Drilling and wildlife clash in basin

Oil and gas drilling is apparently taking a toll on wildlife just across the border in northwest New Mexico. Forest Guardians, an industry watchdog group, released a report this week that documents hundreds of breaches of seasonal closures that were put in place to protect wildlife.

Many years ago, the Bureau of Land Management adopted the timing restrictions to help protect mule deer, elk and pronghorn in northwest New Mexico. However, Forest Guardians is alleging that the federal agency is routinely allowing oil and gas companies to avoid these restrictions, documenting nearly 450 breaches since 2003.

In response to the data, more than 40 individuals and groups, representing hunting, conservation and business, are calling on the BLM to enforce these seasonal closures. The groups are also asking Gov. Bill Richardson, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and the New Mexico State Game Commission to challenge the BLM for reneging on the promises.

“All it takes is a phone call or e-mail from industry, and the Bureau of Land Management brushes aside key wildlife protections that it promised to the public,” stated Forest Guardians’ Nicole Rosmarino, author of the report. “It’s not just a few exceptions here and there. The feds are telling oil and gas companies hundreds of times that they don’t have to worry about wildlife.”

Oscar Simpson, of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, concurred, saying that the areas of the San Juan Basin around Aztec, Farmington and Bloomfield have been particularly hard hit.

“The Bureau of Land Management is running roughshod over the state’s wildlife,” he said. “Mule deer and elk migrating south from Colorado won’t survive the winter if they have to spend all of their time dodging new pipeline construction and gas well drilling.”

Forest Guardians also noted that the BLM has even acknowledged that it has swept aside the regulations to accommodate industry. The group intercepted a 2006 communication to ConocoPhillips, a company that has requested more exceptions than any other operating in northwest New Mexico. In the memo, the BLM stated, “we have been very liberal in granting exceptions.”

Rosmario added that given the number of breaches, the regulations are little more than lip service. In Farmington, the BLM grants approximately 89 percent of company requests for exceptions to seasonal closures, she said.

“The ultimate insult is that not only is wildlife now being denied protections during critical winter and spring months, they are being robbed of those protections to quench the oil and gas industry’s unquenchable thirst for fossil fuels,” she said.

The report was compiled based on a Freedom of Information Act response from the BLM

Durango departs for Cross Nationals

Fort Lewis College and Durango cyclists are going to get muddy this weekend. Fourteen members of the FLC Cycling Team and more than 15 Durango cyclists are off to compete in Cyclocross Nationals being held in Kansas City from Dec. 14-16.

Cyclocross races typically take place in the fall and winter and involve riders negotiating a short and often muddy course that typically features grass, steep hills and barriers requiring riders to dismount and run. In Durango, cross season started immediately after Collegiate MTB Nationals, which FLC won, and local riders have been immersed in weekend training races, the recent Squawker Cross, a Durango Wheel Club Series and training rides.

Durango cross riders leave for the nationals on Thursday morning and eastern Kansas has been hit hard with ice storms all week. However, the recent weather in Durango should pay off for local cyclocross racers. “The weather since Thanksgiving has been great training for the FLC team and locals because the snowy, wet and muddy conditions are something that area CXers rarely see,” said Dave Hagen, FLC Cycling coach.

Cyclocross has had an unprecedented season in Durango and more than 15 local racers will be appearing at nationals this weekend. Well-known racers Todd Wells, Matt Shriver, Ned Overend, Travis Brown and Sarah Tescher headline the crew from Durango that includes the Rocky Mtn Chocolate Factory Team, Health Fx and many veteran category racers.

The Fort Lewis Team is again looking strong this season with many returning racers and some fresh faces in their attempt to take the team title back from arch rival Lees-McRae College. On the men’s side, last year’s podium finisher Joey Thompson has an excellent chance to repeat and even win. He is accompanied

by returning Adam Snyder, Chad Wells and Jesse Dekrey, all of whom have a chance to finish in the top 15 and even top five. On the women’s side, returning CX team members Sabina Kraushaar and Stephanie Swan are sure to step up and finish well, and freshman Emma Millar could surprise many with her bike handling in the sure-to-be sloppy conditions.

Locals can follow the action and check the latest results and reports at: http://www.cyclingnews.com and http: // velonews.com.

Area school buses to reduce emissions

With help from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Durango and Ignacio school districts are taking a six-figure stab at improving local air quality. Area schoolchildren who ride school buses will now breathe cleaner air thanks to a $127,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The districts received the joint grant earlier this year to retrofit a total of 26 buses with engine heaters, EPA-approved closed crankcase filtration units, and diesel oxidation catalyst mufflers. The new equipment is geared to reduce emissions from diesel fuel combustion. The Durango 9-R Transportation Department will retrofit 21 of the district’s buses and five from Ignacio.

9-R Director of Transportation Sharon Duncan said the engine heaters will allow the buses to reduce idling time by 6,966 hours per year while they warm up in the morning and when they park at schools waiting for students to unload and load before and after school. Duncan estimated that the two districts will save about $18,000 annually in fuel costs from reduced idling time. The districts will also save electricity, because there will no longer be a need to plug in electrical engine heaters for 26 buses every night.

More importantly, the engine heaters, along with the filtration units and mufflers, are expected to reduce toxic emissions by half. Currently, buses in both fleets produce 138 tons of pollutants per year, but the retrofitting project will cut emissions in half. In addition, the equipment will prevent fumes from entering the passenger area and will reduce tailpipe emissions when children load and unload from the buses.

As an added plus, elementary students are learning about the clean-air project, said Duncan. Next week, bus drivers will give their elementary passengers a colorful book called “The Magic School Bus Gets Cleaned Up.” The book provides lessons about pollutants, biodiesel fuel and the EPA’s particulate-matter reduction program for school buses – including theirs.

The two school districts together encompass nearly 1,600 square miles. Because of the districts’ largely rural population, Durango buses drive more than 2,600 road miles daily to transport 2,000 students to and from school.

Formula 151 repeats at Bodog Battle

Local band Formula 151 is continuing to climb closer to a $1 million recording contract. The popular, original rock band placed first in the latest round of the Bodog Music Battle of the Bands, held Dec. 5 at the Cervantes Masterpiece Theater in Denver.

With the win, the band, featuring Dave Mensch (singer/songwriter and guitarist), Katherine Jetter Tischhauser (electric cello), Mike Kornelson (bass) and Steve Dejka (drums/percussion), moves to the semi-regionals, scheduled for Sun., Jan. 20, at Jillian’s in Las Vegas.

The band also won the first round of Denver auditions for the Bodog Battle, held Oct. 27 at The Marquis Theater.  “It still hasn’t sunk in,” said Mensch, who returned from the Denver competition only to immediately perform his regular Thursday night show at The Office Spiritorium. “This round took the field of about 500 down to around 125 for the regional semi-finals. They will select 10 bands for the final competition and reality television show. Our odds are definitely improving.”

Bodog is an international, independent record label featuring a diverse and growing roster of talented musicians. The label is behind the Bodog Music Battle of the Bands, which it touts as the search for the best unsigned bands in the country. Grand prize includes a $1 million recording and marketing contract, live shows in major cities across the globe and a reality TV show.

Formula 151 was launched by Mensch in 2004, and is known for offering a sound unique among today’s contemporary bands. With the latest win, the band gave thanks its Durango fans.

“Once again we need to thank our fans,” said Mensch. “They continue to vote on-line, and we had the largest following at this competition in Denver. We hope even more of our fans will plan on coming to Las Vegas in January.”

– Will Sands


In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows