(Continued from News and Events)
Kenny Salazar is President of the NMACD. He, like most of the attenders, is a volunteer. “We’re here for a cause,” he said later. He urged the delegations from the different regions to “go with one voice” to the Roundhouse. That way the legislators will actually pay attention to us, he said.
Current supporters of the NMACD in the legislature are Senator Carlos Cisneros and Senator Carroll Leavell. The appropriations they sponsor are in House Bill 2 and are reoccurring, and provide all 47 districts with some needed funds. The funds have decreased over the years, for example the Technical Services Programs (TSP) appropriation was originally $500,000 but is now only $200,000.
Soil and water conservation districts worked to improve the habitat for the sagebrush dune lizard so that they wouldn’t have to list this species. This idea, of pre-emptive improvements, was well received in Washington. If this is not done, it becomes a much more difficult and lengthy process to get a species de-listed.
Next was Xavier Montoya, State Conservationist. He is with the federal program Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which is part of the USDA (There were a LOT of acronyms being used by the speakers!). He feels the NMACD, representing the private lands conservation volunteers, needs to do a better job of “tooting our own horn…. [You] are important, and conservation is important.”
President Kenny Salazar then introduced Lawrence Rael, new State Director of the Farm Services Agency (also part of the USDA). Rael grew up on a farm. He feels that all government service agencies are facing real challenges, at all levels of government.
FSA is a very important part of the economy of this state. In FY11, FSA delivered $106 million of federal funds to NM, to various farming and ranching support programs, the majority to rural counties in NM. In the 150 years since President Abraham Lincoln signed the Declaration that established US Department of Agriculture, the amount of farmland in the US has actually increased. “We farm more land, we feed more people today than we ever have in the history of USDA,” he said. He then talked about how important the state legislature is. “These are the people that will help support your efforts at the local level.” That will then in turn help folks like Montoya and Rael access more Federal funds to augment that work.
Next was Jeff Witte, Secretary of the NM Department of Agriculture. He wants to hear personally from NMACD members to help his department make sure the programs are getting delivered where they need to get delivered. NMACD is part of emergency support function (ESF) #11, and the NMDA is in charge of maintaining it. He asked for help in creating plans for watershed restoration after fires, the long-term recovery.
Brent Van Dyke of the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) asked for support from the NMACD, only half of the districts paid national dues last year. They are operating with a skeleton staff in a tiny office in Washington, DC.
I left to attend another meeting and came back in when Mark Truax of the NACD was giving a Western Issues update.
He was saying, “the [wild] animals don’t care that they are moving from public land to private land, from BLM land to Forest Service land,” and that each piece of land is governed by different priorities. He is ‘working with Congress on your behalf’ seeking common ground. There are organizations out there that do not want multiple use management, he said, and that’s where we need your help. He said that 62,000 acres burned outside Colorado Springs and the fire was only 5% contained [at that time]. He drove into Colorado along Hwy 70 (Vail Pass) about June 6 and saw that almost every tree on the top of that pass is standing dead tree timber due to bark beetle kill that can’t be harvested because of current policy. It is just waiting for a lightning strike to start another fire. He is working on addressing these issues.
He then answered questions for about ten minutes.
Debbie Hughes then introduced Karen Budd-Falon. She again discussed those opportunistic little Leopard frogs as she had at the Wool Growers meeting on Monday June 25.
After lunch we heard from State Engineer Scott Verhines. His staff have been monitoring precipitation around the state. In the aftermath of the wildfires, such at the Whitewater-Baldy (Gila) wildfire, even a half-inch of rain could cause a very serious flood. He looked at Bonita reservoir on Monday the 25th, also obtained some aerial photographs that Homeland Security had generated out of a Blackhawk helicopter on June 21. The Bonita watershed area had about ¼ inch of rain on Friday the 22nd, and there was a very heavy ash and debris-laden flow that was deposited at the upper end of the Bonita reservoir that is very hard, like pottery. A big part of the watershed of Bonita Creek was completely denuded.
They went downstream of the reservoir dam and scooped up a sample of the water, it was very cloudy, and did NOT settle out in 24 hours, like “normal” sediment. This is going to be very difficult for the water treatment plant to remove for a long time to come, he said. He showed a lot of photos.
They have a major chipping/shredding operation going on along Bonita Creek, trying to clear out all that debris so that it won’t be picked up and thrown downstream and cause more damage when they get a rain. This happened in the Ruidoso floods of 2008, which took out 10 bridges. The debris from the first bridge flowed down the river and helped destroy the second bridge, and so on.
He then summarized the major water problems around the states, including a lot of litigation. One of his goals is to try to solve as many of these problems technically as we can and stay out of the courts.
The State Water Plan is currently being updated, and he hopes to release it, a section at a time, for public feed back. The first section is due for release next month.
He then took questions and comments for about ten minutes.
And this concluded a very informative day!