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WED: State announces new MMIWR advisory council, + More

FILE - About two dozen advocates for Native American communities gathered in downtown Santa Fe, N.M., Monday, Oct. 10, 2022, when most government offices were closed in commemoration of Indigenous Peoples Day, a state holiday. A group of advocates is calling out New Mexico’s Democratic governor for disbanding a task force that crafted recommendations to address the high rate of killings and missing person cases in Native American communities, Thursday, Nov. 16., 2023.
Morgan Lee
About two dozen advocates for Native American communities gathered in downtown Santa Fe, N.M., Monday, Oct. 10, 2022, when most government offices were closed in commemoration of Indigenous Peoples Day, a state holiday. A group of advocates is calling out New Mexico’s Democratic governor for disbanding a task force that crafted recommendations to address the high rate of killings and missing person cases in Native American communities, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.

New Mexico creates new council to address cases of missing and slain Native AmericansSusan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico is creating a new advisory council that will be charged with implementing a state plan for responding to cases of missing or slain Native Americans, with top state officials vowing Tuesday that the work will lead to more people being found and families gaining closure.

Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's announcement follows criticism from advocates who feared the state was losing momentum after the governor dissolved the task force that came up with the plan more than a year ago.

Advocates on Tuesday renewed their criticism, saying work to implement the plan has stalled and that communication among law enforcement and victims' families remains one of the biggest problems. That issue was acknowledged by the governor as she announced the next step in New Mexico to address what has been described as a crisis for Indigenous communities both in the United States and Canada.

"Bringing more law enforcement to the table will help address a major crux of this issue: a lack of coordination among federal, tribal, state and local entities," Lujan Grisham said in a statement. "The work of this group will help bring missing Native people home, provide closure to families and communities, and prevent other families from experiencing these tragedies."

Pojoaque Pueblo Gov. Jenelle Roybal and Picuris Pueblo Gov. Craig Quanchello will lead the council. The two are in the final stages of selecting the other council members.

Lujan Grisham's office did not say how many members will be part of the council, and state Indian Affairs Secretary James Mountain did not provide many details to lawmakers when he mentioned the new council during a meeting Tuesday in Albuquerque.

Darlene Gomez, an attorney who has been helping families with missing relatives, said she was disappointed that there didn't seem to be much of a plan beyond announcing that a council would be formed.

"The state response plan was done in May of 2022 and there were short-term goals that should have already been met," Gomez said. "They cannot point to what goals they've met."

The Indian Affairs Department did not immediately respond when asked what Mountain and agency officials believed should be priorities for the new council or what actions could be taken in the short term to begin implementingthe state's plan.

Nationally, federal officials are weighing the recommendations of a special commission that spent more than a year gathering comments and talking with tribal leaders, families, health care providers and other experts about the best ways for tackling the high rate of violence in tribal communities.

The U.S. Interior and Justice departments are under a mandate to respond to the recommendations early next year.

Meanwhile, many states have established their own task forces and commissions to study the problem. In neighboring Arizona — which has the third-largest Native American population in the U.S. — commissioners are facing a Dec. 1 deadline for rolling out their first report. It is to include recommendations for legislative and administrative changes in that state.

Other states such as Alaska have issued reports on the number of missing people, but advocates say the data is limited because of the way cases are often reported and tracked.

The recommendations crafted by the federal Not Invisible Act Commission are not unlike those included in New Mexico's state response plan. Both documents acknowledge the complexity of the problem, from its roots in historic policies that sought to cut Native American and Alaska Natives' ties with their language and culture to current day public safety and public health challenges.

NM governor and environment secretary attend climate conference in Dubai - By Nash Jones, KUNM News

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham traveled to Dubai today for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, according to her office. State Environment Secretary James Kenney and the governor’s Deputy Chief Operating Officer Caroline Buerkle are also attending.

The announcement said the group will participate in panels and meet with climate leaders.

Lujan Grisham is scheduled to sit on a Saturday panel on U.S. climate innovations. She’s also set to give the opening remarks at a Sunday panel that includes Sec. Kenney highlighting state-led initiatives to attain net-zero emissions, according to the press release.

Other state and local government representatives from across the U.S. will also be in attendance, including mayors from Louisiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio and Mississippi.

Metropolitan Detention Center warden placed on leave - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News 

The warden of the state’s largest jail has been placed on administrative leave, according to Bernalillo County Manager Julie Morgas Baca.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Warden Jason Jones’ leave from his post at the Metropolitan Detention Center began Monday. Around 1,400 people are incarcerated at the facility.

It’s unclear why Jones, who became warden just over a year ago, was put on leave or when it’ll end. Morgas Baca told the Journal the county has not yet determined whether an investigation is needed.

