Friday, August 10, 2018

Aldo Leopold Cabin Rental Stalled by Zinke Administration

A  U.S. Forest Service proposal to allow public rental of the historic Aldo Leopold cabin in Tres Piedras has stalled due to political gridlock at the U.S. Department of Interior.

“What a shame, it’s a great attraction that could really help bring more visitors to northern New Mexico,” says Deb Graves, owner of the Chile Line Depot restaurant off U.S. 285 in rural Tres Piedras.

The cabin was built by Leopold, a founding father of the nation’s wilderness conservation movement, when he was the forest service’s district ranger back in 1911.

The forest service first announced the proposal in September 2016 noting that it wanted to offer the public a unique recreational experience while also providing funds for maintenance of the historic building. Money earned from cabin and other rental properties stays within the district where it is raised and is a valuable tool in helping the cash strapped forest service pay for maintenance and other costs. 

Forest service cabin rentals are popular and plentiful in Colorado and other states but New Mexico doesn’t have any available.

The Leopold cabin features 4 furnished bedrooms and can accommodate up to 11 guests. It has a fully equipped kitchen and dining room, a library and fireplace and would rent for $175 a night. The cabin’s wide, covered front porch offers sweeping views of the surrounding countryside and is perfect for whiling away an afternoon.  Outdoor recreational opportunities abound within nearby forest and wilderness areas including the Rio Grande gorge.   

The proposal hit a snag due to the forest service’s need to have it vetted and approved by the public before it can be implemented, says Amy Simms, a public service staff officer with the Carson National Forest in Taos.

The forest service needs to use an existing U.S. Interior Department Bureau of Land Management Resource Advisory Committee to vet such a proposal in New Mexico.

The committees are comprised of members of the public that represent various industries, recreation and government. Members apply for appointment by the Secretary of the Interior and routinely meet to provide public input on federal agency operations.

But Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke soon after his appointment by President Donald Trump suspended use of the RAC committees, then reinstated some but failed to appoint members to others.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of the Interior.
The Farmington District Office committee which heard from U.S. Forest Service staff about the Leopold House rental proposal during a recent meeting in Taos is one of those RAC committees operating without a full roster. It can’t conduct any official business such as approving the forest service proposal due to its lack of a quorum.

“I’ve got the feeling they’re just going to let them die on the vine,” says committee member Mick O’Neil, a retired New Mexico State University agronomy professor and one time Peace Corps volunteer who served in Africa. “It seems this administration just doesn’t like public input.”

The interior department isn’t saying if or when those who’ve applied to fill the vacancies will be appointed, O’Neill said.

The department’s press office declined to answer several inquiries seeking an explanation of what was going on.

Meanwhile the Leopold house often stands empty despite the forest service’s best effort to put it to better use.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Share With Wildlife program relies on public support.

New Mexico’s wild critters and natural environment benefit greatly from those who give generously to the state’s Share with Wildlife Program.

“We’re very thankful to the public for their generous support of the program,” says Ginny Seamster, Share with Wildlife program manager for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. “Without them it wouldn’t exist.”

The public contributed over $90,000 to the program last year through tax refund contributions, specialty license plate purchases and donations to the department.

Donations qualify the department to receive matching funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which brought in another $82,000 last year.

The program funded a total of $165,000 worth of projects this year including much needed financial support for wildlife rehabilitation centers, including the non-profit New Mexico Wildlife Center in EspaƱola, where sick and injured animals receive veterinary care, treatment and rehabilitation before being released back into the wild.

The program also funds research, including a study of the success of the North American river otter reintroduction effort that was conducted 2008-2010, and evaluation of the current size and health of the river otter population in New Mexico.

Another 2018 project involves assessing the reproductive success and survival rates of a turtle species currently under review for potential listing as a threatened or endangered species. Also funded this year is a project to study habitat associations and distribution of a species of chipmunk found only in mountain ranges in southeastern New Mexico.

Another research project involves the study of white-nose syndrome, a devastating fungal disease wiping out many bat colonies in the eastern United States.

The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome has been detected in Texas and this project will help determine whether the fungus is now present in some of the most heavily visited caves and mines in New Mexico that also are roost and or hibernation sites for bats. This is an important precursor to being able to take more proactive steps to protect our state’s bat populations from white-nose syndrome, Seamster says.

“People who contribute to the Share with Wildlife program make all these wildlife projects possible,” she says.

Biologists from other agencies and organizations volunteer to review and select applications for each years’ projects and all donations to the program are earmarked for projects, not administrative costs, she says.

