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THUR: Fish and Wildlife Service denies federal protections for two Rio Grande fish species, Wildfire dashboard launch, +More

A Rio Grande Chub captured during a salvage effort for a stream improvement project at the Baca National Wildlife Refuge.
Dana Shellhorn
A Rio Grande Chub captured during a salvage effort for a stream improvement project at the Baca National Wildlife Refuge.

Fish and Wildlife Service denies federal protections for two Rio Grande fish species– KUNM

Yesterday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service produced findings that the Rio Grande chub (Gila pandora) and Rio Grande sucker (Catostomus plebeius) do not warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). WildEarth Guardians petitioned the Service to list these fish under the ESA in both 2013 and 2014.

The Service issued initial findings in 2016 that both species may need protections under the ESA, but several years passed without proposed listings in sight. In 2020, Guardians challenged the Service’s failure to extend ESA protections to these species as part of a complaint that included five other freshwater species and their imperiled habitats in the Rio Grande and Missouri River.

Both fish are native to the Rio Grande Basin, and have experienced significant declines in population due to habitat destruction, climate change, invasive species, and the impacts of human land and water uses. While the chub was once abundant throughout the Rio Grande Basin, it has disappeared from 75% of its range and the sucker has mostly disappeared from the Rio Grande in New Mexico.

Known for its distinctive red-orange coloring during spawning season, the Rio Grande chub is a small fish that is mostly found at higher elevation pools where water temperatures are cooler, and prefers a braided, sandy, and wide river channel with ample bank vegetation to provide shade. Meanwhile, the shiner – a slender, silver-colored fish – lives in low-velocity streams featuring aquatic vegetation and a gravel- or rubble-covered streambed where algae can grow.

Dams, diversions, groundwater pumping, and other human impacts have dewatered and changed the free-flowing nature of the Rio Grande. The decline of the Rio Grande chub and sucker highlights the broader challenges faced by many species in the region.

New Mexico launches Wildfire Dashboard for South Fork and Salt fires– KUNM

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Thursday afternoon the launch of a new Wildfire Dashboard.

This online platform will serve as the hub for live updates of both the South Fork and Salt Fires spreading in Southern New Mexico.

The governor said that this dashboard will be important in keeping New Mexico residents safe and informed during wildfire events, such as our current situation.

Paired with this launch, there is a community meeting happening Thursday night, starting at 5 p.m. Community members are invited to join the meeting via livestream on the Southwest Incident Management Team 5 Facebook page.

A Facebook account is not required to join and participate in this livestream.

This meeting will allow residents to receive updates from fire officials and learn more about the ongoing efforts to combat the wildfires.

Powerful storm transformed 'relatively flat' New Mexico village into 'large lake,' forecasters say– Associated Press

A powerful storm battered a small New Mexico village for several hours Wednesday, causing severe flash flooding that trapped dozens of vehicles in rushing flood waters.

The storm unleashed a thick curtain of rain and lime-sized hail over the 200-person village of Willard outside of Albuquerque, as fire crews farther south in the mountain village of Ruidoso were still battling a pair of deadly wildfires.

Forecasters say the severe weather is emblematic of this time of year in New Mexico when the state's wildfire and monsoon seasons overlap.

"We went from catastrophic wildfires one day to catastrophic flooding the next," Brian Guyer, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Albuquerque, said.

Within minutes after commercial truck driver Mike Bischoff received an emergency alert that a storm was on the way, he was already stuck in it. The 54-year-old was driving his semi-truck on Highway 42 when the hail started to pour down and the flash floods surrounded him and the other drivers on the road.

Stuck in the storm, Bischoff said the hail poured down and a funnel cloud appeared in the sky.

"My semi weighs 80,000 pounds, and it was rocking," Bischoff said.

The storm draped itself over Willard for three straight hours, according to the National Weather Service, dropping between 6 and 8 inches of rain to transform "the relatively flat" village into what Guyer described as "a large lake." Some parts of New Mexico, Guyer said, don't see that much rainfall in an entire year.

About a three-hour drive south of Willard on Thursday, fire crews were bracing for flooding and lightning as they continued to battle the fires that have killed at least two people and have consumed more than 31 square miles.

Residents of Ruidoso had fled the larger of the two fires with little notice as it swept into neighborhoods on Tuesday.

Authorities say a badly burned 60-year-old man who died was found by the side of the road near the popular Swiss Chalet Inn in Ruidoso. On Wednesday, officers discovered the skeletal remains of an unidentified second person in the driver seat of a burned vehicle.

