New effort aims to protect watersheds

PUBLISHED: Sunday, January 4, 2015 at 12:02 am

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

lauraWatching the towering plume of smoke as New Mexico’s Las Conchas Fire tore through an acre a second on a dry summer afternoon in 2011, Laura McCarthy knew immediately that things had changed.

But it was not until nearly two months later, when ash-clogged water in the Rio Grande downstream of the burn zone forced Albuquerque to shut down its Rio Grande water supply intakes, that she realized how much.

The Nature Conservancy’s Laura McCarthy is developing a partnership between government and the private sector in an experiment intended to expand the scale of forest restoration work in New Mexico. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

For two decades, first as a federal employee and then working for the Nature Conservancy, an environmental group, McCarthy had worked steadily to scale up efforts to restore the West’s forests, thick and unhealthy after a century of ill-advised management policies.

Nearly a century of fighting fires allowed fuel to grow in a way that has had the opposite of its intended effect – the risks from fires now, when they do happen, is far greater than if we had just let them burn.

“We’ve got forests that are overgrown and fire prone,” McCarthy said in a recent interview. “We have fire behavior that’s changing, driven by high temperatures and winds, and there are downstream effects when it rains on a severely burned area.”

The Las Conchas Fire’s unprecedented behavior as it burned through the Jemez Mountains west of Santa Fe convinced her in a flash that all those previous efforts to get ahead of the fire danger had been too little, too slow.
The 2011 Las Conchas blaze caused extensive damage and its effects are still being felt today. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

“We needed to invent a new way to go about it,” she said.

What McCarthy did next sets her effort apart. Eschewing the traditional politics of forest problems – pointing a finger of blame at state or federal agencies for not doing enough, or pushing for the establishment of yet another government effort – McCarthy began patiently building an entirely new institution to tackle the problem.

The resulting nonprofit partnership among the business sector, water agencies and government forest managers is working to build new ways to collaborate in forest restoration on a far larger scale than ever before attempted.

As much as it is an effort to fix the forests – and save millions of dollars by preventing destructive fires – it also is an experiment in a new approach to solving large problems when current government institutions are ill-suited to the task.

“She clearly is coming from the point of view that it’s a shared responsibility,” said Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins, a supporter of the effort.

The program, under the umbrella of the newly formed Rio Grande Water Fund, already has raised $700,000 from a variety of sources and is angling for much more.

For starters, the group is targeting two areas its members view as critical for the state – the headwaters that supply Albuquerque’s San Juan-Chama project water and the growing communities of the Albuquerque metro area’s East Mountains, one of the highest risk areas in New Mexico’s so-called “wildland-urban interface.”


DOI grant to support pellet feasibility study in New Mexico

By Katie Fletcher | October 22, 2014

Thirteen tribal and mineral development projects in New Mexico, one of which is the investigation into the possibility of a wood pellet plant, were awarded more than $2.8 million in grants by the Department of Interior’s Energy and Mineral Development Program in the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development. Each year the DEMD offers tribes an opportunity to participate in the grant program, which helps meet the requirements set forth by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

The annual program is designed to financially assist tribes and Indian allottees in evaluating their energy and mineral resource potential beneath their lands, said Nedra Darling, spokeswoman for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. “DEMD’s assistance to tribes and allottees in evaluating and developing their energy and mineral resource potential starts at a project’s conception, continues on to assessment of the resource, and culminates in negotiating agreements that lead to development and production.”

These awards were distributed amongst eight tribes after proposals underwent a competitive review system. Ranking criteria includes: resource potential, marketability of the resource, economic benefits produced by the project, applicant’s willingness to develop and commit to the project, as well as the likelihood that the project will be completed, budget completeness and cost reasonability, and appropriateness of the technical proposal and statement of work.

The Pueblo of Acoma, Pueblo of Cochiti, Pueblo of Nambe, Pueblo of Jemez, Pueblo of San Felipe, Pueblo of Zuni, Jicarilla Apache Nation and Navajo Nation will receive individual grants ranging from $40,000 to $1 million. “These grants will go a long way towards supporting tribes in New Mexico as they maximize the use of their natural resources and spur economic development in Native American communities,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.

