, while plans for others remain undetermined. The committee proposes keeping the facility that houses Taft as a school, just a bilingual magnet middle school instead.

Taft students would be moved first under the proposal, as soon as next year. Students at other schools might stay put until 2025 or 2026.

Los Alamos superintendent resigns - Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News

The Los Alamos school board has announced the resignation of Superintendent Jose Delfin just a year after he was hired.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Delfin has been on administrative leave for the last few weeks.

Jennifer Guy, who’s been serving as the Acting Superintendent during that time, will continue heading up the district. She says she intends to apply for the permanent position.

Guy declined to comment on why her predecessor left the position so quickly, telling the newspaper Delfin has a right to privacy.

When it approved Delfin’s leave of absence in early December, the school board announced it had come to an agreement with the Superintendent because it was “in the best interest” of both parties.

School board members could not be reached for further comment Wednesday.

US border authorities roll out updated pursuit policy - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

U.S. border authorities announced changes to their policy for pursuing smugglers and other crime suspects on Wednesday, following an extensive review and criticism by immigrant advocates who pointed to cases in which passengers died when drivers fled law enforcement.

Customs and Border Protection announced the changes Wednesday, just days after a crash in southern New Mexico that killed two peopled and injured eight others on Sunday. Another crash on Jan. 5. followed the shooting of a Border Patrol officer.

The agency said the updated directive provides a framework for weighing the risks of a pursuit against the law enforcement benefit or need. The agency said it reviewed more than two dozen vehicle pursuit policies from various enforcement agencies across the U.S. to come up with the new policy.

"As a professional law enforcement organization, CBP is continually updating policies to reflect best practices, public safety needs, and evolving public expectations," Acting Commissioner Troy Miller said in a statement. "The safety of officers, agents, and the public are paramount as we carry out our mission."

Officials said the policy lays out factors to consider when deciding if a vehicle should be pursued and when a pursuit should be halted — similar to the "reasonableness" standards that most law enforcement officers consider when handling threats to themselves or the public. It also establishes reporting requirements aimed at improving transparency and accountability.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico had criticized Sunday's crash and called for the agency to prioritize best practices.

"This tragic incident is the horrific but predictable outcome of the Border Patrol's reckless vehicle pursuits, which put at risk the lives of people seeking asylum in the U.S., as well as all New Mexicans," Rebecca Sheff, an ACLU attorney, said in a statement.

According to CBP, the driver sped away after an agent turned on his emergency lights to stop a vehicle suspected of smuggling people. The driver lost control within seconds.

In August, two brothers from Mexico were charged after fleeing from authorities and crashing their vehicle, killing two and injuring 10 others just miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. The brothers themselves had been smuggled into the U.S. and agreed to bring in more migrants to pay their debt, according to court documents.

Border authorities have said human smuggling has been on the rise in the area, which includes El Paso, Texas, and rural parts of New Mexico. They have reported that since October, authorities have located nearly 60 stash houses and more than 650 migrants in efforts to curb smuggling in the region.

Homeland Security's civil rights office informed Customs and Border Protection in February 2022 that it had received multiple complaints about possible civil rights violations stemming from vehicle pursuits over the previous year. The allegations claimed that personnel unnecessarily engage in pursuits at high rates of speeds that were unwarranted.

The CPB's review began in 2021 and looked at trends and outcomes associated with pursuits. The agency then wrote the new policy over the past year.

The policy will take effect later this year, following training, the agency said. A new branch within the CBP's Law Enforcement Safety and Compliance Directorate will oversee implementation and training.

NM train riders want to see investment in high-speed rail make it out of the station - By Megan Taros, Source New MexicoAlix Bliss wants to live in New Mexico without owning a car. The newcomer to the state waited for the Rail Runner at the Santa Fe Depot Station on Monday afternoon with his bike, both of which have replaced driving for him.

Bliss is originally from Olympia, Washington, where he said the public transportation made commuting easier for him. He’s satisfied with the trips he’s taken on the Rail Runner but said that its route is limited, and he’s yet to find options that take him everywhere he wants to go.

“I don’t have (a car) now, and it’s fine to get around here. But if I want to go somewhere like Taos or up in the mountains, then I’d need one,” Bliss said.

Two bills pre-filed in the state Legislature ahead of the session that starts Tuesday may pave the way for expanded rail service in New Mexico.