Deputy Warden Rosanne Otero Gonzales is serving as interim warden.

Outdoor recreation in New Mexico grew in 2022 - By Nicole Maxwell, New Mexico Political Report

New Mexico’s outdoor recreation economy grew 1.9 percent in 2022 from the previous year according to a new analysis from the U.S. Commerce Department.

TheCommerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis released data for 2022 showing upward trends in outdoor recreation across the country, including growth by 1.8 percent over 2021 in New Mexico.

Outdoor recreation accounted for 1.9 percent of New Mexico’s gross domestic product and created $2.4 billion in added value for New Mexico and created almost 28,000 jobs.

“As the state continues to exceed previous years’ measurements of the outdoor recreation industry, it reinforces Gov. (Michelle) Lujan Grisham’s decision to identify the industry as a key sector for our state economy,” Acting New Mexico Economic Development Department Cabinet Secretary Jon Clark said in a news release. “Every corner of our state benefits from the overall efforts to bolster access to the outdoors for all New Mexicans. The outdoor recreation industry is a consistent economic and jobs driver, even in times of economic uncertainty.”

Lujan Grisham created the Outdoor Recreation Division in 2019 which has invested $10 million in trails and infrastructure projects and awarded grants to 181 organizations, a press release states.

“The BEA data validates the ongoing efforts of New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Division to create jobs through the Trails+ grant program, support economic growth, and offer equitable access to the outdoors through the first-of-its-kind Outdoor Equity Fund,” ORD Director Karina Armijo said in the press release. “Based on the data, we can affirm these outdoor recreation-focused programs benefit all New Mexicans and outdoor recreation businesses throughout the state.”

This is the sixth consecutive year the Bureau has released data about outdoor recreation.

State certifies local election results, orders recounts – By Nash Jones, KUNM News

The results of this month’s local elections are official. New Mexico’s State Canvass Board unanimously certified them Tuesday.

In addition to signing the certificate of canvass, the board ordered automatic recounts for races in 24 counties. State law requires them when a race is exceedingly close. How narrow the margin must be varies depending on the type of office, but ranges from 1 percent to as small as 1/4 of a percent.

In all, 44 races for offices including school board members, councilors and trustees, soil and water supervisors, as well as one mayoral race in the Village of Grady will head to a recount.

This year’s local election saw an overall turnout of about 20%, with just over 250,000 voters across the state casting a ballot.

Canvass board members include Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court Shannon Bacon.

Meow Wolf Foundation awards its first grants to community organizations By Nash Jones, KUNM News

Meow Wolf, the arts company behind Santa Fe’s immersive House of Eternal Return exhibit, launched a foundation this year, which has now awarded its first grants.

They’re all arts and culture organizations in the states where the company has a footprint, including New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Texas. Each of the more than 60 organizations will get a share of $600,000 in funding.

Chief Impact Officer Julie Heinrich wrote in a statement that the foundation wants to invest in “community-based organizations that are serving those who typically don’t have access, using art and creativity in innovative ways.”

Acknowledging the company’s roots and headquarters in New Mexico, the announcement said the Meow Wolf Foundation “recognizes the importance of investing in the community where it all started.”

Twenty four of the grantees in this inaugural group are based in New Mexico.

New Mexico vets on lookout for mysterious respiratory illness among dogs - Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News

Veterinarians across the country are warning dog owners about a mysterious respiratory illness that is making its way through many states as they continue to explore what type of virus it is and how to address it.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports vets are urging folks to keep their dogs away from dog parks and boarding kennels as this new disease is very contagious. Dr. Brent Parker at the Santa Fe Animal Hospital says people shouldn’t panic and simply keeping dogs at home is protecting them.

Dog owners should stay vigilant about the signs of possible respiratory problems, like kennel cough, eye and nasal discharge, sneezing, changes in behavior, and if it progresses to pneumonia, difficulty breathing. Dogs may become lethargic and have blue or purple gums.

There are no reported cases in New Mexico according to Dr. John Ragsdale with the Veterinary Diagnostic Services Division of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. But there have been cases in Colorado, including some canine fatalities.

‘Milagro Beanfield War’ author John Nichols dies at 83Santa Fe New Mexican, New Mexico PBS, KUNM News

John Nichols, the acclaimed New Mexico author of “The Milagro Beanfield War,” has died. He was 83.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Nichols died after battling a lengthy illness, according to family members.

The book for which he is most well-known was made into a film by Robert Redford in 1988. It features a rural landowner battling corporate and government interests over land and water rights.

Nichols told New Mexico PBS in 2016 that he wanted the book to address the many forms of injustice that were destroying the planet. But he also wanted to make it humorous.