One of the projects awarded grant money hopes to evaluate the use of woodland resources with a study to determine if a tribal wood pellet business will lower the cost of wood pellets for tribal members, as well as support sustainable forest management practices. The Pueblo of Zuni received $80,000 to conduct a feasibility study for the establishment of a wood pellet plant on the reservation. Even though tribal members rely on wood for heating during the winter, the current harvesting practices on the reservation are creating resource management problems, so finding another way to manage the material is needed. According to Darling, the Pueblo of Zuni will establish their own plans of investigation, as well as set their own timelines and deadlines for the study.

A wide variety of projects will receive the grant money. Some other projects joining the pellet plant evaluation include a sand and gravel exploration study, a feasibility study for hydroelectric power and the manufacture of adobe bricks. “The smart development of tribal energy and mineral resources benefits Indian Country, New Mexico, and the nation,” Udall said

For a full list of the projects, please click here.

NM Water Plan Meeting, November 13th

Thursday, November 13th between 10 and noon at the Hernandez Community Center.

For more information contact Rosemary Romero at 505.982.9805 or


Regional Water Planning Stakeholders – Call for Participation and Local Input


The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) has begun the process of working with the 16 New Mexico water planning regions to update their Regional Water Plans for incorporation into a State Water Plan update over a two-year planning period.  The first year will focus on updates of the technical data and reactivation and formation of the regional steering committees.  The second year will focus on completion of the updates by the regions to identify the programs, policies, and projects that will best serve the region’s needs. The water plans accepted by the ISC will be used as a foundation to begin the updates, to build on the previous work completed by the regions rather than “starting over.”  In addition to the regional water plans’ value as an expression of a region’s vision for addressing water issues, the updated regional water plans will be used to outline regional priorities for Water Trust Board and other funding  applications. See link for the Water Trust Board’s funding and application criteria.


Rio Arriba Community Environmental Organizer Job Description

Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund (CVNMEF) believes that protecting our environment begins with the people of New Mexico. We do this by engaging the people of New Mexico in our long-standing shared values of protecting our air, land, water and the health of our communities. We do this by mobilizing people to advocate on policy, enhancing the voting process, encouraging people to vote, cultivating conservation leaders and amplifying the voices of those most affected.

Job Description:

CVNMEF is seeking to hire an organizer to elevate environmental issues in Rio Arriba County and engage environmental activists.  A candidate for the organizer position will have campaign, field and organizational skills, as well as a passion for protecting New Mexico’s environment.


  • Work with CVNMEF to develop and implement a campaign plan that will include community presentations, tabling, petitioning, canvassing (as needed), earned media, social media, phone calls, letter-writing and volunteer trainings.
  • Follow up with community members who have taken action to engage them further.
  • Recruit and train volunteers.
  • Conduct phone banks.
  • Plan volunteer and activist events.

Required Qualifications:

  • Ability to easily relate to people from a variety of backgrounds.
  • Enthusiasm for environmental activism.
  • Innovative, creative and strategic experience around volunteer engagement.
  • Ability to prioritize and effectively manage multiple tasks in a fast-paced work environment.
  • Strong written and oral communication skills.
  • Passion for organizing and working as part of a team to mobilize people.
  • Bilingual skills highly desired.
  • Experience with the Voter Activation Network (VAN) highly desired.

This is a part-time hourly temporary position in Rio Arriba County, reporting to the Program Director.  This position is a 4 month part-time contract position (with opportunity for renewal).

To apply: please send your resume and cover letter to No calls please. Position will remain open until filled.

Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund is an equal opportunity employer

Lesli Allison Receives Petchesky Conservation Award

On October 4, 2014, Lesli Allison received the 2014 NM Land Conservancy Jane Wing Petchesky Conservation Award. Lesli is Executive Director of the Western Landowner’s Alliance (WLA) and a founding member of the Chama Peak Land Alliance (CPLA) and is a rising star in the Western conservation movement. At WLA, Lesli represents landowners and managers from Sonora, Mexico to Alberta, Canada throughout the Intermountain West who have banded together in dedication to sustain working landscapes, connect landscapes, protect native species and assure the land is whole, healthy, productive, and maintains a place for families to prosper. Congratulations Lesli!