Sen. William Soules (D-Las Cruces) introduced the proposals to bring a high-speed rail line through the entire state, and into Colorado to the north and Chihuahua, Mexico, to the south.

The bills would allocate $500,000 for a feasibility study and $1 billion for the rail project itself.

Soules introduced the same measures in the 2022 legislative session. Both died without being heard by all their assigned committees. Only the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee recommended passing the legislation to study what it will take to create a longer, high-speed rail line.

The economic boon would outweigh the billions in startup costs, Soules said.

“Everyone in New Mexico will benefit,” Soules said. “Moving people, goods and ideas is what economic development is all about. This would have a huge economic impact for years and years to come.”

Commuters at the Santa Fe Depot station said a high-speed rail system would improve their commutes and expressed support for such a project.

Their views are in line with many Americans.

A poll by the Rail Passengers Association last year found that 78% of people wanted more investments in passenger rail, and 66% of respondents said it was “important” to have a robust passenger rail system.

Robert Fowler, an accountant who lives in Albuquerque, has a 12-hour workday that includes commuting on the Rail Runner to his job in Santa Fe. He has to take a train at 6 a.m. to make it to work around 8 a.m. Fowler said he sees crowded trains every day, often with the same people riding, and would like having a transit option that is faster and travels later in the day.

“I was just talking to my wife about this and she said, ‘Gee, it takes you two hours to get home from work,’” Fowler said. “I think with (high-speed rail) I’d have some extra time. It would definitely cut that time down for everyone.”

Neighboring states such as Colorado and California have contended with constructing high-speed rail systems, though these efforts hit snags with funding and pulling bipartisan support.

A feasibility study from the Rocky Mountain Rail Authority found that construction of a high-speed rail line in Colorado was doable and foreshadowed a possible vote on a plan in 2020. That did not come to fruition. Colorado is still moving forward with the Front Range Rail Project — a 191-mile track that would connect the cities of Fort Collins and Pueblo — with slower and cheaper trains. But it’s years away from construction as the Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission assembles a plan and finds funding.

California’s high-speed rail system is behind on construction and has spent billions on a proposed high-speed line between the northern and southern parts of the state without a single mile of track laid.

The Trump administration canceled nearly $1 billion in federal funding to California’s rail project in 2019, a stark contrast to his predecessor Barack Obama’s nationwide push for high-speed rail. The Obama-era project failed due to funding woes and a lack of support.

President Joe Biden has since restored California’s canceled high-speed rail funding, and called for a dramatic increase in passenger rail funding. The White House said in a statement last year that the $73 million in public transportation funding it received from Biden’s infrastructure bill would “expand healthy, sustainable transportation options in New Mexico, where non-white households are more likely to commute via public transportation.”

Despite several false starts, commuters still want more public transit options. A 2022 study from the University of California Berkeley’s Institute of Government Studies found that 56% of California voters still wanted the high-speed rail line despite more than a decade of roadblocks.

The project in New Mexico would be no easy feat, Soules said. It is likely that governors from other states, the federal government and even the presidents of the U.S. and Mexico may have to be involved in the decision-making if the train is built to its intended scope.

“This is not something that can only be done in Santa Fe,” Soules said. “In order to do it well and do it right, we would need international support. Governors would be involved and that’s way above my pay grade. But we have to start somewhere, and my role is to start a conversation about what could be accomplished.”

Some commuters want to see a clearer vision before throwing support at a high-speed rail plan. Susan Beltran, who works for the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, said she takes the Rail Runner every day for work and loves the experience, but she’s hesitant to support high-speed rail without a plan.

Beltran likes the idea of more public transportation. She said price, commute time and location stops are most important to her before buying a ticket.

For Fowler, the accountant from Albuquerque, a faster train with more destinations would allow him to travel more and even make his leisure commutes to Santa Fe easier, since he and his wife also have friends and family they visit in their free time.

“If we want to have a night out in Santa Fe, we have to arrive much earlier than when anything starts,” he said. “It’s good that the last train can take us back pretty late, but more scheduled times and faster trips would let us leave a little later and be more convenient.”

The New Mexico high-speed train would be subsidized by the public sector and not rely on ridership, so it wouldn’t need to depend on ticket sales in its tenuous early years, Soules said.

Other details would have to be worked out on a larger scale but would start to become clear if the feasibility study is approved, he said.

The project may be ambitious and costly. Soules said there’s evidence that high-speed rail is worth the investment.

