Squirrels, bees could get US aid, but not Yellowstone's bison
BILLINGS — U.S. wildlife officials rejected petitions on Sept. 5 to protect Yellowstone National Park's storied bison herds but pledged to consider more help for two other species — a tiny, endangered squirrel in Arizona and bees that pollinate rare desert flowers in Nevada.
Wildlife advocates have campaigned for decades to halt the routine slaughter of bison migrating out of Yellowstone to reach their winter grazing grounds in Montana.
The burly animals, also known as buffalo, once numbered in the tens of millions before overhunting reduced them to just a few small herds.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rebuffed calls for special protections for Yellowstone bison in 2015 but was forced to reconsider under a U.S. District Court order issued last year.
Wildlife service spokeswoman Jennifer Strickland said there's no scientific information showing bison should be treated as a threatened species.
The park's slaughter program, along with hunting of the animals in Montana, is meant to prevent the spread of the disease brucellosis, which can cause bison, elk and cattle to abort their young.
Darrell Geist with the Buffalo Field Campaign said the government's decision ignored the fact that one of the park's two major bison herds has been in steep decline, which Geist said could have implications for the herd's genetic health.
Regarding the Mount Graham red squirrel of eastern Arizona, officials agreed to consider whether more habitat protections are needed. Weighing a mere 8 ounces, the squirrels are found solely in the Pinaleno Mountains. An estimated 75 remain in the wild.
In Nevada, officials said the Mojave poppy bee faces potential threats from grazing, gypsum mining, recreation and competition from honeybees. Its survival is closely linked to two rare desert poppy flowers in the Mojave Desert.
State panel upholds permit for huge open pit mine
CARSON CITY — Nevada's Environmental Commission rejected conservationists' appeal Sept. 5 of a water pollution control permit granted last year for a huge open-pit mine critics warn could pollute the state's precious groundwater for centuries.
The Great Basin Resource Watch had urged the state panel to rescind the permit for a molybdenum mine that a subsidiary of Denver-based General Moly Inc. wants to dig on Mount Hope near Eureka about 250 miles east of Reno.
Scientific experts for the Reno-based environmental watchdog testified Sept. 4 that the permit was based on a flawed calculation that dramatically underestimates the amount of contamination that will flow into the mile-wide pit when mining is complete and it begins to fill with water.
The commissioners upheld the permit on a 3-0 vote after more than eight hours of testimony.
But they also issued a special directive for the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection to work with the group to address its ongoing concerns, as well as discuss potential changes to state laws or regulations to better protect water quality in the pit lakes after mining ends.
The mining operation is expected to last 44 years, but there's no current projection for when it might begin. It's expected to produce 1.7 billion tons of waste rock, about one-fourth of it considered potential acid-generating material.
A member of the watchdog group's board said the company has "grossly" underestimated the amount of acid drainage that will send sulfates into the pit lake he says will last for 500 years.
Scientists for the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection who recommended approval of the original permit last year disagreed.
A lawyer for the watchdog group, said the commission-ordered talks with the state agency will present an opportunity to discuss needed changes in state law.
State agency to bolster Medicaid spending on mental health
SANTA FE — New Mexico is seeking to bolster access to a variety of health care services, including mental health treatment, in rural areas with a $78.5 million proposed increase in annual Medicaid spending, the Human Services Department announced Sept. 3.
The agency already increased federally subsidized Medicaid payments earlier this year by roughly $230 million to hospitals, physicians and other providers.
Slated to start Oct. 1, the newly proposed rate increases rely heavily on federal matching funds, leveraging a state general fund appropriation of $16 million to inject $78.5 million into the health care sector.
More than 800,000 residents are enrolled in the state's federally subsidized Medicaid program, which was expanded substantially in 2014 to include more individuals living just above the federal definition of poverty.
The proposed increase in payments to medical professionals is directed primarily toward behavior health services, as the state reconstructs its networks for treating mental ailments and addiction.
Former Gov. Susana Martinez in 2013 froze payments to 15 nonprofit mental health service providers over concerns about fraud — driving many out of business. Prosecutors found only regulatory violations.
The state also is seeking to shore up Medicaid funding for dental care, increasing the minimum payment for each encounter with a patient to $200.
State senator charged with DUI says he won't resign
SANTA FE — A Democratic state lawmaker charged with drunken driving says he won't resign from the New Mexico Senate even if convicted.
The Albuquerque Journal reports Sen. Richard Martinez spoke to reporters Sept. 5 following a court hearing in Santa Fe. He says his experience will probably make him a better senator.
Martinez has pleaded not guilty to aggravated DWI and reckless driving charges following a June arrest.
Police say he slammed into the back of another vehicle in Española, which is part of his district.
Police lapel video showed Martinez responding to officers with slurred speech following the accident.
He refused a breath test to determine his blood-alcohol level.
Martinez is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He says he'll seek re-election next year.
University to honor Black 14 in weeklong tribute
LARAMIE — The University of Wyoming has announced plans to honor the Black 14 after they were cut from the school's football team for wanting to protest during the civil rights movement.
The Casper Star-Tribune reported that 14 student-athletes were dismissed for wanting to wear black armbands during a 1969 game against BYU in protest of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' former policy barring black men from the priesthood.
Athletic officials say nine of the living 11 members are expected back for the scheduled tribute.
Officials say the weeklong commemoration includes a plaque presentation, football halftime recognition and a free public panel discussion.
It could be the largest known contingent of the Black 14 on campus since they were dismissed 50 years ago.