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Today's Opinions

  • More logging means less firefighting

    By Bob Hagan

    Along the road from Reserve into the Gila National Forest, you drive for miles through a dismal landscape of blackened stumps, thousands of dead trees standing like a surreal forest of telephone poles.

    Five years ago this summer, the Whitewater-Baldy Fire swept through more than 465 square miles of the Gila. Ignited by lightning strikes, fanned by high winds and fueled by a tinder-dry mixture of ponderosa, piñon and juniper, the conflagration defied the efforts of more than 1,200 firefighters for more than a month before it was finally brought under control.

    It was New Mexico’s worst wildfire, so far. Counting the loss of timber, damage to watersheds and ongoing stabilization and burned area rehabilitation work, the final bill was around $100 million.

    The good news is that nature is stubbornly resilient. While there are still ugly drifts of black ash in the gullies, there is green on the slopes. Fire, we are constantly reminded, is a necessary part of the forest ecosystem. But looking over the thousands of acres of charred logs littering the landscape, it’s worth asking whether we would not have been better off cutting those trees ourselves rather than waiting for nature to take its course.

  • The real value of our public lands

    By James Jimenez

    Camping is one of this nation’s great equalizers. Whether you camp with the latest, most expensive gear, or you hang a tarp and sleep in the bed of a pickup truck, there is a camping style to fit most every budget. It continues to be, for many families, one of the cheapest ways to vacation and enjoy the great outdoors. Camping is becoming an equalizer in a different way, as more and more racial and ethnic minorities are pitching tents.

    A recent survey showed that of the one million U.S. households that went camping for the first time in 2016, nearly 40 percent were either Hispanic (13 percent), African American (12 percent) or Asian American (14 percent). Non-white campers now comprise more than a quarter of all campers—an increase of more than 100 percent since 2012. Much of this shift is due to millennials, who make up a growing share—now 38 percent—of households that are active campers, according to the survey.

  • Babies produce gains, almost 21,000 leave Farmington

    In the population game here, what counts is domestic migration, the movement of people to and from the state and our 33 counties from other places in the United States.

    Domestic migrants are important because they are at the margin, responding to opportunity in New Mexico, or, if they leave, to opportunity elsewhere. Migrants are dynamic. They are betting the family fortune, financial and otherwise, on moving, an activity that is a royal pain.

    Metropolitan Farmington, which is San Juan County, is the big domestic migration story since the 2010 census, but not in a good way. Farmington saw 20,955 people depart for other states, according to Census Bureau data from April 2010 to July 2016. That’s a net figure; some move in, others leave. In Farmington leavers beat arrivers every year since 2010.

    In Farmington’s “vital events” column, other new arrives – 11,561 babies – outnumbered the people who died by 5,650 for a natural increase gain offsetting about a quarter of the migrant departures. That left Farmington’s six-year population loss at 14,966, or 11.5 percent of the 2010 population of 130,045.

  • Secretary of State’s power grab on nonprofit privacy

    We all know how a bill becomes a law, right? A lawmaker writes a bill, the legislature passes it, and then the governor signs it.

    At least, that’s what New Mexico’s Constitution says. Unfortunately, losers in the legislative process are increasingly willing to ignore that process, and a rulemaking currently underway in Santa Fe shows how.

    This spring, the New Mexico Legislature considered imposing new donor disclosure rules on nonprofit organizations. The measure was vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez over privacy concerns. Now Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is attempting to impose those rules by bureaucratic fiat, using a regulation to enact what couldn’t be done through the normal lawmaking process.

    Bureaucratic rulemakings can serve an important function. They help to implement and clarify laws that are passed by the Legislature.

    But here, instead of implementing the law, the Secretary of State’s office is enacting rules that were rejected in the constitutional lawmaking process. Although pitched as “political disclosure,” as Gov. Martinez wrote in her veto message in April, “the broad language in the bill could lead to unintended consequences that would force groups like charities to disclose the names and addresses of their contributors in certain circumstances.”