“All I know is that everywhere in the world that has high-speed rail isn’t talking about taking them out,” he said. “They’re talking about expanding it.”

Albuquerque police report finding Bengal tiger in dog crate - Associated Press

Police officers responding to reports of a shooting in southeast Albuquerque say they found a young Bengal tiger in a dog crate, but it's not the same animal sought since least year.

New Mexico Department of Game and Fish officials said they took custody of the tiger and transferred it to the ABQ BioPark until an investigation is completed and a permanent home for the animal can be found.

The department sought the public's help to find a young tiger that had been whisked away last summer from an Albuquerque-area house where police reported finding drugs, guns, cash and a 3-foot alligator.

"The Department of Game and Fish suspects that the tiger confiscated Tuesday is not the same tiger sought during the August 2022 search," Field Operations Division Col. Tim Cimbal said.

Cimbal said the tiger from August is believed to be more than a year old and likely weighs 50-90 pounds by now while the tiger found this week is only a few months old and weighs 20 pounds.

Authorities served search warrants on two residences in Albuquerque's South Valley Tuesday afternoon in response to tips that a tiger was being illegally held at one of the residences.

Police said a man was found at a mobile home with a gunshot wound on one of his legs and may have been struck by a stray bullet.

Officers spotted a blood trail and followed it to an unlocked trailer and that's where the tiger was found inside the crate.

Laura Hagen, a director with the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement that New Mexico already bans residents from keeping tigers as pets and federal law now prohibits private owners from keeping tigers as pets or for breeding purposes.

"Big cat cubs like the tiger found in Albuquerque are not pets. They are dangerous, wild animals and don't belong in homes or dog crates," Hagen said.

Crews battling fire near northern New Mexico burn scar - Associated Press

Authorities say a fire has broken out near a wildfire burn scar in northern New Mexico, temporarily closing traffic on one highway.

The Mora County Sheriff's Office said on its Facebook page that crews have been working to control the blaze since it was reported Tuesday afternoon.

It's more than 25% contained.

According to the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, satellites detected fire hot spots on the eastern fringe of the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire burn scar.

The sheriff's office shut down traffic both ways on Highway 434 near mile marker 2. It has since fully re-opened.

The Weather Service estimates the fire is between 5 and 10 acres. It's been fueled by winds that are between 40-50 miles (64-80 kilometers) per hour.

The burn scar is a remnant of the largest wildfire in state history. The government-sparked wildfire started as two controlled burns that merged.

It went on to scorch more than 530 square miles of the Rocky Mountain foothills.

Impacted residents are still dealing with how to afford premiums for insurance coverage for homes and possessions lost in the fire. New Mexico's congressional delegation wants the federal government to change the rules for processing such damage claims.

New Mexico appointee resigns from powerful regulatory panel - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

One of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's recent appointees to a powerful utility regulatory commission has resigned, citing a lack of education qualifications.

The Democratic governor announced Brian Moore's resignation Tuesday, saying she is filling his spot with a principal analyst from Sandia National Laboratories who has worked on grid modernization and energy storage projects.

James Ellison Jr. has nearly three decades of experience in electric utility operations and power markets and has multiple degrees from Clemson University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University.

The makeup of the Public Regulation Commission recently changed due to a constitutional amendment that turned the elected body into one in which the governor appoints members from a list of finalists chosen by a nominating committee.

Ellison was among the 15 finalists whose names had been forwarded to the governor.

The new commission will have a number of pivotal cases to hear over the next year, including deciding a billion-dollar rate case involving Public Service Co. of New Mexico, the state's largest electric utility.

The commissioners also may have to revisit a contested merger between PNM and Avangrid, a U.S. subsidiary of global energy giant Iberdrola.

Ellison, a registered independent, said in his application letter that he knows what it takes to keep the lights on and vowed to be fair and impartial.

"The transition to renewable energy needs to be handled carefully in order for reliability to be maintained," he wrote. "While ensuring the affordability of rates is a key goal, the commission must also allow utilities to have the resources and tools needed to succeed."

Moore, a former state lawmaker who once served on the Renewable Energy Transmission Authority board, submitted a letter of resignation to the governor less than two weeks after his appointment. The Republican stated he did not meet the statutory educational qualifications for the job.

The governor's other two appointees are Patrick O'Connell and Gabriel Aguilera, both Democrats.

