MON: New Mexico Wilderness Area Grows With Large Donation, + More

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New Mexico Wilderness Area Grows With Large Donation - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited her home state Saturday to celebrate what marks the largest wilderness land donation in the agency's history and another addition to the nation's landholdings as the Biden administration aims to conserve nearly one-third of America's lands and waters by 2030.

The 15-square-mile donation from the Trust for Public Land increases the size of the Sabinoso Wilderness Area in northeastern New Mexico by nearly 50%. The property includes rugged canyons, mesas covered by pinon and juniper woodlands, pockets of ponderosa pine trees and savannah-like grasslands.

Haaland, who joined other officials at a remote site in San Miguel County, acknowledged that the area makes up part of the ancestral homelands of the Jicarilla Apache and northern pueblos of New Mexico. She said that, for generations, families have relied on the land for sustenance and that it means a lot to many people who visit the area in search of peace and quiet.

"We're here today because we recognize the importance of preserving this special place," she said in prepared remarks, adding: "We know that nature is essential to the health, well-being and prosperity of every family and every community."

The Biden administration issued a report earlier this year titled "America the Beautiful." It called for a decadelong commitment on projects nationwide to make the conservation and restoration of lands and waters an urgent priority. The lofty plan aims to purify drinking water, increase green space, improve access to recreation, restore fisheries, reduce wildfire risks and recognize the contributions of farmers, ranchers, rural communities, Indigenous tribes and others.

Haaland said areas like Sabinoso Wilderness are an important piece of the puzzle as the administration looks to meet its goal. 

"This kind of collaboration that you see today is how we will reach that target over the next decade," she said.

The Sabinoso gained federal wilderness protection in 2009, but was inaccessible for visitors since the federal parcel was landlocked by private holdings.

Through the work of conservation groups and members of New Mexico's congressional delegation, the Bureau of Land Management accepted a donation in 2017 of nearly 6 square miles from The Wilderness Land Trust. That provided public access for the first time.

Now, the donation from the Trust for Public Land provides a second access point as well as permanent protections for a tributary that feeds into the existing wilderness.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, first visited the Sabinoso Wilderness Area about 15 years ago and has been working ever since to get it opened up to the public. He has described it as "one of New Mexico's most spectacular landscapes."

The area supports an array of wildlife, from elk and deer to mountain lions, turkey and bears.

Agency: State To Take Over Operations Of 2 Private Prisons - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

New Mexico plans to convert two privately run state prisons in rural areas into facilities operated by the Department of Corrections, the agency says.

The department said Friday that it will take over operations of the Northwest New Mexico Correctional Center in Grants and the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa by November, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

The facility in Grants is operated by CoreCivic, which is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, while the facility in Santa Rosa is operated by Geo Group, which is based in Boca Raton, Florida.

Just under half of the prison beds in New Mexico were in privately operated facilities when Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's administration began in 2019, the department said in a news release. "After these transitions are completed, the administration will have reduced that rate by more than half, to 24.5%."

Grants is 68 miles west of Albuquerque. Santa Rose is 112 miles east of Albuquerque. 

Man In Hospital Gown Found Dead Inside New Mexico Police Car - KOB-TV, Associated Press

Police in Albuquerque are investigating the death of a man seen dressed in a hospital gown whose body was later found in a campus police car.

Albuquerque TV station KOB reports that surveillance video Saturday showed the man wandering over to the University of New Mexico campus before getting into the back of the patrol car.

Authorities said the man was found dead about 10 hours later in the vehicle that was parked outside UNM police headquarters.

The UNM Hospital is affiliated with the university and is located just north of the school's main campus.

The name of the dead man hasn't been released yet.

The Office of Medical Investigator said the death wasn't suspicious and the man likely died from dehydration, heat, and/or lack of oxygen.

UNM police didn't immediately disclose whether the cruiser was unlocked or if the man broke into the vehicle.

Navajo Nation Reports 30 New COVID-19 Cases, 2 More Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation has reported 30 new COVID-19 cases and two more deaths.

