Conservation groups launch legal challenge to fracking in the Chaco Canyon region

Lawsuit also says feds ignored climate impacts of new oil and gas development

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Cultural and historic resources in the Chaco Canyon region are at risk from fracking. Photo via NPS.

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Conservation and community groups say new oil and gas drilling in the San Juan Basin threatens cultural resources in the greater Chaco Canyon region. Photo courtesy WildEarth Guardians.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Community and environmental activists are waging an all-out battle to keep oil and gas drilling at bay in the Chaco Canyon region of northwestern New Mexico, an area with cultural and historic values of global importance, under UNESCO’s World Heritage designation.

Fracking rigs have crept to within 20 miles of the Chaco Culture National Historic Park, and some outlier sites are at risk, according to WildEarth Guardians. Just a couple of years ago, the Bureau of Land Management proposed leases within 2 miles of Chaco Canyon. Those proposed leases were deferred, but concerns remain that they could be offered again. Continue reading

Wildlife: Southwest wolf population tops 100 for first time in modern era

Conservation biologists focusing on genetic health of packs

A Mexican gray wolf in the wilds of the Blue Range wolf recovery area. Photo courtesy of the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team.

A Mexican gray wolf in the wilds of the Blue Range wolf recovery area. Photo courtesy of the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The future for wolves in the southwestern U.S. looks a little brighter this year, as the population grew by 31 percent to reach 109 wolves living in the wilds of New Mexico and Arizona.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it’s the fourth year in a row that the population has grown by at least 10 percent. The 2014 minimum population count includes 38 wild-born pups that survived through the end of the year. Continue reading

Is it time to end barbaric wildlife killing contests?

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Should coyoyes be targeted in wildlife killing contests?

Advocacy groups seek ban in New Mexico

Staff Report

FRISCO — Emboldened by California’s recent ban on wildlife killing contests, wildlife advocates say they want lawmakers to enact similar restrictions in New Mexico, which holds more such events than any other state.

A coalition of 10 groups is calling on the governor and state legislature to ban contests that target coyotes, bobcats, foxes, prairie dogs and other animals, calling them immoral and biologically unsound. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Feds say Rio Grande cutthroat trout doesn’t need Endangered Species Act protection

troutmapGlobal warming seen as big threat to native fish

Staff Report

FRISCO — Rio Grande cutthroat trout may be rare, but they’re not facing imminent extinction anymore, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said last week, asserting that collaborative conservation and restoration efforts in southern Colorado and New Mexico will help sustain populations of the dwindling fish into the foreseeable future.

But the agency’s conclusion contradicts some other studies showing that global warming is huge threat to the fish. Long-term climate models suggest that many smaller streams where cutthroats live could be too warm in just a few decades, according a U.S. Geological Survey study released last year. Most of the sampled streams with Rio Grande cutthroat trout have base flows of less than 1 cubic foot per second, making them vulnerable to drought.

Rio Grande cutthroat trout live in only about 12 percent of the species’ historical habitat. Non-native fish introductions, water diversions and other impacts have degraded the species’ habitat in the past few decades. Continue reading

USGS study links fracking wastewater injection with surge in Raton Basin earthquakes

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U.S. Geological Survey researchers have linked a surge in earthquakes in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico with injection of fracking wastewater.

Scientists say it’s almost certain that massive injections of waste water caused recent quakes in the Raton Basin, including a 5.3 tremor in 2011

Staff Report

FRISCO — A surge in earthquakes in southern Colorado and New Mexico has almost certainly been caused by the injection of fracking wastewater deep into the ground, U.S. Geological Survey scientists reported last week.

The study details several lines of evidence directly linking the injection wells to the seismicity. The timing and location of the quakes is clearly linked with the  the documented pattern of injected wastewater.

Detailed investigations of two seismic sequences (2001 and 2011) places them in proximity to high-volume, high-injection-rate wells, and both sequences occurred after a nearby increase in the rate of injection. A comparison between seismicity and wastewater injection in Colorado and New Mexico reveals similar patterns, suggesting seismicity is initiated shortly after an increase in injection rates.

For example, two injection wells near the epicenter of a 2011 5.3 earthquake had about 5 million cubic meters of wastewater injected just before the quake — more than seven times the amount injected at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal well that caused damaging earthquakes near Denver, Colorado, in the 1960s. The August 2011 M 5.3 event is the second-largest earthquake to date for which there is clear evidence that the earthquake sequence was induced by fluid injection.

Continue reading

Are New Mexico forests holding steady in the face of climate change, drought and wildfires?

New inventory assesses state’s woodland resources
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STAFF REPORT

FRISCO — Mortality is increasing and growth is slowing down in New Mexico’s forest lands, according to a new forest inventory released in late August. The only species showing overall growth are ponderosa and piñon pines, as well as junipers, as insects, wildfires drought and disease take an increasing toll on the state’s woodlands.

Forests grow on about 25 million acres in New Mexico, with 44 percent on private lands and 31 percent on national forest lands. About 40 percent (10.8 million acres) of the forests are piñon-juniper woodlands, by far the state’s most extensive forest type. Gambel oak is the most abundant tree species by number of trees, and ponderosa pine is the most abundant by volume or biomass. Overall, researchers estimate there are more than 6 billion live trees growing in the state.

The inventory documented the drought-induced piñon pine die-off in the early 2000s, estimating that about 8 percent the species died, but noted that the mortality rate has tapered off.New Mexico’s aspen forests, covering about 380,000 acres, held steady in the past decade. Continue reading

Climate: Greenhouse gas buildup ‘loads the dice’ for Southwest megadroughts

Odds of 30-year dry spells increase dramatically as global temps rise

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Green bars indicate wet periods, the larger the bar the more unusually wet. In a similar way, yellow indicates dry and droughty periods. The graph stretches from January 1895 on the left to last month on the right, showing how the cycle of droughts alternating with wet years has changed, with dry years becoming more prevalent.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Tree ring records clearly show that the southwestern U.S. experienced megadroughts long before the anthropogenic global warming era. One such decades-long dry spell may have been a factor in the collapse of the Anasazi civilization at Mesa Verde.

But the steady buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere is loading the dice in favor of another megadrought sooner, rather later, according to scientists with Cornell University, the University of Arizona and U.S. Geological Survey. The chances of a decade-long drought is now at least 50 percent, and there’s a 20 percent to 50 percent chance of a 30-year megadrought.

“For the southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real megadroughts,” said Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the paper. “As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for megadrought conditions.” Continue reading

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