O'Connell, an engineer with more than two decades of experience, previously worked for PNM as the utility's director of planning and resources before becoming the interim clean energy director at Western Resource Advocates.

A graduate of New Mexico State University, Aguilera worked for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission since 2007. He most recently served as a senior policy advisor for FERC's Office of Energy Market Regulation.

New Mexico governor pitches tax relief, more classroom time - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico would use a surge in oil-related income to underwrite health insurance costs for educators, expand minimum classroom instructional hours at public schools and shore up access to health care and high-speed internet in remote areas, under budget recommendations issued Tuesday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The budget proposal from the newly reelected Democratic governor would increase annual state general fund spending by nearly 12%, to $9.4 billion, for the fiscal year starting July 1 and ending in June 2024.

The Democratic-led Legislature convenes next week to negotiate a state budget during a 60-day session. Leading legislators are scheduled to publish spending priorities later this week.

The state government expects there to be a multibillion-dollar financial windfall in the current and upcoming fiscal years, largely from surging oil production and high energy prices. Voters in November also approved increased annual withdrawals from a multibillion-dollar state trust to pay for early childhood education initiatives and K-12 public schools.

Lujan Grisham is proposing $1 billion in tax rebates that could provide direct payments of as much as $1,500 per household, along with $500 million in tax relief, in part through cuts in some income tax rates and lower statewide gross receipts taxes on sales and services.

Her budget proposal would devote $100 million to pay the individual cost of health insurance for educators throughout the state, though not their dependent family members.

The state already is investing heavily in early childhood education programs and teacher compensation in an effort to improve a public education system that ranks at the bottom of many lists for academic achievement. Results from the latest standardized tests also show just 26% of students in grades three through eight were proficient in math, while only 34% were proficient in reading.

Under the proposed budget, core state spending on public education would be tied to an expansion of minimum annual instructional hours at public schools — marking a new approach. In recent years, many school districts have turned down optional funding to lengthen school hours, the school year or both.

Lujan Grisham is recommending salary increases of 4% for both public school and state employees.

The governor also wants to devote more spending to housing initiatives and solutions to homelessness; police recruitment and retention; at-home visits and counseling to improve early childhood wellbeing; an expansion of rural health care facilities; and to establish public endowments for graduate medical school programs.

The budget recommendation "empowers the state to continue to take on new and innovative strategies that are disrupting the status quo, that help our children, our families, our schools, our small businesses and our entire economy," Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

Economists expect the state government's income for the upcoming fiscal year to be nearly $12 billion. That revenue would exceed current annual general fund spending obligations by $3.6 billion, or 43%.

Lujan Grisham's budget recommendations include $10.2 million set-aside for construction of a reproductive health care clinic in southern New Mexico that would offer abortion services.

Across the nation, many states have built historic cash surpluses with help from federal pandemic aid allocations and increased revenue on recent sales and income tax collections. Those surpluses may soon be tapped to cover tax cuts and greater spending on priorities such as infrastructure and education.

Though most states can afford it, financial experts are nonetheless urging caution because of concerns the U.S. could slip into a recession.

Endangered Mexican wolf treks further north in New Mexico - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

An endangered Mexican gray wolf has roamed beyond the species' recovery area into the more northern reaches of New Mexico, reigniting a debate over whether the predators should be confined to a certain stretch of the southwestern U.S. as wildlife managers work to boost the population.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday that members of the recovery team have been tracking the lone female wolf and have notified ranchers in the area, although they say it's not a threat to human health or public safety.

Wolf-livestock conflicts have been a major challenge of the reintroduction program over the past two decades, with ranchers saying the killing of livestock by wolves remains a threat to their livelihood despite efforts by wildlife managers to scare the wolves away and reimburse some of the losses.

With news of the wolf traveling north of Interstate 40 in New Mexico, state and federal wildlife officials have been reminding people that Mexican wolves are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and that hazing or harassing the predators is not allowed, unless the wolf poses a threat to human safety.

Collared wolves have trekked north of I-40 only a handful of times since 2015, when the Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area was established, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

One of the more well-documented cases involved a wolf that was captured, relocated and later found dead after heading north again. In 2022, there were reports that another female lived for months west of Albuquerque until she moved into Arizona and then back into southwestern New Mexico.

In the latest case, the wolf numbered 2754 dispersed from the Rocky Prairie pack at the end of 2022.

"We are monitoring f2754's movements while working with our partners to evaluate management options," agency spokeswoman Aislinn Maestas said Tuesday.