NM Forms Statewide Wood Energy Enterprise Team!

This summer, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the award of more than $2.5 million in grants to develop wood energy teams in 11 states and an additional $1.25 million for nine wood energy projects. New Mexico was one of the states chosen to receive an award to develop a Statewide Wood Energy Enterprise Team (SWEET). For more information on the USDA award, click here.

The SWEET’s goal is to support the development of geographic clusters of wood energy projects by connecting woody biomass feedstock supplies to wood biomass energy producers through the development of feedstock plans, biomass business plans, preliminary design and/or engineering assessments, market research for wood energy and innovated uses of wood to energy.

The SWEET just posted a Request for Proposal (RFP) to develop wood energy projects in the state. For a copy of the RFP, click here.

Rio Arriba County to Host Comp Plan Meetings

Rio Arriba County has added a 7th meeting in Tierra Amarilla to give everyone some time to put this meeting on their calendars. Additional information can be found here.

Please consider attending the meeting as the comprehensive plan is the major guiding document for the county and your input is crucial to the process!

And, as many of you might recall, the Chama Peak Land Alliance (CPLA) hosted a series of community mapping values meetings that help to quantify the values in our community. These values should be at the heart of the comp plan, as stated in the goal below.
For a copy of the CPLA report, click here:

The goal of the county planning process: A Comprehensive Plan is a structured document that identifies and establishes what residents, property owners, business owners, and other stakeholders would like to see in the future of the County. The plan establishes a structural framework through the community’s values, goals and objectives, by defining the direction in which the Board of County Commissioners should steer the County. 

Workforce Committee Forms

Our first committee is forming to explore ways to  encourage access to a strong workforce in our community that will support efforts necessary for forest health treatments, stewardship activities, and high level expertise such as wastewater operators. Join us on Thursday, May 8th at 8:30 am at the NM State Forestry Office south of Chama for this dialogue. Our focus will be to explore the feasibility of developing a youth conservation corps program in the area. Please let us know if you will attend so we can prepare the space. If you would like to sign up for the committee, click here.

LANL Provides Support to Forestry Services of Chama

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is providing $20,000 of support to the Chama Peak Land Alliance’s efforts to get wood utilization efforts underway in the Chama area. The NM Small Business Assistance Program has contracted with Forestry Services of Chama, the forester for many of the Alliance landowners, to utilize Greg Wagner’s time and expertise. Greg is a Research Technologist from LANL who is helping with three tasks:

1) Vet biomass technology claims and screen viable technologies for use of small diameter wood within a 50 mile radius of Chama, NM.

2) Develop a feedstock profile in the lab of wood types available within a 50-mile radius of Chama, NM.

3) Research value added products that could be produced using wood types available within a 50 mile radius of Chama, NM, e.g. nutraceuticals.

For Greg’s biography, see below.

Greg Wagner, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL)

For the past 15 years Greg has been employed as a Research Technologist II at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in Los Alamos, NM. Some of Greg’s recent efforts include being P.I. on projects optimizing parameters effecting the production of astaxanthin by H. pluvialis in large scale batch culture and the feasibility of growing algae for lipid based biofuel production in industrially produced water. He was technical lead on project investigating the mechanism of P. chrysosporium ligninase production on the accessibility of woody cellulose to industrial cellulases. Greg studied the effects of ionic liquids on the cell wall structure of poplar wood for biomass pretreatment prior to cellulose treatment. He acted as laboratory lead on Molecular Forensics of Nuclear Materials effort as well as similar sensitive DHS funded efforts. He studies the effects of aging on LANL synthesized uranium oxides. Greg also supports efforts examining the morphological and chemical characteristics of post-detonation debris of a sensitive nature from conventional explosives for forensic value.