Much of the Southwest has been exceedingly dry and hot in recent months. Those conditions, along with strong wind, whipped flames out of control, rapidly advancing the South Fork Fire into Ruidoso. Evacuations extended to hundreds of homes, businesses, a regional hospital and the Ruidoso Downs horse track.

New Mexico wildfire claims second life, while rain offers hope of relief KUNM News /  Morgan Lee, Andrés Leighton, Associated Press

Heavy rain and hail fell Wednesday around an evacuated village in New Mexico threatened by wildfires that have killed at least two people and damaged more than 1,400 structures, offering the hope of some assistance for firefighters but adding the threat of high winds and flash floods.

Air tankers dropped water and red retardant earlier on the pair of fires growing in a mountainous part of the state where earlier in the week residents of the village of Ruidoso were forced to flee the larger of the two blazes with little notice.

The fires have burned more than 23,000 acres combined. In a news conference in Roswell last night, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said that almost 500 homes were among the buildings damaged or destroyed in the fires, prompting her to call the blaze “one of the most devastating fires in New Mexico history.”

She said another 200-300 firefighters are being dispatched to fight the blaze, which was still zero percent contained as of the last update.

She also said local leaders reached out to Washington yesterday afternoon, asking President Joe Biden to declare a national emergency, which he could sign as early as this morning.

New Mexico State Police spokesman Wilson Silver said Wednesday that officers discovered the skeletal remains of an unidentified second person in the driver seat of a burned vehicle. It's the second confirmed death in the blazes. The first fire victim was a badly burned 60-year-old man found by the side of the road near the popular Swiss Chalet Inn in Ruidoso.

Weather patterns were shifting Wednesday with moisture arriving from the Gulf of Mexico, said Bladen Breitreiter of the National Weather Service office in Albuquerque.

"It will be a challenging situation going into the late afternoon and evening," said Breitreiter, who has been an incident meteorologist at past wildfires. "The potential for scattered to isolated thunderstorms could help, but it depends on where they hit. If the rain misses the fires, downward winds could cause problems for firefighters on the ground."

He said rain could also lead to dangerous flash flooding in newly burned areas.

It wasn't immediately clear if the rain and hail that started around Ruidoso on Wednesday afternoon was falling on the fires themselves, or if it would slow their progress. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the area until later Wednesday evening.

The two fires remained at 0% containment Wednesday afternoon as crews used heavy equipment to build fire lines while water and retardant was dropped from the air, authorities said.

Officials said hundreds of firefighters were on the scene and watching to stop any spot fires that could flare up. More personnel from departments from around the region were continuing to arrive.

Ruidoso and much of the Southwest has been exceedingly dry and hot this spring. Those conditions, along with strong wind, whipped flames out of control Monday and Tuesday, rapidly advancing the South Fork Fire into the village. Along with homes and businesses, a regional medical center and the Ruidoso Downs horse track were evacuated.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's office confirmed one fatality as a result of the fire but said it had no further details.

About 1,400 structures have been destroyed or damaged, but it's unclear how many were homes. A flyover to provide more accurate mapping and a better assessment of damage is being organized, Lujan Grisham said.

Ardis Holder left Ruidoso with her two young daughters, her gas tank nearly on empty as she prayed that they'd get out safely. She was sure the house she rented in the village she grew up in is gone, based on the maps she'd seen.

"We were already seeing where all the fire hit, it's everywhere," she said late Tuesday from a shelter in nearby Roswell. "If there's something standing, that's awesome. But, if not, we were prepared for the worst."

Lujan Grisham on Wednesday requested a major disaster declaration from President Joe Biden's administration that would free up federal funding for immediate housing and other assistance for the people affected.

"New Mexico has faced disaster before, but the scale of this emergency requires immediate federal intervention," she said.

The day before, she declared a county-wide state of emergency that extended to the neighboring Mescalero Apache Reservation where both fires started and deployed National Guard troops. That declaration unlocks additional funding and resources to manage the crisis.

Nationwide, wildfires have scorched more than 3,280 square miles this year — a figure higher than the 10-year averages, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. About 20 wildfires currently burning are considered large and uncontained, including blazes in California and Washington state.

Lujan Grisham said the two southern New Mexico wildfires together have consumed more than 31 square miles (80 square kilometers). The exact causes of the blazes haven't been determined, but the Southwest Coordination Center listed them as human-caused.

