Judge Amends Tree-Cutting Ban In Owl Fight, State Issues Final Ruling Against Youth Migrant Shelter

Oct 23, 2019

Judge Eases Christmas Tree-Cutting Ban In Fight Over OwlAssociated Press

The cutting of Christmas trees across several national forests in the Southwest will be allowed under an order issued by a U.S. district judge in the fight over a threatened owl.

That includes a tree from the Carson National Forest that will be felled and displayed outside the U.S. Capitol.

The tree-cutting along with prescribed burns and other projects were put on hold following an earlier ruling in a case that alleged the U.S. Forest Service failed to consider the effects of thinning and logging on the Mexican spotted owl.

Forest officials said the initial ruling essentially prevented all timber management activities on five forests in New Mexico and one in Arizona. Environmentalists argued that interpretation was overly broad.

The sides agreed to changes and the judge signed off Tuesday.

Official Says Solving Wild Horse Problem Will Take $5B, 15 YearsAssociated Press

The acting head of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management says it will take $5 billion and 15 years to get an overpopulation of wild horses under control.

William Perry Pendley told reporters Wednesday several developments have made him more optimistic about his agency's ability to eventually shrink the size of the herds from 88,000 to the 27,000 he says the range can sustain ecologically.

Pendley says the agency adopted out more than 7,000 mustangs and burros captured last year — the most in 15 years. He says that helps clear space in government holding pens so they can accelerate roundups while scientists develop new fertility-control drugs.

He says a new coalition of animal welfare advocates and ranchers is helping promote new solutions and Congress appears willing to help.

New Mexico Sen. Martinez Seeking Jury Trial In DWI CaseAssociated Press

A defense attorney for a New Mexico state senator has asked for a jury trial in a drunken driving case that could potentially postpone the trial date.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Tuesday that Democratic Sen. Richard Martinez was charged with aggravated DWI and reckless driving, both of which carry maximum 90-day penalties.

Prosecutors say criminal defendants in New Mexico can only seek jury trials if they face a potential sentence of more than six months in prison.

Martinez pleaded not guilty to aggravated drunken driving and reckless driving charges after video shows he responded to officers with slurred speech following a car crash.

Authorities say he refused a breath test to determine his blood-alcohol level.

Martinez says he does not plan to resign from the Legislature, even if he's convicted.

New Mexico Issues Final Ruling Against Youth Migrant Shelter - Associated Press

New Mexico officials have issued their final decision to deny an out-of-state company's request for a migrant children's shelter in Albuquerque.

Charlie Moore-Pabst, a spokesperson for the Children, Youth and Families Department, said Tuesday that VisionQuest had given the agency notice that it does not plan to further appeal the decision.

VisionQuest's application was initially denied in August. That led the Arizona-based company to initiate steps for an appeal.

New Mexico officials say they made their decision based on the finding that the company had failed to accurately describe why Pennsylvania temporarily revoked a license for a facility near Gettysburg in 2015.

VisionQuest's license had sought to open a shelter for up to 60 boys as young as 11 and who entered the country without a legal guardian.

Republicans Want State Budget Surplus Returned To Taxpayers - Associated Press

State lawmakers in the Republican minority are crafting a proposal that would return some of the state's budget surplus to taxpayers rather than spend it on government programs and services.

Republican House Whip Rod Montoya of Farmington says his caucus is drafting a pay-back proposal as well as a bill to lower New Mexico's gross receipts tax rates on sales and business transactions. The Legislature reconvenes in January 2020.

The gross receipts tax provides for roughly half of annual state government general fund spending. Its critics say exemptions and loopholes have led to unnecessarily high rates for most residents.

Rates vary by location from just over 5% to nearly 9%.

Lawmakers plan to meet Wednesday with taxation officials to discuss New Mexico's use of tax breaks in rebates.

New Mexico State Workers Settle In Union Dues CaseSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

The state of New Mexico has agreed to pay about $16,000 to dozens of nonunion state employees as the result of a settlement over union dues.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Monday that New Mexico Department of Information Technology employee David McCutcheon filed the lawsuit in December objecting to having union dues automatically deducted from his pay.

Authorities say the high court previously ruled that it's a First Amendment violation to force public sector workers to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

The Communications Workers of America and the state Personnel Office agreed to refund $15,000 taken from 67 state employees and an additional $1,000 for McCutcheon taken prior to the 2018 high court case.

Local Union President Donald Alire couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

Congresswoman Haaland Keeping Strong Money Edge - Associated Press

Democratic U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland is maintaining a strong money advantage over her Democratic and Republican opponents.

Federal election records show the Albuquerque Democrat saw $220,491 in net contributions from July to October. Her campaign reported having $201,489 cash on hand.

Cameron Alton Chick, her only primary foe, has not filed a financial campaign report. He recently switched from running in the crowded U.S. House race in northern New Mexico to challenging Haaland for her central New Mexico seat.

Republican Brett Kokinadis reported raising $2,264 from July to October and having $1,601 cash on hand.

Haaland is seeking a second term for a U.S. House seat that represents Albuquerque. She became one of the first Native American women elected to Congress in 2018.

New Tech Tools Helping New Mexico Count Secretive Cougars - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

New Mexico wildlife officials say new technology is allowing the state to estimate its cougar population more accurately.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the state's Department of Game and Fish is using long-lasting motion-capture wildlife cameras, mathematical models and GPS collaring devices to count its elusive cougars.

The big cat is secretive, has a broad range of movement, and often doesn't live close to its kind.

The state believes the most abundant population lives in a 6,000 square-mile stretch that extends from Albuquerque to the east of Santa Fe and north of Abiquiú.

Officials say having an accurate count informs the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish's quota on hunting and trapping of cougars. The department's quota is 17% of the population.

University Of New Mexico Dean Proposes Free Medical School – Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A University of New Mexico dean has announced plans to ask the state to fund full-ride scholarships to medical students who commit to practicing within the state.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Monday that medical school dean Paul Roth has plans to ask the state for $6 million in additional scholarships to create the program.

State officials have estimated an additional $907 million would be available in the coming budget because of an increase in oil production in the southeast.

Roth says he announced the suggestion to address a shortage of doctors in the state.

The dean says the state would pay for upfront cost of medical school with the expectation that after their residency, the doctor would return to New Mexico and practice for a period or would be subjected to a penalty.

Arts Upstart Meow Wolf Delivers Jobs After Public Investment – Associated Press

Arts adventure and entertainment company Meow Wolf says it has surpassed hiring goals outlined in a $1.1 million economic development grant from New Mexico and the city of Santa Fe.

Meow Wolf co-founder and board member Vince Kadlubek said Monday the addition of 290 employees since 2018 puts the company ahead of employment requirements under the 2017 grant award for building renovations.

The New Mexico Economic Development Department that monitors the agreement could not immediately verify the employment numbers.

Kadlubek is stepping down as the company's CEO amid plans for an aggressive business expansion into Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.

Visitors have flocked to Meow Wolf's kaleidoscopic walk- and crawl-through exhibit space in Santa Fe since it opened in a converted bowling alley in early 2016.