Laura Paskus

Freelance Reporter

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Local News
6:46 am
Mon March 10, 2014

Will The Gila River Stay Wild In New Mexico?

The Gila River, downstream of a proposed diversion project in New Mexico.
Credit Laura Paskus

Before the end of the year New Mexico officials will have to make a decision about water development in the state—they’ll decide what will happen to the Gila River. It’s a decision that’s been ten years in the making. But as details emerge, some lawmakers and scientists are worried about the future of New Mexico’s last free flowing river.

We’re standing on the banks of the northern Rio Grande, about forty miles downstream of Colorado. We’re next to a small diversion which waters some pasture and a garden in the village of Pilar, N.M.

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Public Health New Mexico
10:50 am
Fri January 17, 2014

Funding Would Boost Native Youth Suicide Prevention

"What we need from our tribal leaders and policymakers is more traditional knowledge, traditional leadership and a bigger role in the communities."
Credit —Honoring Native Life—Watch the video here: bit.ly/HonorLife

    In the fall of 2009, four young people in the southeastern part of the state died by suicide. Three were Mescalero Apaches.

Just a few months later, in the spring of 2010, five Navajo teens also died by suicide in Thoreau, a town in Western New Mexico of fewer than 2,000.

The series of Native American teen suicides those two years made it clear: New Mexico was experiencing a crisis.

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Local News
9:36 pm
Thu November 21, 2013

Refuge Hosts More Than Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill cranes migrate to New Mexico in October, staying until about Valentine's Day
Laura Paskus

In Socorro County this week, the Festival of the Cranes draws thousands of tourists. Sandhill cranes and snow geese draw the big crowds, but the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge hosts more than just migrating birds.

Six sandhill cranes swirl above us, deciding whether or not they’re going to land. We’re standing at a pullout along Highway 1, south of San Antonio, New Mexico.

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Local News
5:52 pm
Mon September 30, 2013

In New Mexico Climate Change is More of the Same

At the end of August, the Rio Grande on the south side of Albuquerque had dwindled to a trickle.
Credit Laura Paskus

Last week, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report from the world’s top climate scientists detailing everything from extreme drought to rising sea levels.

For decades, the IPCC has collected information about changes in the climate over time and improved models predicting future changes. One of the scientists who worked on the Fifth Assessment Report is the University of New Mexico’s David Gutzler.

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Local News
6:30 am
Fri April 5, 2013

Drought Tests the Rio Grande

Dr. Clifford Dahm along the Middle Rio Grande
Laura Paskus

 Editor's Note: This piece originally aired in April, 2013 on KUNM. 

The muddy waters of the Rio Grande are still flowing through Albuquerque. But New Mexico is in the grip of long-term drought and there’s little water left in upstream reservoirs. That means this summer will probably be like last year—when 52 miles of the Rio Grande dried up south of Albuquerque.

Laura Paskus headed out to take a look with one of the world’s leading experts on desert rivers and sent us this audio postcard.

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Local News
5:00 pm
Tue November 20, 2012

Activists Seek Public Hearing On WIPP Changes

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Environment Department gave the federal government the green light to ship “hot,” remote handled waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in a new type of container.  

Since 1999, transuranic waste from nuclear weapons manufacturing has been stored in salt caverns a half-mile below the surface of the earth at WIPP in southern New Mexico.

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Local News
5:00 pm
Tue October 30, 2012

Rio Grande could join 'ghost rivers' of the Southwest

Rio Grande in Albuquerque, October 28, 2012
Laura Paskus/KUNM

The Rio Grande ran low and dry this year.  That was bad news for fish and for farmers. And it’s unlikely that relief is in sight: Reservoirs are low and climate change is here.

In the second of this two part series, KUNM  takes a look at the Rio Grande—which one advocate worries might someday be a “ghost river.”

Janet Jarratt runs a dairy in Valencia County, south of Albuquerque. Farmers work harder than anyone she knows.  And making a living is even tougher during dry years, she says, when farmers don’t know if they’ll get their water.

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Local News
4:50 pm
Tue October 30, 2012

Officials still mum on hazardous release in Santa Teresa

A hazardous release occurred today in Santa Teresa, NM.
Credit Map from Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance. http://www.new-mexico-borderplex.com/

Just before nine o clock this morning, people living or working near the Santa Teresa Industrial Park received a call from authorities. They were told to remain indoors and seal windows and vents.

By noon, 200 people had been evacuated to the local high school. People were having a hard time breathing, were feeling light-headed, nauseous and dizzy.  And they were treated for exposure to an "unknown substance." About that time, hazmat teams began moving into the area to test air quality.