Navajo Department of Health officials said 17 of the cases were from Saturday with the other 13 reported Sunday.

They say the two deaths were reported Saturday.

The latest numbers brought the total number of coronavirus-related deaths of the vast reservation to 1,366 since the pandemic began more than a year ago.

Health officials said the total number of cases would be announced Monday. It stood at 31,160 cases as of Friday.

The Navajo Nation recently relaxed restrictions to allow visitors to travel on the reservation and visit popular attractions like Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley. 

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

While cases are down, Navajo leaders are urging residents to continue wearing masks and get vaccinated.

Stretch Of I-10 Dedicated As Memorial For Slain Officer - Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

A stretch of Interstate 10 in Luna County in southwestern New Mexico is now a memorial corridor honoring a New Mexico State Officer gunned down by a drug trafficking suspect on Feb. 4.

The State Transportation Commission voted unanimously Thursday to approve the 18-mile memorial for Officer Darian Jarrott, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

"That strip on I-10 will always have significance and a special meaning," state Lt. Gov. Howie Morales told the commission.

Jarrott was killed near Deming while conducting a traffic stop of a pickup driven by Omar Felix Cueva, a drug trafficking suspect under investigation by federal Homeland Security Investigations.

Cueva opened fire and killed Jarrott, a 28-year-old Lordsburg resident.

Cueva then drove eastward on I-10 and was killed in a gunfight with law enforcement officers near Las Cruces.

Members of Jarrott's family attended Thursday's meeting, during which commissioners paid tribute to law enforcement officers, citing Jarrott's death as an example of daily risks borne by officers and how quickly a violent encounter may unfold. 

'The Bachelorette' Offers New Mexico Resort A Lifeline - By Adrian Gomez Albuquerque Journal

After being closed by the raging pandemic for months, the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa was brought back to life by the filming of the current season of "The Bachelorette."

"(Having the production at the resort) helped me bring back 80% of the staff," said Claudia Wattenberg, the resort's general manager told the Albuquerque Journal. "They allowed me to bring back my team and I wanted them to be here. We were closed in January and February and we wouldn't have opened with the lack of demand. We were relying on the out-of-state driving market and it wasn't happening. It was very restrictive until July 1."

The current season – the reality series' 17th – premiered in June on ABC. This season follows "bachelorette" Katie Thurston on her quest for love.

Since its premiere, the series has hovered at just under 4 million viewers and easily is at the top of the advertiser coveted 18-49 demographic each week.

According to Variety, in 2018 it cost $153,096 for a 30-second ad on "The Bachelorette."

Wattenberg said the national exposure has been a blessing for the property, which is located on Santa Ana Pueblo. Production took place for two months earlier this year.

"For nine weeks, our property will be seen by millions," she said. "We couldn't pay for this type of exposure."

The direct effect is the Tamaya is booked weekends through August and there is a significant increase in people looking at it for wedding and engagement parties.

"This is huge for Hyatt," Wattenberg said. "We're one of the leading brands and to have one of our resorts, it's been fantastic to showcase not only the resort but New Mexico and most importantly, Santa Ana Pueblo."

According to the New Mexico Tourism Department, film tourism is listed as a "special interest" activity for an estimated 10% of New Mexico visitors in 2019.

"This doesn't mean that a film location was the reason someone made a trip to New Mexico, but it does indicate that while on their trip, 10% of visitors reported that they found an opportunity to engage in some sort of 'film tourism' activity," said Cody Johnson, New Mexico Tourism Department spokesman.

Wattenberg said interest in the resort began to pick up when the location was leaked via Twitter in February.

Amber Dodson, New Mexico Film Office director, said having the production film in New Mexico has a positive impact in the state.

"Viewers from around the globe are tuning in each week and seeing the incredibly beautiful scenery at the Tamaya Resort on the Santa Ana Pueblo," Dodson said. "The production shot during the pandemic maintaining a COVID-safe bubble. This in turn generated revenue for Native-owned businesses and the Tamaya, that was otherwise experiencing unprecedented financial hardships."