To see a complete list of funded projects, updates and program highlights please visit the department’s website at 

The program received the majority of its donations last year from its share from the sales of popular wildlife license plates by the state Motor Vehicle Division. The license plates feature either a graceful Gambel’s quail, an impressive buck mule deer or a colorful Rio Grande cutthroat trout. The plates can be ordered by mail or purchased directly at an MVD office.

The Share with Wildlife program was started in1981 to help those wildlife species that do not receive funding from any other source.

In the past decade more than $1.5 million has gone to research, habitat enhancement, education and rehabilitation projects that benefit nongame species in need of conservation.

To contribute to this important program please visit the department website at for more information or contact Seamster at (505) 476-8111 or

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Spring caddis hatch on the Rio Grande should be good for fishing in 2018

This year’s caddis hatch on the upper Rio Grande should be great for fishing if the warm days and low water flows continue.

“It’s looking good,” says Nick Streit of the Taos Fly shop.

Low snowpack levels in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado means less high and muddy runoff in the big river.

And that makes for good fishing especially during the annual caddis hatch when millions of the bugs emerge from the water to mate along the river.

Streit expects the hatch could start as early as the first of April and suggests anglers be ready to go fishing when the time is right.

Anglers should call or monitor their favorite fly shop’s fishing report to keep abreast of the latest news about the hatch.

Once the hatch begins anglers are urged to fish it early on or when it’s waning and move further upstream as it commences.

The key is to avoid fishing it during its height because there are so many bugs on the water that an angler’s fly may be end up being ignored.

Late afternoons are the best time to fish on the Rio Grande and a combination elk hair dry fly with an caddis emerger pattern suspended below it is a good set up to use. Skating and twitching the dry fly across the surface is a good method for attracting strikes from fish.

For more information about fishing the Rio Grande check out the article “Lure of the Gorge” at

The big river’s best fishing can be had between the county line takeout off N.M. 68 above Embudo up through Pilar and above and below the John Dunn Bridge at Arroyo Hondo.

Ivan Valdez of the Reel Life Fly Shop in Santa Fe says anglers also can float the river to get to at even more fish in hard to reach areas of the river.

Reservations are being accepted at both the Reel Life and Taos Fly Shop for professionally guided, overnight trips on the river during the hatch.

Caddis occupies almost every healthy river or stream in the West and is a primary food source for trout and other fish.

A fishable caddis hatch on the Rio Grande provides anglers with a great opportunity to catch fish from what is widely regarded as a typically stingy river.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Spring best bet for good fishing in drought plagued 2018

Anglers planning on doing some fishing this season may want to get it done sooner rather than later while most of the state’s reservoirs are still full.

“Our lakes are in the best shape they’ve been in years,” says Eric Frey, sport fish program manager for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF). “People should get out there and enjoy the fishing while they can.”

The state’s reservoirs stand at just over 70 percent of average storage which is about a 10-percent increase over last year, according to the latest Basin Outlook Report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NCRS) in Albuquerque.

But with the farm irrigation season commencing and continued municipal use much of the state’s reservoir storage is expected to be depleted over the spring and summer with little or no replenishment anticipated from snowpack runoff.

The NCRS monitors and reports on the state’s snowpack, precipitation and reservoir water storage data. The latest report can be downloaded from the service’s website at

According to the latest report the state’s overall snowpack levels have reached or are approaching historical lows and drought continues to expand across the state and into southwestern Colorado.

With above average temperatures and high winds expected to quickly dry out what little snowpack exists, spring runoff is probably going to be well below average statewide, says Chris Romero of the NCRS.

“Then we’ll be waiting on the monsoons to hopefully save us again,” he says.

In the meantime excellent fishing conditions at many of the state’s popular east side reservoirs such as Conchas, Sumner and Santa Rosa and Ute lakes will provide anglers with plenty of opportunities to catch bass, walleye and other warmwater species this spring, Frey says.

A long running drought that caused the walleye population at Santa Rosa to crash several years ago has since rebounded due to the lake refilling and the department’s restocking efforts, Frey says.

“I fished four or five times out there this time last year and it was amazingly good,” Frey says.

Frey’s tips and tricks to fishing for warmwater species can be found in a past issue of the department’s “New Mexico Wildlife” magazine that can be viewed online at

Stream and river anglers also can expect to enjoy good fishing conditions for trout this spring with little or no runoff to impede the action, Frey says.  The Rio Grande is expected to produce a fishable caddis hatch for the first time in years and some fishing guides are already booking trips in anticipation.

Anglers are reminded to obtain a new fishing license before venturing out to their favorite fishing hole. Licenses are good for one year between April 1 and March 31. Anglers can purchase a new license this season beginning March 22. Licenses can be obtained online on the department’s website,, over the telephone with the department’s information center at (888) 248-6866 or through a vendor. The department’s information center will be open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 31, to sell licenses and answer questions.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

N. M. Volunteers for the Outdoors conducts annual training & recruitment drive

The New Mexico Volunteers for the Outdoors (NMVFO) will conduct its annual trail maintenance and construction workshop in March and encourages the public to attend.

