Governor joins US conservation challenge
ALBUQUERQUE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order Aug. 25 making New Mexico the latest Western state to join an ambitious effort to conserve nearly one-third of America's lands and waters by 2030.
The Biden administration detailed its plans in May for achieving the goal, saying conservation and restoration of lands and waters was an urgent priority. Democratic officials and environmentalists see the effort as a tool to increase green space, protect drinking water sources and reduce wildfire risks.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, said she wants to "bring people together" in New Mexico for the initiative that she hopes will make a difference for decades to come.
About 12% of the nation's lands and one-quarter of its waters are currently protected, according to research by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. Wilderness areas, game refuges, agricultural lands, ranches and other sites with conservation easements are among the protected parcels.
In New Mexico, members of Lujan Grisham's executive cabinet have been charged with finding ways to leverage state and federal funding and existing programs to help with the effort.
They must also consider the importance of working lands, such as farms and ranches, as well as tribal sovereignty.
A handful of rural New Mexico counties have passed resolutions in recent months opposing the effort.
Elected leaders in those communities have voiced concerns that designating more wilderness areas and imposing more restrictions would compromise the livelihoods of residents and businesses dependent on the landscape.
State close to rationing hospital care amid pandemic
ALBUQUERQUE — Top health officials warned on Aug. 25 that New Mexico was nearly to the point of rationing health care as COVID-19 infections continue to climb.
State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said during a briefing that the state was tracking along with its worst-case projections when it comes to spread of the virus and resulting hospitalizations. He pointed to an increase of more than 20% in pandemic patients needing care in just the past day, saying there's a waiting list of about 50 patients who need intensive care.
It was December 2020 when New Mexico was last at the brink of having to ration care. Unlike many other states, New Mexico was able to weather that crisis by having a cooperative system in place among hospitals throughout the state that allowed them to transfer as needed to ensure there were no gaps in care.
Officials with some of the state's largest hospitals said during a recent briefing that while they are all still working together, many beds already were filled by patients needing care for reasons other than COVID-19 because they had put off treatment because of the pandemic.
Scrase said the biggest constraint right now is the shortage of nurses and other health care workers.
State officials estimated that New Mexico would have to increase the percentage of vaccinated adults by about 18% to avert the coming hospital crisis. So far, about two-thirds of New Mexicans over the age of 18 are fully vaccinated, marking one of the higher rates in the country.
Officials said during the briefing that unvaccinated people make up the majority of cases and hospitalizations since February. However, they also acknowledged that data collected over the last four weeks shows the number of infections among those who are fully vaccinated is increasing.
County judge: Get vaccinated, reduce your court fine
A Natrona County judge is offering a unique form of community service to help people pay off court fines — getting a COVID-19 vaccination.
Circuit Court Judge Steven Brown began offering the deal earlier this summer, after seeing vaccination rates stagnate. He started asking people making traffic or circuit court appearances if they were vaccinated, and got a lot of nos.
"It's just another form of community service," Brown said Thursday. "You can go down and clean dog poop at the shelter or something, but in the big picture we need to get COVID under control."
Brown said the reductions usually knock around $100 or $200 off what a person owes the court in exchange for proof of full vaccination, to anyone willing to take the deal.
Not everyone does take it, Brown said, and he makes it clear he isn't requiring anyone to get vaccinated. But if they turn it down, they're still on the hook for the full fine amount.
Brown said Wyoming's low vaccination rate, which at roughly 38% puts the state way behind the level needed to reach herd immunity, is concerning. But in such a small state, the judge said, just one or two more people getting inoculated against the coronavirus can make a difference.
Roaming Mexican gray wolf captured, relocated
PHOENIX — An endangered Mexican gray wolf that was roaming near Flagstaff has been captured and relocated to an area near the Arizona-New Mexico border.
The wolf had ventured into housing developments, raising concern from state wildlife officials that it might be intentionally or accidentally shot, or struck by a vehicle, said Jim deVos, the Mexican wolf coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
"We believe that the wolf was in jeopardy," he told the Arizona Republic. "Now he'll be back in an area with females, finding a female partner, forming a pack and contributing to the recovery. That's what our goal was."
The wolf was captured in August in the Coconino National Forest and has rejoined other wolves that are part of a recovery program centered in a forested area spanning parts of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. North America's rarest subspecies of gray wolf, the Mexican gray wolf was listed as endangered in 1976 after being pushed to the brink of extinction.
The population has grown since the first wolves were released in 1998 as part of the reintroduction program. The latest annual census found about 186 Mexican wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona, a 14% increase over the previous census.
The latest quarterly report released this week shows several of the wolves have died this year.
Environmental groups said the wolf fed on elk carcasses, stayed away from livestock and didn't exhibit any signs of danger.
University receives $101M donation for nursing
BOZEMAN — Montana State University said on Aug. 30 that the founders of an insurance company are donating $101 million to its nursing school. School officials said the donation is the largest gift to a university nursing program in U.S. history and will help the state deal with a shortage of nurses.
The donors are Mark and Robyn Jones, the billionaire founders of Texas-based Goosehead Insurance and part-time Montana residents.
The couple, originally from Alberta, Canada, were inspired to make the gift after losing a friend to cancer and learning of the need for more health care professionals in Montana, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.
The goal of the donation is to allow MSU to increase the number of four-year nursing students who graduate each year from 256 to 400 by 2030 and add to the ranks of nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners can be primary health care providers and can prescribe medication.
Montana State plans to build new school buildings and labs at MSU College of Nursing campuses in Bozeman, Billings, Great Falls, Kalispell and Missoula over the next nine years. The donation will also fund scholarships and an endowment to increase pay for five professors.