Environmentalists have been fighting in federal court to overturn a requirement that the Fish and Wildlife Service capture wolves that roam north of I-40.

In court documents, environmental groups have argued that using the interstate as the northern boundary for wolf recovery effectively curbs natural dispersal and cuts off access to the Grand Canyon and Southern Rockies. They pointed to the two regions as essential for establishing another population to meet recovery goals.

The Mexican wolf is the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in North America. According to the most recent survey released in early 2022, there were at least 196 Mexican wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona. It marked the sixth straight year the population had increased.

There is also a small population of wolves in the wild in Mexico.

U.S. officials said they were preparing to begin this year's survey in Arizona and New Mexico in the coming weeks.

Buu Nygren sworn in as next Navajo Nation president - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

Buu Nygren was sworn in Tuesday as the next president of the vast Navajo Nation, a job that will test his ability to make good on promises to deliver water, electricity and broadband to tens of thousands of residents who don't have it.

Nygren beat out incumbent President Jonathan Nez in the tribe's general election by about 3,500 votes. Nygren was joined by his wife Jasmine, daughter Evelyn and grandmother Marilyn Slim as he took the oath of office during a ceremony that highlighted the challenges he grew up with and, later, academic and business successes that helped him ascend as the youngest person to hold the tribal presidency.

Nygren stood amid hand-woven Navajo rugs and blankets as he addressed the crowd in a mix of Navajo and English, saying his administration's mission is simple: bring basic services to Navajo people so they can do more than survive.

"I will not hesitate. I will do whatever it takes to make sure that our people have a chance, our people have an opportunity to make something of themselves." he said. "That's all they want."

He added that, growing up, someone believed in him and he wants Navajos to know he also believes in them.

Nygren, 36, had never held political office before now, though he was former President Joe Shirley Jr.'s vice presidential candidate in 2018. Current Vice President Richelle Montoya is the first woman to hold that position.

Montoya, who was the elected leader of a small Navajo community, took a moment to pay tribute to women on the Navajo Nation Council and in the matriarchal society, holding her hand to her heart. She encouraged tribal members to speak the Navajo language and always think seven generations ahead.

"For the next four years, I will give you my very best," she told the crowd.

The inauguration took place at an indoor arena in Fort Defiance, just north of the tribal capital of Window Rock, and featured an all-women color guard. Thousands attended the ceremony, many donning turquoise and silver jewelry, moccasins, crushed velvet or ribbon skirts, or business attire.

Young girls sang the national anthem and recited the pledge of allegiance in Navajo. Montoya's relative, Chishi Haazba Montoya, coursed through Navajo history in poem, weaving in traditional elements, reviling western greed and declaring that Navajo sovereignty will be restored and any monsters defeated.

Nez and his vice president, Myron Lizer, sat in the front row along with Shirley, former Navajo President Ben Shelly and former Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald.

A public luncheon at the fairgrounds in Window Rock, a gospel celebration, a song and dance, a comedy show, a pow wow and an inaugural ball followed the ceremony.

The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American reservation in the U.S. at 27,000 square miles (69,000 square kilometers). It stretches into parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Its population of around 400,000 is second only to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

Nygren brought an energy to the presidential race that resonated with voters, campaigning with his wife, former Arizona state Rep. Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren. He had a flair for rising and falling speech and created a signature look with his hair tied in a traditional bun, a wide-brimmed black hat, blue trousers and a lighter blue, long-sleeved shirt.

Nygren is half Vietnamese but never knew his father. He was raised on the Utah portion of the reservation in a home without electricity or running water, he said. He has a background in construction management and has said he expects tribal citizens to hold him accountable as president — a point he emphasized in his speech Tuesday.

Cheryl R. Benally said Nygren's words about being disciplined reminded her of what she heard from her own mother as she grew up around Chaco Canyon in New Mexico: wake up early, greet the rising sun and pray. Benally's daughter, Mya Benally, 18, said Nygren's words on making water and education more accessible appealed to her as a college student who wants to return to the reservation.

"He's helping me think 'I can do more,' she said.

Julian Begay, a 36-year-old school board member and farm board president in Many Farms, said he sees a sense of faith and belief in Nygren that his promises to the Navajo people will be fulfilled.

"He's coming down to the people's level, but I'm curious to see what he's going to do about the economy," Begay said. "We can't keep shopping in border towns forever."

