County blasts feds over historic prescribed fire
ALBUQUERQUE — Commissioners in a northern New Mexico county urged U.S. forest managers on July 12 to do a more comprehensive environmental review of plans to restore large swaths of forest that border the capital city, passing a resolution fueled by frustrations that have been mounting in the wake of a devastating wildfire sparked by the government’s planned burns.
The Santa Fe County Commission unanimously approved the resolution, but not before some of the elected officials and members of the public blasted the U.S. Forest Service for not taking into consideration the exceptionally dry conditions that have plagued many parts of the West for the last two decades.
Numerous missteps by the agency resulted in prescribed fires erupting this spring into the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history. The blaze has yet to be fully contained after more than three months, and firefighters most recently have been focused on reseeding some of the blackened areas and trying to mitigate post-fire flooding.
U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore in a statement released along with the report acknowledged the heartbreak among New Mexico families and communities. Several hundred homes were burned, thousands of people were forced to evacuate and farmers, ranchers and municipal officials are worried about the environmental and social consequences that will be felt over the coming decades.
The resolution calls for forest officials to respond to “a full and fair discussion” of significant environmental impacts, examine alternatives that include preserving forests in their natural condition and document unavoidable adverse effects prior to starting any project aimed at clearing out overgrown and dead vegetation.
State asks to toss case against transgender sports ban
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has asked a state court to throw out a lawsuit challenging its ban on transgender kids who want to compete in youth sports, as the culture war flashpoint moves from statehouses to courtrooms throughout the country.
In the Utah case, three transgender girls and their parents claim the outright ban passed by the Republican-majority Legislature this year wrongly keeps their children from participating in the sports. Their attorneys argue it violates provisions of the state constitution that prohibit discrimination and guarantee equal rights and due process.
Utah’s attorneys in a July 13 motion argued two of the girls lack standing to challenge the ban because it hasn’t harmed them and because their lawyers moved to exclude their mental health records from the case.
It’s moot for one who wants to play volleyball because her grades make her academically ineligible, they say, and won’t affect another because she won’t be old enough to try out for her high school swim team until the 2023-2024 school year. Utah does not reference the third girl, who was added to the case in an amended complaint.
Utah, which hired former state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Lee to help defend the ban earlier this month, also argues the state constitution has never been interpreted to ensure transgender student-athletes can participate in leagues that correlate with their gender and says the ban “reinforces a longstanding standard” governing participation in sports — biological sex.
National Center for Lesbian Rights attorney Shannon Minter, who is representing the three girls and their families, rejected the state’s arguments and said the Utah Constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, including based on if a person is transgender.
As of March, the Utah High School Activities Association knew of only one transgender girl playing in K-12 sports who would be affected by the ban. The association, which organizes leagues for 85,000 students, has said there have been no publicly made allegations of any of the state’s four transgender youth athletes enjoying competitive advantages.
US solicits help to define old growth and mature forests
BILLINGS — U.S. officials on July 14 solicited outside help as they craft definitions of old growth and mature forests under an executive order from President Joe Biden.
The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management issued a notice seeking public input for a “universal definition framework” to identify older forests needing protection.
Biden in April directed his administration to devise ways to preserve older forests as part of the government’s efforts to combat climate change. Older trees release large volumes of global warming carbon when they burn.
Biden’s order called for the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management over the next year to define and inventory all mature and old growth forests on federal land. After that, the agencies must identify the biggest threats those forests face and come up with ways to save them.
There’s disagreement over which trees to count. Environmentalists have said millions of acres of public lands should qualify. The timber industry and its allies have cautioned against a broad definition over concerns that could put new areas off limits to logging.
The Forest Service manages 209,000 square miles of forested land, including about 87,500 square miles where trees are older than 100 years.
The Bureau of Land Management oversees about 90,600 square miles of forests.
Tribal president signs pandemic aid priorities, $1B spend
CROWNPOINT, N.M. — Navajo Nation leaders have finalized an agreement on spending priorities for more than $1 billion in federal pandemic relief to improve water, sanitation, housing and communications infrastructure.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez on July 15 signed an agreement from the Navajo Nation Council to deliver funding to improve infrastructure for water, electricity, high-speed internet, housing, COVID-19 mitigation and specialized hardship assistance to projects and residents across the reservation spanning portions of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
The coronavirus pandemic disproportionately hit Indian Country, underscored stark disparities in access to running water, sewage systems and internet communications amid interruptions in classroom teaching.
The spending at the Navajo Nation is linked to the American Rescue Plan Act, signed by President Joe Biden in early 2021. Additional aid is expected under a massive infrastructure bill, approved in November 2021, that set aside $20 billion for Indian Country.
“More water, electricity, broadband, housing, and hardship assistance will be provided to elders, youth, veterans, students, families, and others,” Nez said in a statement.
Under the signed resolution, the Navajo Nation will devote $215 million to water and waste-water projects, $97 million to extend electricity to homes, and $250 million on internet and housing projects. Another $210 million is set aside for local priorities determined by Navajo chapterhouse government units.
Stop yelling at tourists, say police in tiny mining town
JEROME — Police in an old Arizona mining town that gets 1 million tourists annually are warning residents to stop yelling at visitors or they could face harassment charges.
Jerome, population about 450, was once home to one of Arizona’s largest copper mines and is now an hub for artists. Tourists take in its scenic views and visit stores and bars along the winding mountain road that passes through it.
But Jerome police recently said on Facebook that it “has come to our attention that some people visiting our town on short visits and using lawful short term parking passes are being yelled at or having notes left on their cars by local residents.”
It warned: “Yelling at, or leaving notes could, in some cases, constitute harassment under Arizona Revised Statutes.”
Jerome is about 110 miles north of Phoenix and was designated a National Historic District in 1967.
Residents who think people may have violated parking regulations were asked to contact police.