“The workshop is a great introduction to trail work,” says Ed DiBello, chairperson for the non-profit organization.

NMVFO volunteers perform trail maintenance and construction projects on public lands all around the state and enjoy camping out and socializing too.

“For New Mexicans and those new to New Mexico, it’s a great way to become familiar with the landscape and also to meet some great people,” DiBello says.

Training includes a classroom presentation from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday, March 15 at REI, 1550 Mercantile NE, Albuquerque. Hands-on training follows from 8 a.m. till around mid-afternoon, Saturday, March 17 in Albuquerque’s Sandia Foothills Open Space.

Last year 141 NMVFO volunteers including 80 first-timers participated in 19 projects on local, state and federal public lands providing 2,249 hours of labor at a savings of $44,463 to public agencies.

NMVFO projects improve the safety and use of public lands for all users through construction of new trails, maintenance of old ones, sign installation and other work.

Volunteers have planted native trees at the Valle de Oro and Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuges and removed of old fences and other debris at the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

“NMVFO works all over the state,” says DiBello.  “This year, we have projects ranging from Sugarite State Park in the north to Trout Creek down south in the Gila.”

Volunteers will hear from veteran NMVFO project leaders during the classroom training about the negative impacts from hikers taking shortcuts across trail switchbacks and the positive effects from using designated trails. Participants also will watch U.S. Forest Service instructional videos about trail construction and maintenance. Instructors will answer questions and go over this year’s list of NMVFO projects around the state.

Participants can put their newfound skills to work the following weekend rerouting an existing trail within the Sandia Foothills Open Space. Volunteers are scheduled to meet at 8:00 the Embudo Park trailhead on the eastern end of Menaul Blvd. Coffee, juice, fruit and snacks will be available on a first come, first served basis.

NMVFO trail workers and Albuquerque Open Space employees will oversee the new volunteers during the event. Participants should dress for outdoor work and wear sturdy boots and work gloves, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts and bring additional suitable clothing, snacks, water and personal items that may be needed.

The training is free. Participants also can join the organization for a nominal fee and participate in more projects.

NMVFO was started in 1982 and according to its mission statement is dedicated to improving outdoor recreational facilities in New Mexico and is an all-volunteer, action oriented, non-political, non-profit organization that promotes public involvement and education of the public in the maintenance, improvement and the upkeep of New Mexico's public lands for recreational use.

For more information visit NMVFO’s website at

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Outdoor recreation industry worried about lack of snow this winter

Sangre de Cristo mountains above Pojoaque.
Northern New Mexico’s outdoor recreation industry is bracing for a dismal year due to a record-breaking lack of snowpack this winter.

“This is scary,” says Ivan Valdez of The Reel Life fly shop in Santa Fe. “The health of our lakes, rivers, wildlife, the tourism economy, they all depend on that runoff.”

Snowpack in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado is at record low amounts and not expected to improve any time soon, says Chris Romero, snow survey hydrological technician with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Albuquerque.

“The long range forecast is we’re looking at above normal temperatures and below average precipitation,” Romero says. “We’d need twice as much snow as we normally receive to make up for what we haven’t gotten so far.”

Romero’s January statewide report shows snowpack at just 4 percent of median compared with 98 percent at the same time last year. Statewide precipitation stood at just 12 percent of average so far this winter and a little over 20 percent for the year. Springtime runoff forecasts are expected to be way down if not non-existent in some places, Romero says.

“If we don’t get some relief this could go into the record books as one of the worst winters ever,” Romero says.

Last weekend’s snowstorm was welcome but did little to alleviate the situation, he noted.

River rafting guides have ridden out droughts like this before and are prepared for low water conditions, says Steve Miller of New Wave Rafting in Embudo and president of the New Mexico River Outfitters Association.

“You can run the racecourse at any level and still have plenty of fun,” he says.

River rafting companies have adapted over the years to repeated drought related low water conditions by offering funyak rentals and guided float and fishing trips on the lower river.

The industry saw a banner year of hair-raising and lucrative runs through the Rio Grande’s Taos Box last year due to great high water conditions.

Rafters on the Rio Grande Racecourse section.
But this year could be another story this year as the ski industry has already learned.

“We’re open but considering the lack of snow and limited terrain, business is a little slow,” says Candy DeJoia at Ski Santa Fe.

The ski area averages 225 inches of snow a year but has only seen 24 inches so far this season, she said.

So instead the resort has been busy making man-made snow to apply to their most popular trails, she said.

