New Push To Make White Sands A National Park, Drought and Heat Take Toll On Trees

Mar 26, 2019

Push Renewed To Elevate White Sands To National Park StatusAssociated Press

The push to elevate a vast expanse of shifting white sand dunes in New Mexico to national park status is being renewed.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and Rep. Xochitl Torres Small are reintroducing the legislation, saying turning White Sands National Monument into a national park could draw more visitors and infuse more money into the region's economy.

The legislation also comes as New Mexico formalizes its efforts to join other western states in tapping opportunities for more outdoor recreation.

White Sands was established as a monument in 1933 by President Herbert Hoover to preserve the dunes and additional features of scenic, scientific and educational interest.

Supporters say the monument contains a more diverse set of archaeological and scientific resources than were first known, including recently discovered Ice Age fossilized footprints and sloth tracks.

Albuquerque Police Releases Use-Of-Force ReportAssociated Press

A study shows fewer than 2 percent of all arrests made by Albuquerque police during a two-year period involved the use of force.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Tuesday that the police department has released its annual use-of-force report for 2016 and 2017.

The report shows Albuquerque officers were dispatched to about 450,000 calls for service in 2016 and 480,330 in 2017. Use-of-force cases represented fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of those calls.

The report is compiled by the police department's compliance bureau and the force division of internal affairs. It's mandatory under a 2014 settlement agreement signed by the Department of Justice and the city in the wake of an investigation that found Albuquerque police had a pattern of using excessive force.

Republican Mick Rich Weighs 2nd Senate Campaign Associated Press

Republican construction contractor Mick Rich says he is contemplating another run for U.S. Senate in 2020 after his defeat last year to Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich in a three-way race.

Potential candidates have begun jockeying for position Tuesday to succeed Sen. Tom Udall after he announced he will not seek a third term.

Rich asserted Tuesday in a statement that liberal politicians control the entire New Mexico delegation to Capitol Hill and that voters want a candidate who can unite Republicans, Libertarians and conservative Democrats.

Rich received 31 percent of the vote in last year's Senate race. Heinrich earned 54 percent. Former presidential candidate and Gov. Gary Johnson ran under the Libertarian banner and secured 15 percent of ballots.

Among Democrats, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan says he is consulting his family and supporters about the opportunity to run for Senate.

Defense Secretary OK's $1 Billion For Border Fencing HelpAssociated Press

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to begin planning and building 57 miles of 18-foot-high fencing in Yuma, Arizona, and El Paso, Texas, along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The Pentagon says it will divert up to $1 billion to support the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection. The funding would also go toward installing lighting and constructing roads in those areas.

Shanahan says the Corps' focus will be on blocking "drug-smuggling corridors."

The El Paso sector has suddenly become the second-busiest corridor for illegal border crossings after Texas' Rio Grande Valley, many of them asylum-seeking families from Central America. The Yuma sector has also witnessed a jump in illegal crossings, particularly Guatemalan families in remote areas.

Political Vacuum Opens With 2020 Exit Of Sen. Tom Udall - Associated Press

A rare open race for a U.S. Senate seat in New Mexico has been scheduled in 2020 with the announcement that Democrat Tom Udall won't seek re-election.

Udall's announcement Monday was timed to give the Democratic Party a few months of breathing room after sweeping fall election victories.

The open Senate race now is sure to touch off political jockeying, especially among ambitious Democratic politicians amid calls for more ethnically diverse representation.

The Senate opportunity arrives as the Republican Party struggles to find its footing in a state on the border with Mexico that President Donald Trump lost by 9 percentage points in 2016.

Answering to speculation, Democratic Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller says it's an honor to be considered for Senate and that he is committed to Albuquerque right now.

Departing Senator Warns Against Unauthorized War - Associated Press

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall says his last months in office will be devoted to preventing any U.S. wars that are not authorized by Congress.

Udall announced Monday that he would not seek a third Senate term in 2020 and says he wants to ensure that President Donald Trump cannot attack Iran or North Korea without a declaration of war by Congress.

New U.S. sanctions against Iran are aimed at blocking nuclear research and foreign influence. The U.S. is negotiating with North Korea over its weapons program while the two countries are still technically at war, with the 1950-53 Korean War ending in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

Udall's retirement at the end of next year puts a firmly Democratic Senate seat back in contention.

Report: Drought, Heat In New Mexico Wiped Out Acres Of Trees -  Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A new report says near-record heat and persistent drought in New Mexico wiped out more than 120,000 acres of ponderosa pine, spruce, piñon and other trees last year.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports an annual report on the health of the state's forests found that forest mortality increased nearly 50 percent across New Mexico in 2018.

State entomologist John Formby says the heat and drought weakened the ability of trees to fight off beetles and other pests.

Formby says the health of the state's forests should improve this year due to heavier winter snows and a wet start to spring.

Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have said it is highly likely New Mexico will lose the vast majority of its forests by 2050.

New Mexico Game Commissioners Asked To Resign - Associated Press

Members of a state panel that oversees wildlife management and sets hunting and fishing regulations across New Mexico have been asked to resign.

The game commission serves at the pleasure of the governor, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's office confirmed Monday the resignations of the sitting commissioners were requested last week. They have until Wednesday to respond.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, took office in January and has been working to install her own appointees on a number of boards and commissions. As for the wildlife board, several dozen candidates are being vetted.

A commission meeting scheduled for this week was postponed, prompting questions from sportsmen groups about the commission's future.

A measure that would have revamped the way the commission is appointed stalled during the recent legislative session.

Navajo Nation Searches For Funding To Replace Decrepit Jails - Farmington Daily Times, Associated Press

Navajo Nation officials are in search of funding to replace two, deteriorating tribal jails.

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan toured one in Shiprock last week that has asbestos, lead and mold.

The Farmington Daily Times reports Lujan saw cracks in walls, plumbing issues and cramped spaces in what he said was an "eye-opening experience."

The Indian Health Service has issued multiple closure notices, with the most recent calling for the building to shut down April 30.

Tribal officials say they've secured land for a new judicial and public safety complex. But, they don't have the $77 million needed for construction.

About $3.5 million is included in a capital outlay bill that awaits Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's review.

The tribe also wants to replace a public safety complex in Window Rock, Arizona.

New Mexico Cannabis Board To Consider Opioid Addiction - Associated Press

It will be up to New Mexico's Medical Cannabis Board whether to recommend adding opioid addiction to the list of qualifying conditions for the state's medical marijuana program.

The board is scheduled to meet March 29 in Santa Fe.

Made up of certified professionals, the board reviews petitions seeking to expand the list of debilitating conditions that qualify for the program. The state health secretary then makes a final determination.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is among those who support adding opioid addiction to the list.

Patients currently must meet at least one of 21 conditions to qualify for a medical marijuana card.

Of the nearly 70,000 enrolled patients in New Mexico, slightly more than half list post-traumatic stress disorder as a condition. Other conditions include severe chronic pain and cancer.

Kirtland Airmen Involved In Fatal Street Racing Crash - KOAT-TV, Associated Press

Kirtland Air Force Base says airmen were involved in a possible street-racing crash in Albuquerque that left a pedestrian dead.

KOAT-TV reported Monday that base officials confirmed that four airmen were inside a vehicle involved in the collision that fatally injured a woman.

Messages left with the base were not immediately returned.

Police say the vehicle hit 39-year-old Angelica Baca as she was crossing the street Saturday night before crashing into an apartment building.

Authorities say three of the four men in