Endangered Mexican Gray Wolves

This Jan. 30, 2020, file photo, shows members of the Mexican gray wolf recovery team preparing to load a wolf into a helicopter in Reserve, N.M., so it can be released after being processed during an annual survey. 

NEW MEXICO

Plan could increase gray wolves in N.M.

Federal wildlife officials are proposing to change the way Mexican gray wolves are managed in the American Southwest, saying removing population limits and setting goals for genetic diversity will help the endangered species recover.

The proposal also would allow more wolves to be released into the wild in New Mexico and Arizona, and place restrictions on permits issued to ranchers or state wildlife agencies that allow the killing of wolves if they prey on livestock, elk or deer.

Management of the predators has spurred numerous legal challenges over the decades by both ranchers and environmentalists. The latest proposal follows one of those court fights. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the proposed changes would better align with revisions made to the species' recovery plan.

The population of Mexican gray wolf, the rarest subspecies of the gray wolf in North America,  nearly double over the last five years. A survey done earlier this year showed at least 186 Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona. Ranchers and rural residents have argued that's an undercount and a more accurate number is needed.

Environmental groups consider the proposed changes a step in the right direction but say more needs to be done to ensure a viable population of Mexican wolves.

Environmentalists also have called for reforms aimed at limiting conflicts with livestock and releasing more captive packs into the wild.

State energizes transmission line

It's been years in the making, and now officials say the first leg of a major renewable energy transmission line in New Mexico has been energized.

The New Mexico Renewable Energy Transmission Authority made the announcement on Oct. 26, saying the Western Spirit project is expected to be in operation by the end of the year.

The transmission line will carry wind-generated power to the grid in New Mexico and other western markets.

The project involved a novel public-private partnership between the transmission authority and Pattern Energy, which is developing a collection of wind farms in the state. New Mexico's largest electric utility, Public Service Co. of New Mexico, will acquire and operate the transmission line when it's complete.

RETA Board Chairman Robert Busch said in a statement that the successful development of the transmission line and the state's energy policies are spurring interest from renewable energy and transmission developers. He added that the line enables new investment of over $1.5 billion in renewable generation and transmission in the state.

Despite New Mexico's potential for developing more wind and solar resources, a study commissioned by RETA last year identified a need for grid modernization and construction of 900 to 1,300 miles of new high voltage transmission lines.

OKLAHOMA

Doctors question sedative in execution

While medical experts say it's unclear why an Oklahoma inmate began convulsing and vomiting after the first of three drugs used to execute him was administered, all agree the dosage was massive compared with what's standard in surgeries — with one doctor calling it "insane."

The state's prisons agency is now likely to face new litigation, which may focus on the state's description of the execution of John Marion Grant for the 1998 slaying of a prison cafeteria worker as "in accordance with" protocols.

Grant, 60, convulsed and vomited after the sedative midazolam was administered. That drug was followed by two more: vecuronium bromide, a paralytic, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

The Oct. 28 lethal injection ended a six-year moratorium on executions in Oklahoma that was brought on by concerns over its execution methods, including prior use of midazolam.

Jonathan Groner, an Ohio State University medical school surgery professor and lethal injection expert, said there’s a reason the drugs are administered by anesthesiologists and not prison guards.

In a statement released immediately after the execution, state prisons spokesman Justin Wolf said it "was carried out in accordance with Oklahoma Department of Corrections' protocols and without complication."

Grant was the first person in Oklahoma to be executed since a series of flawed lethal injections in 2014 and 2015. He was serving a 130-year prison sentence for several armed robberies when witnesses say he dragged prison cafeteria worker Gay Carter into a mop closet and stabbed her 16 times with a homemade shank.

Oklahoma has six more executions scheduled to take place through March, and prison officials say they have confirmed a source to supply all the drugs needed.

WYOMING

No charges over sex ed, LGBTQ books

A prosecutor won't charge library employees for making sex education and LGBTQ-themed books available to young people in a deeply conservative city in Wyoming coal-mining country, saying he wouldn't have a case.

The three books in the teenager section and one in the children's section are among dozens contested at the library in Gillette in recent weeks. Library officials have been reviewing the complaints.

One couple went further, bringing five books to the attention of the Campbell County Sheriff's Office in September. Sheriff's officials referred the matter to county prosecutors, who asked a prosecutor in a neighboring county to handle the matter to avoid a potential conflict of interest with fellow county officials at the library.

The books are "This Book is Gay" by Juno Dawson, "How Do You Make a Baby" by Anna Fiske, "Doing It" by Hannah Witton, "Sex is a Funny Word" by Cory Silverberg, and "Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy" by Andrew P. Smiler.

Four of the books aren't obscene and having them in the library youth sections isn't engaging in "sexual intrusion" under Wyoming laws that conceivably could apply, Weston County Attorney Michael Stulken wrote on Oct. 27 to Campbell County Sheriff Scott Matheny.

Stulken didn't review "This Book is Gay" because he didn't get a copy, he wrote.

Hugh Bennett, who along with his wife, Susan, filed the complaint with the sheriff's office, called the decision not to file charges disappointing.

The book objections follow protests and threats last summer over a transgender magician planning to perform at the library, causing the magician to cancel.

MONTANA

Court: Mining permit ignored pollution law

Montana environmental regulators ignored the law when they permitted an expansion of a massive strip mine that is the sole source of coal for a large power plant despite concerns over water pollution, a state judge ruled.

State District Judge Katherine Bidegaray ordered the Department of Environmental Quality to revisit its 2015 permit to expand the 25,752-acre Rosebud Mine, owned by Colorado-based Westmoreland mining.

The judge's Oct. 28 order came after environmental groups sued over damage to a nearby creek from wastewater that flows out of the mine.

Rosebud is in the Powder River Basin along the Montana-Wyoming border. It fuels the Colstrip Power Plant that burns about 8 million tons of coal annually.

For years, nearby East Fork Armells Creek has received salty water from the mine and contaminants from coal ash ponds at the power plant, The Billings Gazette reported.

The Montana Strip and Underground Mine Reclamation Act forbids the state from issuing mine permits unless it can be proven there won't be damage to the balance of water outside the permit area.

But Bidegaray said the state was doing the opposite — allowing harmful salt levels in Armells to increase.

It remains unclear what the ruling means for mining operations, said Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson Moira Davin.

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