Those who venture up the mountain will find discounted prices, great weather and plenty of room to ski, she says.

Other ski areas around the state are suffering the same fate with overall business down by about 30-percent this year, says George Brooks, executive director of Ski New Mexico, an industry association.

Brooks stressed that most resorts have good snowmaking capabilities and applying snow to their most heavily used runs to keep customers happy.

“We’ve still got a couple months of winter left and are hoping for snow,” he says.

The bleak snowpack outlook has state and federal forest officials worried about an early and heightened fire season.

Forest fire in the Sangre de Cristo mountains above Pojoaque. 
The U.S. Forest Service has suspended some planned  prescribed burns due to dry conditions and is monitoring the situation closely, says Bruce Hill Jr., public information officer for the Santa Fe National Forest.

“If the dry conditions persist there’s always the possibility of forest closures,” he acknowledged. “But it’s still a little too early to tell and we’re hoping we’ll get some help from Mother Nature.”

State forestry officials are urging the public to be prepared in case of wildfires.

“Create a defensible space around your home and property, prepare a “go bag” in case of evacuation with essentials like medications, important documents, family photos, personal computer information on hard drives and disks, and chargers for cell phones, basically have a plan just in case disaster strikes,” says Donald Griego, state forester for the New Mexico State Forestry Division. “The more prepared you are for wildfire, the safer you and your family will be.”

Detailed fire safety and evacuation plans can be found on the division’s website while up-to-date fire related news and information can be found at

In the meantime anglers and outdoor enthusiasts can take some solace in knowing that the state’s lake and reservoirs are at about 70 percent of average capacity, according to the state basin report which can be found at

Many of those lakes and reservoirs are within state parks.

“We have 34 state parks that provide wonderful outdoor experiences statewide,” says Christy Tafoya, director of the state parks division. 
“We encourage visitors to enjoy parks year-round, as we have camping, fishing, boating and hiking activities, as well as fun and engaging educational programs.”

Abiquiu Lake 
Romero says that much of the stored water in the state’s lakes and reservoirs is slated for use by farmers and municipalities.

“It’ll be released at some point and won’t be replaced by snowpack runoff so even that situation doesn’t look good in the long run,” he says.

And once again New Mexicans may have to ride out a drought hoping and praying for the monsoon season to bring some relief.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Enchanted Forest cross-country skiing and snowshoe area closed due to lack of snow

The Enchanted Forest cross-country ski and snowshoe area in northern New Mexico remains closed due to a lack of snow and the operator is seeking financial donations to help stay afloat until next year.

“This is unprecedented, there’s just no snow and we weren’t prepared for this,” says Ellen Miller-Goins of Red River, owner of the outdoor resort.

The 600-acre cross country ski and snowshoeing area is in the Carson National Forest near Bobcat Pass between Red River and Eagle Nest.

Snow pack across New Mexico and southern Colorado is way down this year due to drought this fall and early winter.

While many ski areas can make snow to stay open for business, Miller-Goins can’t and remains closed.

To offset the loss of business income and help cover expenses Miller-Goins is appealing to the public for help.

Those interested in donating can go online to her fundraising campaign page on Indiegogo’s website at

The campaign has raised almost $8,000 from more than 80 people so far while the goal is to reach $27,500.

Country music star, Michael Martin Murphy, who spends many of his summers in Red River helped out with a benefit concert last weekend at the Motherlode Saloon that raised almost $10,000.

“We had a good turnout and great time,” Miller-Goins. “It was very intimate and wonderful concert.” 

Miller-Goins says if enough snows falls in the coming months she may be able to open but she isn’t counting on that happening.

Kerry Jones, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, in Albuquerque says the outlook for snow in the coming months is well below average.

“I don’t think anyone had any idea it was going to be this brutal,” Jones says of the lack of statewide precipitation this fall and early winter. “This time last year they had four to five feet of snow at Bobcat Pass, there’s isn’t really anything on the ground up there right now.” The agency regularly measures snowpack at a site near Bobcat Pass.

The area’s so dry that Colfax County Fire Marshal Larry Osborn has just imposed a fire ban in some areas of the county.
The Enchanted Forest cross country ski area was created by Miller-Goins’ parents in the mid-1980s and she has been running it since 2010.

When there’s snow on the ground the recreation area features many miles of groomed trails, equipment rentals, lessons and heated yurts where cross-country skiers and snowshoers can spend nights in the backcountry.

“I love this place and other people do too,” says Miller-Goins. “And New Mexico needs places like this for our tourism economy to thrive so I hope people can help out.”

Miller-Goins also operates the Sangre de Cristo Chronicle, an online newspaper at www.sangrechronicle.comthat covers the Angel Fire, Eagle Nest, Red River, Cimarron and Taos area.

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