Ruidoso and areas around Santa Fe and Española, New Mexico, have served as the backdrop this year for filming of a movie starring Matthew McConaughey and America Ferrera about the devastating 2018 wildfire in Paradise, California. That fire killed 85 people and nearly erased the community in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

While many older residents call Ruidoso home year-round, the population of around 7,000 people expands to about 25,000 during the warmer months, when people from hotter climates seek the cool of the leafy aspen trees, hiking trails and a chance to go fishing.

Nestled within the Lincoln National Forest, Ruidoso boasts nearby amenities including a casino, golf course and ski resort operated by the Mescalero Apache Tribe. Horse races at the Ruidoso Downs also draw crowds as home to one of the sport's richest quarter-horse competitions.


Lee reported from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield in Washington, D.C.; Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona; Anita Snow in Phoenix; Rio Yamat and Ken Ritter in Las Vegas; and Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.


AP Ruidoso wildfires page: https://apnews.com/hub/ruidoso

County manager selection process ratified after sharp words from split commission Rodd Cayton, City Desk ABQ

The process Bernalillo County commissioners used to figure out how to hire a new county manager has now been redone to please state investigators, but two commissioners are still questioning whether it was legal.

The ratification was necessary after the New Mexico Department of Justice sent a letter to the commission saying it had violated the state’s Open Meetings Act when it chose search committee members outside the view of the public.

Commissioners voted 3-2 on Tuesday to approve — once again — the process to replace outgoing County Manager Julie Morgas Baca, but not before members traded barbs and accusations. As part of the process, Chair Barbara Baca ran through a summary of how they had developed the search committee.


In recent months, discussions around the process for choosing the next county manager have devolved as commissioners verbally sparred and one walked out of a meeting, abandoning legislation he had proposed.

Tuesday night was no different, as Vice Chair Eric Olivas said Walt Benson and Steven Michael Quezada misunderstood the role of a commissioner in the process, and the pair in turn said he was insulting their intelligence.

Olivas also questioned their behavior during previous meetings.

“During this process, we have commissioners laughing and walking out of meetings,” he said. “That’s how seriously they take the leadership of Bernalillo County. It’s a joke to them.”

Benson blamed Olivas for the tone of dialogue at that and previous meetings.

“(Telling) people that they’re not as smart as he is because they don’t understand everything he does — that tends to offend people,” Benson said. “When Commissioner Quezada and I first called out what appeared to be illegal behavior from three members of this board, we were met with insults. Much like Commissioner Olivas just did. Commissioner Olivas actually compared our calling ‘foul’ to these actions … to the Trump protesters January 6, when they broke into the capital.”

Quezada and Benson said they in fact are taking the task seriously. Both have expressed opposition to the path taken by Baca, who, using the prerogative of her position, wanted to create an ad-hoc committee for the purpose of evaluating applicants.

For her part, Baca called on her colleagues to act with decorum and professionalism.


Benson and Quezada wanted to establish a search committee with members appointed by each commissioner. Quezada condemned the process of setting up the committee as “not inclusive and not transparent.”

Benson said he learned the committee had been formed via a call from someone who had accepted a position on it, and took issue with learning that way instead of having a say in choosing the members.

Baca took responsibility for the violation, saying it was a matter of hitting “reply all” in emails sent among commissioners regarding possible members of the search committee. She said the county now has a system in place to protect against a “reply all” response.

“I sent out an email to all of my colleagues on the commission and asked for input on two subjects,” she said. “First, what experiences, skills and abilities do we want in our next county manager? Second, what type of search process do we want to pursue in hiring our top administrator?”

She said she then spoke to each commissioner separately, and they responded by email, text and phone call about their desires or concerns on how the process should move forward.

“We have learned in these past few months that a ‘reply all’ on an email can be considered a rolling quorum,” Baca said.

Olivas said that an email from Benson to the rest of the board indicating his opposition to the resolution establishing the search committee and another from Quezada saying he would vote against the resolution also constitute violations of the act.

“So the two of them actually took votes by email, in my opinion,” he said. “There have been errors made across the board.”


Commissioners voted unanimously last week to select Cindy Chavez, Marcos Gonzales and Joseph Lessard as final candidates for the position. The three appeared at a public forum later in the day.

“Whether you support it or not, the process has worked,” Olivas said. “We have some excellent candidates and we have to move forward. This board has an obligation to move forward. We cannot continue to relitigate the past and wish that we had different members on this commission or a different turn of votes.”

