Indentifying and Protecting Wildlife Corridors

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Crest of Montezuma Legislation

by Laura Robbins, member of Pathways-Wildlife Corridors of New Mexico

On November 6th, interested community members met at the Placitas Community Library to continue the discussion regarding the need for legislation that would transfer the Crest of Montezuma from BLM  jurisdiction to that of the Forest Service. Keeping this land open is crucial to maintaining the connectivity for wildlife passage that still exists for this part of the Sandia  Mountains,  Gallisteo  Basin, Jemez and the Sangre de Christo mountains. It will help prevent  Sandia  Mountain from being “ringed” by development and will enable genetic viability for local animals and general environmental health.

The Forest Service has a clear management policy whereas the BLM does not. It is possible that BLM could hold the land until a lucrative sale could be brokered, enabling more development. If managed by the Forest Service, the land will not be designated wilderness but will disallow Off Highway Vehicles use. It will be available for day use by individuals and possibly permits for bow-hunting and firewood gathering will be allowed.

The Crest of Montezuma is the picturesque, north-eastern and horizontally striped ridge that rises above the housing and developments past the village and along the left side of 165 as you go up the mountain. It borders Diamond Tail’s southern properties. The legislation will also include  approximately 260 acres of adjacent, privately owned acreage, which the owners are willing to put into conservation. If this BLM to Forest Service transfer happens, the Trust for Public Lands will broker the deal for the private land holders.

Please call Representative Heinrich (346-6781) and ask him to represent your interests in the wildlife corridor and open spaces of Placitas. This is the time that more community input regarding this issue must be given to our legislators. Representative Martin Heinrich also has staff members available to the community for questions and comments most fourth Thursdays of each month: Noon to 1:00 at the  Senior Center  and 1:00-2:00 at the Library. You can email comments to: maya.hermann@mail.house.gov

It was appreciated that two board members of the San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant attended the meeting, as this was an important event for community stake holder’s dialog on the Crest of Montezuma. There is a larger scope regarding the San Antonio de Las Huertas Land Grant and also Land Grant rights throughout the state and nation. This writer hopes that  the Land Grant will continue to inform the larger Placitas community in a very open way regarding their hopes and plans for the Land Grant commmunity with respect to public lands.

Land Grant members, Diamond Tail Ranch residents, representatives from Sandia Pueblo and San Felipe Pueblo, as well as Albuquerque groups who do advocacy work for Sandia mountain and any other interested parties will be invited to future public meetings hosted by Pathways. Joan Fenicle of Las Placitas Association stressed the importance of the Crest legislation and asked that people encourage Heinrich to reintroduce legislation in the lame duck session. It is possible that a Memorandum of Understanding could be used to identify and address issues that could otherwise make the bill cumbersome and problematic. She urged to keep the bill simple.

At the meeting, Pathways members Peter Callen and Mitch Johnson presented a synopsis of management by BLM vs Forest Service as well as the wild animal monitoring and tracking work by community volunteers that is underway along Las Huertas Creek and in the Gallisteo Basin. They currently have two camera traps that are being used at various locations (including the Crest of Montezuma) and are hoping to acquire more through community support. Pathways is happy to lend the cameras to community members, along with some training. The tracking and monitoring program which trains volunteers to collect data of specific transects will be used by UNM and in other scientific studies. Pathways is proud of their recent  work during the Travel Management Planning for Sandia Mountain, where they helped to stop OHV use of lands that would decrease animal passageway and habitat.

Concerns regarding local wild animals were addressed. Many problems can be solved in ways other than calling for animal capture or removal. Residents are urged to acquire bear-proof trash cans (available through Davis Hardware on South 14 or through the internet) and to secure dog food in places that will not be tempting.  Residents in the village are learning that chicken and turkey pens need to have extra protection. We do not have to make an either/or choice between people and animals.

To put the danger from wild animals into perspective, Patience O’Dowd reminded us that during the past twenty years, 800 people have died in Bernalillo County and over 20,000 have been injured from drunk driving. Statistics regarding harm from wild animals is minimal. She stated that in order to make free-roaming horses good neighbors, WHOA has done over five miles of fencing for Santa Ana, BLM and individuals, including two miles of fencing for the Albuquerque Open Space in Placitas. Many hope that  New Mexico  becomes a wild horse state, as well as creating a new State Park.  In 2007, Governor Richardson passed a bill that made New  Mexico  the only state besides Nevada to have a legal definition of “wild horse.” Pathways members expressed that there is a very strong case why the horses should be recognized as wildlife. Patience informed that  Santa Ana  is restocking wild turkeys and other species (hikers may have noticed flocks on Sandia.) She also reminded us that only continual vigilance ensuring no connection from I25 to North 14 will protect our precious water supply of this area as well as the wildlife corridor. She urges the community to ask Heinrich to work for solutions with all parties regarding Montezuma Crest and the northern BLM lands which together are key to protecting our water supply, our wildlife corridor, and our rural community. She stresses the need to re-submit the Crest bill to the Lame Duck session immediately as a third opportunity will not likely arise in the near term.

Hopefully, different Placitas groups and organizations can continue to communicate and develop creative solutions that cooperatively address the concerns that face us in this time and age. We all benefit so much from this beautiful and bountiful high desert mountain.  As Peter Callen says, “People can be a benefit to the land.”

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