Nygren pledged to work closely with the 24 members of the Navajo Nation Council who also were sworn in Tuesday along with other elected officials. About one-third of the council will be women — a record number. The council often is seen as more powerful than the presidency and is the path through which big agenda items have to move.

Some of the women delegate's priorities include infrastructure, addressing social ills and generational trauma, bolstering law enforcement, managing a budget and ensuring a continued focus on the epidemic of missing and slain Indigenous people. A handful of people stood at an intersection holding signs Tuesday urging action on some of those same topics.

"I know that most of us as women are going to have that natural indication to love our people, to put our people first, to understand there's a stronger responsibility to protecting our homes, meaning the Navajo Nation," said Shaandiin Parrish, who was elected to the council.

Returning Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty said she's looking forward to having difficult conversations where tribal lawmakers can confront problems, learn from shared experiences and examine the challenges that lead to families being victimized and services not delivered to Navajo people.

One thing should not be expected of women leaders, she said.

"Although nurturing is part of our teaching, we cannot hold the emotional baggage of others," Kanazbah Crotty said. "What I mean by that is the expectation shouldn't be that as women leadership, we're here to fix all the issues."

Nez and the previous council laid the groundwork for infrastructure projects using money the tribe received in federal coronavirus relief aid. But Nygren has said those decisions may need to be revisited. Nez worried any changes would jeopardize the tribe not meeting deadlines for spending the money.

In one of his last actions, Nez vetoed legislation Monday to expand oil and gas exploration and development, including for helium, on the reservation. He said the affected communities hadn't reached consensus, and concerns over profit-sharing and health went unresolved.

At least 20 Louisiana horse deaths tied to contaminated feed - Associated Press

At least 20 horses in Louisiana have died after ingesting bacteria found in some alfalfa hay cubes from a manufacturer in Colorado, state agriculture officials said.

The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry began notifying livestock owners and others about potential problems with some bags of "Top Of The Rockies Alfalfa Horse Cubes" in mid-December after horses in Louisiana and three other states began showing neurological symptoms consistent with botulism, state officials said.

The FDA said at least 98 horses in Louisiana, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico have showed symptoms including muscle tremors, trouble swallowing or eating, difficulty standing or collapse. At least 45 of those animals have died or were euthanized due to declining health after eating the cubes.

The department said it had confirmed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory that Clostridium botulinum type C was in the alfalfa cubes, which causes equine botulism, The Advertiser reported.

State investigators received information that an unopened bag of the cubes, produced by Manzanola Feeds in Manzanola, Colorado, contained animal remains.

"This finding indicated that material from an animal or animals may have been incorporated into the cubes during alfalfa harvesting," a release from LDAF said. "Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism, is commonly present in decaying animal carcasses."

Manzanola Feeds has recalled its "Top Of The Rockies Alfalfa Horse Cubes" with the date codes 111222, 111322, 111422, 111522, and 111622. More information on how to dispose of the cubes safely can be found at the FDA's website.

The LDAF said horse owners should immediately contact a veterinarian if a horse ate the product and is showing signs of a neurological illness.

Leaders of US, Canada, Mexico show unity despite friction - By Colleen Long And Christopher Sherman Associated Press

President Joe Biden, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to downplay their frustrations with one another on migration and trade as they met for the near-annual North American Leaders Summit.

The leaders offered a unified front on Tuesday despite tensions that have put a strain on their relationships even as Biden has made repairing alliances a cornerstone of his foreign policy agenda.

The tensions were front and center when Biden and López Obrador met on Monday, with the Mexican president complaining of "abandonment" and "disdain" for Latin America.

But as they closed Tuesday's summit in Mexico City with a joint news conference, the leaders offered an optimistic outlook.

"We're true partners the three of us," said Biden, adding that they had "genuine like" for one another. "We share a common vision for the future, grounded on common values."

López Obrador, for his part, thanked Biden for not building "even one meter of wall," a not so subtle dig at Biden's Republican predecessor, Donald Trump. The warmth during their joint press conference stood in stark contrast to the more brusque exchange a day earlier.

Still, López Obrador prodded Biden to "insist" Congress regularize undocumented Mexican migrants who work in industries where American employers are struggling mightily to find enough workers.

The three-way gathering is held most years, although there was a hiatus while Trump was president. It's often called the "three amigos summit," a reference to the deep diplomatic and economic ties among the countries.