“The Milagro Beanfield War” has since developed a cult following, and is the first of a New Mexico trilogy that also includes “The Magic Journey” and “The Nirvana Blues.” Nichols has written about two dozen books in all.

Director of the University of New Mexico Press Stephen Hull told the New Mexican Nichols is one of the important voices of New Mexico literature along with Rudolfo Anaya, Stanley Crawford and Tony Hillerman.

Nichols was born in Berkeley, Calif., and first visited New Mexico in 1957. He moved to Taos in the late 1960s and lived there until his death.

Ransomware attack prompts multistate hospital chain to divert some emergency room patients elsewhere - By Jonathan Mattise And Jake Bleiberg Associated Press

A ransomware attack has prompted a health care chain that operates 30 hospitals in six states to divert patients from some of its emergency rooms to other hospitals while putting certain elective procedures on pause.

Ardent Health Services said it took its network offline after the Nov. 23 cyberattack, adding in a statement that it suspended user access to its information technology applications such as software used to document patient care.

By Tuesday afternoon, more than half of Ardent's 25 emergency rooms had resumed accepting some patients by ambulance or by fully lifting their "divert" status, Ardent spokesperson Will Roberts said. Divert status means hospitals have asked ambulances to take those needing emergency care to other facilities nearby. Roberts said hospitals nationwide have at times used divert status during flu season, COVID-19 surges, natural disasters or large trauma events.

The company said it could not yet confirm the extent of any compromised patient health or financial information. It reported the issue to law enforcement and retained third-party forensic and threat intelligence advisers, while working with cybersecurity specialists to restore IT functions as quickly as possible. There was no timeline yet to resolve the problems.

Based in the Nashville, Tennessee, suburb of Brentwood, Ardent owns and operates 30 hospitals and more than 200 care sites with upwards of 1,400 aligned providers in Oklahoma, Texas, New Jersey, New Mexico, Idaho and Kansas.

Each hospital is still providing medical screenings and stabilizing care to patients arriving at emergency rooms, Ardent said.

In Amarillo, Texas, William Spell said he and his mother have had flu-like symptoms for days but were unable to make a doctor's appointment through an online patient portal due to the cyberattack.

"We are trying to figure out other options as to what to do next," said Spell, 34.

BSA Health System – the Ardent umbrella provider for Spell's clinic and other facilities in the city – said in a Facebook post that it was working to restore its patient portal and system for video doctors' visits. Spell said his doctor's office could not tell him how long the outage might last and recommended they try an urgent care clinic.

"That's just something we cannot do because urgent cares charge a lot of money just to walk through the door and be seen by a doctor," Spell said. "There's no way we can afford that."

Several hospitals in Albuquerque, New Mexico, within Ardent's Lovelace Health System have continued to divert some patients needing emergency care to other city hospitals, Lovelace spokesperson Whitney Marquez said. They also rescheduled elective and other non-urgent surgeries.

In Topeka, Kansas, a hospital spokesperson confirmed the attack put the University of Kansas Health System-St. Francis on divert status. Meanwhile, the city's other hospital, Stormont Vail, increased weekend staffing after patient volume began growing Friday, said Stormont Vail Health spokesperson MollyPatt Eyestone.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Ransomware criminals do not usually admit to an attack unless the victim refuses to pay.

"The attack against Ardent Health is both egregious and quickly becoming the norm," said analyst Allan Liska at the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future. "Stories like patients being turned away from emergency rooms, hospitals being forced to resort to pen and paper for patient care, or hospital personnel unable to access medical records are increasingly common."

While some groups won't attack hospitals, "they are greatly outnumbered by those who will and with the number of ransomware groups growing every day, the percentage who won't attack hospitals is constantly decreasing," Liska said. "Health care, in general, is an attractive target for these groups because there is a perception that they are more likely to pay, even though the evidence suggests otherwise."

Even when health care providers don't pay, ransomware groups can sell patient data, Liska added.

A recent global study by the cybersecurity firm Sophos found nearly two-thirds of health care organizations were hit by ransomware attacks in the year ending in March, double the rate from two years earlier but dipping slightly from 2022. Education was the sector most likely to be targeted, with attack saturation at 80%.

Increasingly, ransomware gangs steal data before activating data-scrambling malware that paralyzes networks. The threat of making stolen data public is used to extort payments. That data can also be sold online. Sophos found data theft occurred in one in three ransomware attacks on health care organizations.

Analyst Brett Callow at the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft said 25 U.S. health care systems with 290 hospitals were hit last year while this year the number is 36 with 128 hospitals. Not all hospitals within the systems may have been impacted, and not all may have been impacted equally, he said.

"We desperately need to find ways to better protect our hospitals. These incidents put patients lives at risk — especially when ambulances need to be diverted — and the fact that nobody appears to have yet died is partly due to luck," Callow added.

