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Briefs 9-4-12

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NM teenager immunization rates improve

SANTA FE (AP) — The state Department of Health reports an improvement in immunization rates for teenagers.

About 81 percent of New Mexicans from ages 13 to 17 were covered last year by a vaccine protecting against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. That's up from 72 percent in 2010 and it's higher than the national rate of 78 percent.

The department offers free immunizations at public health clinics for children in families without health insurance.

Nearly 71 percent of New Mexico's teenagers had the vaccine against chickenpox last year, up from 56 percent in 2010. New Mexico was above the national coverage rate of 68 percent in 2011.

Meningococcal vaccine coverage was almost 65 percent last year, up from 53 percent in 2010 but below the national rate of 70 percent.

Black bear captured blocks from Santa Fe Plaza

SANTA FE (AP) — Conservation officers with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish have captured a black bear that wandered into the center of Santa Fe.

Albuquerque television station KOB-TV reports the bear was first spotted at about 6:30 a.m. Sunday.

A few hours later, the bear was found along the Santa Fe River, two blocks from the city's historic plaza.

Officers tranquilized the bear. They believe it may have been injured because it remained in the same place for so long.

The crowd that gathered to watch the bear included actor and Santa Fe area resident Val Kilmer.

NM track announces crack down on horse doping

RUIDOSO DOWNS  (AP) — The majority owner of Ruidoso Downs Race Track in southern New Mexico said Monday he'll be cracking down next season on trainers whose horses test positive for certain drugs.

R.D. Hubbard announced the new guidelines for the 2013 season on Labor Day, as the track was hosting the world's richest quarter horse race, the All American Futurity.

"The sign is out that drug offenders are not welcome at Ruidoso Downs Race Track and in New Mexico," Hubbard said in a statement.

Hubbard plans to work with state regulators as well as other tracks in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana to implement similar guidelines to discourage doping. He has the support of the American Quarter Horse Association.

Cleaning up the nation's horse tracks has been a hot topic for months. Earlier this year, a New York Times investigation highlighted an industry mired in a culture of drugs and lax regulation as well as a disturbing fatal breakdown rate among horses. The report described New Mexico as having the worst horse safety record in the United States.

Under the rules Ruidoso Downs plans to impose next year, any positive test for a Class 1 or Class 2 drug would result in a trainer having his or her stalls revoked. They would also be banned from the grounds and their ability to enter horses would be suspended.

The track is already doing more testing this year. Track officials say the increased testing on opening weekend that began May 25 resulted in positive illegal drug tests on several horses that were saddled by a small number of trainers.

The New Mexico Racing Commission has also adopted rules that include heavier penalties for drug cases.

Forest Service approves Taos Ski Valley expansion

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service has approved Taos Ski Valley's request to expand its expert terrain by 60 percent with two new lifts that will take skiers to popular high alpine areas currently accessible only to hikers.

The plan also calls for upgrades to three other lifts, thinning of trees to expand two new glade areas for advanced intermediate to expert skiers, construction of a permanent tubing facility, a snowshoe trail system and a lift-served mountain bike trail for summer visitors. Officials hailed the action as crucial for helping the northern New Mexico ski area keep pace with competitors in Colorado.

Taos Ski Valley chief operating officer Gordon Briner says thanks to fairly good snow over two of the past three years, as well as the ski area's decision four years ago to open its trails to snowboarders, skier visits have increased, "but not to the extent that we really had hoped, and that's why we think these improvements are important."

Adding the lifts to access the Kachina and West Ridge areas above the tree line are especially important for remaining competitive with Colorado resorts like Breckenridge, Telluride and Arapahoe Basin, which say they have seen skier visits increase 10 percent since adding high alpine lifts, Briner said.

The far West Basin ridge, where one new lift is proposed, offers some of the steepest chutes and most difficult terrain — runs such as High Somewhere and Meatball.

The other lift would access Kachina Peak, which provides skiers an open bowl as well as steep chutes and rock bands.

"I am confident that, collectively, the projects approved will help Taos Ski Valley to reclaim its competitive standing in the Rocky Mountain region," Diana Trujillo, acting supervisor of the Carson National Forest, said in a statement announcing approval of the plan. "Taos Ski Valley is unique in the ski industry, where it is renowned for steep, adventurous terrain and uncrowded slopes."

Plans also call for a new drop-off area and reconfiguration of the resort's parking lots.

Briner declined to give any time frame for completing the plans.

"We've been in this process for over two years," he said. "Now that we have the record of decision signed, it's time to start putting our priorities in a list."

NM arts agency hires ex-Energy Department official

SANTA FE (AP) — A California man and former Energy Department official has been named deputy cabinet secretary of New Mexico's arts agency.

The Cultural Affairs Department said Michael Scott Delello will assume his duties today.

He worked in the Energy Department during the administration of former President George H.W. Bush, including as a congressional liaison on clean air issues and the national laboratories. He also served as director of the Washington, D.C. office of the Electric Power Research Institute.The agency said Delello most recently lived in California as he started a real estate business and pursued an interest in screenwriting.

He earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Louisiana State University.

The Cultural Affairs Department administers New Mexico's network of museums and historical monuments.