  • Inept management at HSD shows in lawsuits, festering problems

    People remember Brent Earnest as a competent and well-liked legislative analyst. Then he joined the state Human Services Department as deputy secretary under Secretary Sidonie Squier, best known for the behavioral health disaster and her hostility to legislators.

    Squier decimated the state’s behavioral health system by accusing 15 providers of overbilling based on a deeply flawed audit. Then she halted their Medicaid funding, driving many out of business. When Squier departed in 2014, Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, chairman of the Senate Public Affairs Committee, suggested Earnest as a replacement.

    “A lot of us in the Legislature have confidence in his ability and think he’s a genuinely caring person,” he said.

    Earnest got the nod but declared right off that he would uphold the same muddled agenda. The Senate confirmed him unanimously, probably expecting him to clean up the troubled department. Earnest just leaned into the wind and slogged on.

    Ortiz y Pino in May called for Earnest’s resignation.

    This was because of HSD’s other running disaster – a longstanding lawsuit over the department’s poor handling of SNAP (food stamp) applications. While Sidonie Squier owns the behavioral health mess, Earnest gets credit for the SNAP program’s advanced decay.

  • How to save money with a new pet in your home

    By Nathaniel Sillon
    Visa Financial Education Programs Director

    Whether it’s a dog, cat or another furry (or scaly) friend, many people have pets who are more than just animals – they’re part of the family.

    Pets can be friends, they can offer nonjudgmental companionship when you’re feeling down and they can put a smile on your face. To provide the best care for a pet, you’ll want to be able to afford their needs, including the basics like food and healthcare. With this in mind, think carefully and review your budget before deciding to welcome an animal into your family.

    Choose a pet that you can afford. While the initial cost of adopting or buying a pet is relatively small compared to the long-term expenses, the type of pet you choose does matter.

    Admittedly, you might visit the pound and fall in love with a dog or cat. What can you do? The heart wants what the heart wants. Research is a must if you want to take cost-saving measures, though. For example, larger animal breeds may be more expensive to care for, partially because they simply eat more food. And if you’re taking in a dog you’ll want to consider the cost of training, which could set you back several hundred dollars.

  • Wonders of wood bloom anew

    Foolish Pig No. 2 of the Three Little Pigs built his house of sticks. The Big Bad Wolf quickly did his famous thing. He huffed and he puffed and he blew the house down. 

    So the fourth Little Pig researched the latest construction news. He went online and landed a job as a sales agent for cross-laminated timber.

    Cross-laminated timber, or CLT, is a high-tech product made from the prehistoric building material that trees supply.

    CLT is made by gluing and pressing together a row of boards to form a sheet of wood. Sheets are stacked in layers, so that boards in adjacent layers crisscross, then are glued and pressed together. The product is then cut as needed. It has been called “plywood on steroids.”

    Surprising utility comes from the natural strength of wood bundled in different directions. A tree trunk or a long log can be broken by bending it sideways hard enough, as you would a toothpick. Now imagine trying to break a log by pushing the two ends toward each other. The task is harder by far.

    When the directional strengths of wood are stacked up to their best advantage in CLT panels and beams, their ability to bear loads defies old logic. Trees are still yielding fresh mysteries.   

  • Better economy key to brighter future for N.M. kids

    By Rebecca Dow, New Mexico House of Representatives R-Dist. 38

    Republican and Democrats agree – too many children in New Mexico are growing up in unacceptable circumstances 
    Earlier this month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual “Kids Count” report on the status of child well-being in each state. The news for New Mexico was disheartening. 

    While our state showed improvement on most measures, we are not keeping up with other states. Once again, we came in at 49th overall, placing ahead of just one state, Mississippi. 

    Reports like this one motivated me to start AppleTree Educational Center in Truth and Consequences back in 1999. I believed New Mexico could do better, and I felt that focusing on early childhood education was the key to helping our state’s children overcome any circumstances. 

    AppleTree serves hundreds of families with children prenatal through 24 in Sierra County each year. Our evidence-based programs have positively impacted many key health and well being indicators for our county. More kids are entering school ready, avoiding risky behavior, graduating on-time, and going to college. Yet in 2015 Sierra County became the poorest county in the state.