Climate change made killer heat wave in Mexico, Southwest US even warmer and 35 times more likely Seth Borenstein, Associated Press Science Writer

Human-caused climate change dialed up the thermostat and turbocharged the odds of this month's killer heat that has been baking the Southwestern United States, Mexico and Central America, a new flash study found.

Sizzling daytime temperatures that triggered cases of heat stroke in parts of the United States were 35 times more likely and 2.5 degrees hotter (1.4 degrees Celsius) because of the warming from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, World Weather Attribution, a collection of scientists that run rapid and non-peer reviewed climate attribution studies, calculated Thursday.

"It's an oven here; you can't stay here," 82-year-old Magarita Salazar Pérez of Veracruz, Mexico, said in her home with no air conditioning. Last week, the Sonoran Desert hit 125 degrees (51.9 degrees Celsius), the hottest day in Mexican history, according to study co-author Shel Winkley, a meteorologist at Climate Central.

And it was even worse at night, which is what made this heat wave so deadly, said Imperial College of London climate scientist Friederike Otto, who coordinates the attribution study team. Climate change made nighttime temperatures 2.9 degrees (1.6 degrees Celsius) warmer and unusual evening heat 200 more times more likely, she said.

There's just been no cool air at night like people are used to, Salazar Pérez said. Doctors say cooler night temperatures are key to surviving a heat wave.

At least 125 people have died so far, according to the World Weather Attribution team.

"This is clearly related to climate change, the level of intensity that we are seeing, these risks," said study co-author Karina Izquierdo, a Mexico City-based urban advisor for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Climate Centre.

The alarming part about this heat wave, which technically is still cooking the North American continent, is that it's no longer that out of the ordinary anymore, Otto said. Past studies by the group have looked at heat so extreme that they found it impossible without climate change, but this heat wave not so much.

"From a sort of weather perspective in that sense it wasn't rare, but the impacts were actually really bad," Otto told The Associated Press in an interview.

"The changes we have seen in the last 20 years, which feels like just yesterday, are so strong," Otto said. Her study found that this heat wave is now four times more likely to happen now than it was in the year 2000 when it was nearly a degree (0.5 degrees Celsius) cooler than now. "It seems sort of far away and a different world."

While other groups of international scientists — and the global carbon emissions reduction target adopted by countries in the 2015 Paris climate agreement — refer to warming since pre-industrial time in mid 1800s, Otto said comparing what's happening now to the year 2000 is more striking.

"We're looking at a shifting baseline - what was once extreme but rare is becoming increasingly common," said University of Southern California Marine Studies Chair Carly Kenkel, who wasn't part of the attribution team's study. She said the analysis is "the logical conclusion based on the data."

The study looked at a large swath of the continent, including southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize and Honduras and the hottest five consecutive days and hottest five consecutive nights. For most of the area, those five days ran from June 3 to 7 and those five nights were June 5 to 9, but in a few places the peak heat started May 26, Otto said.

For example, San Angelo, Texas, hit a record 111 degrees (43.8 degrees Celsius) on June 4. Between June 2 and June 6 the night temperature never dipped below 80 degrees (26.7 degrees Celsius) at Corpus Christi airport, a record each night, with two days when the thermometer never dropped below 85 (29.4 degrees Celsius) according to the National Weather Service.

Between June 1 and June 15, more than 1,200 daytime high temperature records were tied or broken in the United States and nearly 1,800 nighttime high temperature records were reached, according to the National Center for Environmental Information.

The attribution team used both current and past temperature measurements, contrasting what is happening to what occurred in past heat waves. They then used the scientifically accepted technique of comparing simulations of a fictional world without human-caused climate change to current reality to come up with how much global warming factored into the 2024 heat wave.

The immediate meteorological cause was a high pressure system parked over central Mexico that blocked cooling storms and clouds, then it moved to the U.S. Southwest and is now bringing the heat to the U.S. East, Winkley said. Tropical Storm Alberto formed Wednesday and is heading to northern Mexico and southern Texas with some rains, which may cause flooding.

Mexico and other places have been dealing for months with drought, water shortages and brutal heat. Monkeys have been dropping from trees in Mexico from the warmth.

This heat wave "exacerbates existing inequalities" between rich and poor in the Americas, Izquierdo said, and Kenkel agreed. The night heat is where the inequalities really become apparent because the ability to cool down with central air conditioning depends on how financially comfortable they are, Kenkel said.

And that means during this heat wave Salazar Pérez has been quite uncomfortable.

The Associated Press' climate and environmental coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP's standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org.