However, the leaders have found themselves at odds, especially as they struggle to handle an influx of migrants and to crack down on smugglers who profit from persuading people to make the dangerous trip to the United States.

In addition, Canada and the U.S. accuse López Obrador of violating a free trade pact by favoring Mexico's state-owned utility over power plants built by foreign and private investors. Meanwhile, Trudeau and López Obrador are concerned about Biden's efforts to boost domestic manufacturing, creating concerns that U.S. neighbors could be left behind.

Trudeau emphasized in a one-on-one meeting with Biden the benefits of free trade and warned against Buy America policies that the U.S. administration has promoted, according to the prime minister's office. Nearly 80% of Canada's exports go to the U.S., so avoiding protectionism remains a priority for Canada.

The key takeaways from the summit revolve around better connections among the three nations and a shared goal of a stronger North America on energy and in particular semiconductors, climate and a pledge to cut methane emissions, an agreement to manage large waves of migrants coming to the region and a more cohesive regional strategy on dealing with future pandemic-related health threats.

In their talks on Monday, López Obrador challenged Biden to improve life across the region, telling him that "you hold the key in your hand."

"This is the moment for us to determine to do away with this abandonment, this disdain, and this forgetfulness for Latin America and the Caribbean," Lopez Obrador said.

Biden responded by pointing to the billions of dollars that the United States spends in foreign aid around the world.

At the start of Tuesday's Biden-Trudeau meeting, the leaders spoke familiarly and with optimism. Trudeau called the U.S. president "Joe" and Biden joked with Trudeau — after the Canadian leader had delivered a statement to reporters in English and French — that he should have paid more attention in his college French classes.

Biden and Trudeau also discussed their countries' efforts to support Ukraine nearly 11 months after Russia's invasion. Canada announced Tuesday that it would buy an American-made National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System, or NASAMS, to be donated to Ukraine. The medium-range ground-based air defense system, which protects against drone, missile and aircraft attacks, costs about $406 million and brings Canada's contribution to Ukraine to more than $1 billion since the start of the war.

The White House said in a statement that the leaders also discussed "the generational opportunity to strengthen supply chains for critical minerals, electric vehicles, and semiconductors." The U.S. administration also announced that Biden will make his first visit to Canada as president in March.

"There's a lot of reasons to be optimistic, especially for those of us in our countries," Trudeau said. "But it's going to take a lot of work, something neither you or I or most our citizens have ever been afraid of."

Biden and López Obrador haven't been on particularly good terms for the past two years. The Mexican leader made no secret of his admiration for Trump, and last year he skipped a Los Angeles summit of the Americas because Biden didn't invite the authoritarian leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

But despite the tension, there's been cooperation. The U.S. and Mexico have also reached an agreement on a major shift in migration policy, which Biden announced last week.

Under the plan, the U.S. will send 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela back across the border from among those who entered the U.S. illegally. Migrants who arrive from those four countries are not easily returned to their home countries for a variety of reasons.

In addition, 30,000 people per month from those four nations who get sponsors, background checks and an airline flight to the U.S. will be able to work legally in the country for two years.

The number of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has risen dramatically during Biden's first two years in office. There were more than 2.38 million stops during the year that ended Sept. 30, the first time the number topped 2 million.

López Obrador spoke at length about Mexico's efforts to control the flow into the United States of fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that has become a scourge for many American communities. He noted that his government gave the military control of sea ports to help with the interdiction of precursor chemicals coming from Asia.

"We are battling fentanyl, these chemicals, and we are doing it because we care. No human is foreign to us," he said. "It really matters to us to be able to help with what is happening in the United States, the deaths from fentanyl. But also as we discussed today, it is not only an issue for the United States, because if we don't confront this problem, this scourge, we are going to suffer it, too. So we have to act in a coordinated way."

Canada is being nudged by the U.S. and other allies to lead an international mission to Haiti to help solve the ongoing humanitarian and security crisis.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the country's Council of Ministers sent an urgent appeal Oct. 7 calling for "the immediate deployment of a specialized armed force, in sufficient quantity" to stop the crisis caused partly by the "criminal actions of armed gangs." But more than three months later, no countries have stepped forward.

Trudeau on Tuesday called the situation "heartbreaking." Both he and Biden said they will work with the United Nations Security Council to assist the Caribbean nation but also expressed caution about direct intervention.

"We need to make sure that the solutions are driven by the people of Haiti themselves," Trudeau said.