Most ransomware syndicates are run by Russian speakers based in former Soviet states, beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement, though some "affiliates" who do the grunt work of infecting targets and negotiating ransoms live in the West, using the syndicates' software infrastructure and tools.

US agency to end use of 'cyanide bomb' to kill coyotes and other predators, citing safety concerns - By Scott Sonner Associated Press

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has halted the use of spring-loaded traps that disperse cyanide powder to kill coyotes and other livestock predators, a practice wildlife advocates have tried to outlaw for decades due to safety concerns.

The M-44 ejector-devices that critics call "cyanide bombs" have unintentionally killed thousands of pets and non-predator wildlife, including endangered species, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services. They have a scented bait and emit a poisonous cloud when triggered by a physical disturbance.

The Bureau of Land Management quietly posted a notice on its website last week that it no longer will use the devices across the 390,625 square miles (1,011,714 square kilometers) it manages nationally — an area twice the size of California — much of it where ranchers graze cattle and sheep.

Other federal agencies — including the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service — already prohibit the devices. But the Forest Service and 10 states still use them in some form.

Eight unsuccessful bills have been introduced in Congress since 2008 to ban the the traps on federal and/or state lands. Sponsors of legislation pending in the U.S. House and Senate that would ban them on both say they're optimistic the bureau's new position will help pave the way for broader support.

Brooks Fahy, executive director of the Oregon-based watchdog group Predator Defense, has been working for 40 years to ban the use of sodium cyanide in the traps. He emphasized that it's registered under the Environmental Protection Agency as a Category 1 toxicant, the highest level of toxicity.

"I can't believe they're still being put on the landscape and they continue to harm people," Fahy said. "I've seen M-44s set right on the edge of a trail."

M-44s consist of a stake driven into the ground with a spring and canister loaded with the chemical. Marked inconsistently and sometimes not at all, humans have mistaken them for sprinkler heads or survey markers.

Federal agencies rely on Wildlife Services to deal with problem animals — whether in remote areas or airports across the country — using lethal and non-lethal forces. The change on Bureau of Land Management land came under a recent revision of a memorandum of understanding with Wildlife Services obtained by The Associated Press on Monday.

It's effective immediately but can be canceled by either side with 60 days' notice.

Wildlife Services has used M-44s to control predators, mostly in the West, since the 1930s. The American Sheep Industry Association and National Cattlemen's Beef Association were among 100 industry groups that wrote to Congress this year, stressing the importance of the program. They said predators cause more than $232 million in livestock losses annually.

About a dozen people have been seriously harmed over the past 25 years by M-44s on federal lands, according to Predator Defense.

Between 2000-16, Wildlife Services reported 246,985 animals killed by M-44s, including at least 1,182 dogs. From 2014-22, the agency said M-44s intentionally killed 88,000 animals and unintentionally killed more than 2,000 animals .

Public outcry over the devices grew after a family dog was killed in 2017 in Pocatello, Idaho, and Canyon Mansfield, then 14, was injured after accidentally triggering a device placed on public land about 400 feet from their home. In 2020, the federal government admitted negligence and agreed to pay the family $38,500 to resolve a lawsuit.

"We are so happy to finally see one federal government department banning another's reckless and indiscriminate actions," Canyon Mansfield's father, Mark Mansfield, said last week.

Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman, of California, who is the lead sponsor of the bill that would outlaw use of M-44s on all state and federal lands, has named the current version "Canyon's Law," after Mansfield.

"Cyanide bombs are a cruel and indiscriminate device that have proven to be deadly for pets, humans, and wildlife – and they have no business being on our public lands," Huffman said last week in praising the bureau's move.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, of Oregon, who is the lead sponsor of companion legislation in the Senate, said he's encouraged the Biden administration is "taking a positive step forward to keep cyanide bombs off of our public lands."

Fahy acknowledged efforts in Congress to ban the use of M-44s have gained little traction over the past 15 years.

But he said publicity over the Mansfield case has changed the political landscape more than anything he's seen since 1982 when President Ronald Reagan revoked an executive order issued by President Richard Nixon in 1972 that had banned use of all poisons by federal agents on federal lands.

Several weeks after Canyon Mansfield was poisoned, Fahy said Wildlife Services agreed to stop using M-44s in Idaho. Two years later, Oregon banned them statewide and a partial ban soon followed in New Mexico where some state agencies can still use them.

Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming also still allow M-44s.

Fahy said the new policy at the Bureau of Land Management — which specifically referenced the Mansfield case last week — "is a big deal" that should help build on the momentum for a nationwide ban.

"This is the most that the needle on the use of federal poisons has moved in over 40 years," he said. "I think M-44s' days are numbered."