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Local News
5:00 pm
Mon October 29, 2012

Rare fish not faring well in the Rio Grande

The Rio Grande in Los Lunas, NM. October 26, 2012.
Laura Paskus/KUNM

At the end of October, the Rio Grande in Los Lunas is crunchy.

Except for a few crows and one sandhill crane flying high above, the skies are quiet. There’s no water here, and no reason for cranes or ducks to land. Up and down the riverbed, there’s only sand.

This time of year, Mike Hatch is still getting out of bed at about two in the morning. Since mid-June, he’s been tracking the drying as part of the government’s River Eyes program.

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Local News
4:30 pm
Fri October 5, 2012

Women's Work: From bird clubs to bans, the role of women in conservation

Wildlife artist Robert Hines and writer Rachel Carson, Florida Keys, ca. 1955.
USFWS

It’s a sunny Saturday morning at the Randall Davey Audubon Center—way up Canyon Road in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos. Jays, chickadees, and nuthatches are all keeping a noisy watch on the feeders—and the festivities.

Audubon New Mexico is honoring Rachel Carson, whose book, Silent Spring, was published 50 years ago.

In her book, Carson wrote of how the pesticide DDT was killing wildlife and endangering humans. In particular, birds exposed to DDT were laying eggs with shells so thin they broke before hatching time.

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Local News
5:22 pm
Tue September 18, 2012

Warmer temps spur western wildifires

Whitewater Baldy Fire in the Gila National Forest.
Brandon Bickel, US Forest Service Gila National Forest. http://bit.ly/KGcdDb

Western wildfires have gotten bigger—and the wildfire season is getting longer. That’s according to a new report from the nonprofit organization Climate Central.

Since the 1970’s the average number of large fires each year has doubled in many western states, including  New Mexico.

The bigger fires are due in part to how forests have been managed.  For much of the 20th century, forest fires were suppressed—and dry timber and vegetation built up to dangerous levels.

But climate scientists say warmer temperatures are also responsible.

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Local News
5:12 pm
Tue September 18, 2012

State expands chronic wasting disease area

A healthy white-tailed deer.
Photo by craigCloutier - Creative Commons License

This week, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish announced it’s keeping a closer eye on southern New Mexico, where some deer are infected with chronic wasting disease. That disease attacks the brain and spinal column of deer and elk, causing them to become emaciated and eventually die.  

Chronic wasting disease isn’t widespread in New Mexico, but there are some hot zones near Cloudcroft and Alamogordo.

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Local News
5:00 pm
Thu September 13, 2012

Tamarisk-munching beetles travel the Rio Grande

Diorhabda elongata adult on saltcedar, or tamarisk, foliage.
USDA, Agricultural Research Service

Head north of Albuquerque and look over toward the Rio Grande and its forest, or bosque. Within that green ribbon of trees, you’ll also spot leaves that are reddish brown. Even from the Interstate, the dying trees are obvious.

Those leaves belong to tamarisk, or salt cedar. More than a century ago, the trees were introduced to control erosion and act as windbreaks. But they have overtaken riverbanks across the southwestern United States, sucking up water and choking out native species like cottonwoods and willows.

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Local News
4:53 pm
Wed September 5, 2012

Low Flows on the Rio Grande

Looking upstream on the Rio Grande at the Alameda Bridge in Albuquerque.
KUNM/Laura Paskus

Here, where the Alameda Bridge crosses the Rio Grande on the north side of Albuquerque, you can see what New Mexico’s weak monsoon season looks like on the ground.

The water is braided around sandbars and islands. It’s so shallow that even where the river is flowing, sand is visible just a few inches below the surface. Two Canada Geese honk beneath the bridge, then take off. When they land again, their feet are barely covered by the water.

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Local News
8:05 am
Wed August 29, 2012

New Mexico's "Hard Choices"

Elephant Butte Reservoir
Laura Paskus/KUNM

On Tuesday in Las Cruces, New Mexico State University hosted the 57th annual New Mexico Water Conference. This year’s conference was titled “Hard Choices” and its participants were trying to figure out how New Mexicans can adapt to water scarcity. 

At the conference, there were federal and state water managers, scientists, activists, farmers—anyone with an interest in understanding how New Mexico’s water is managed and how it’s going to be managed in the future, as water becomes increasingly scarce.

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Local News
4:30 pm
Wed August 22, 2012

Drought dries New Mexico's largest rivers

Pecos bluntnose shiner
US Bureau of Reclamation

UPDATED 08-22-12, 8:00 PM:

Additional rains have reconnected flows within the stretch of the Pecos River that includes habitat for the Pecos bluntnose shiner. Biologists do not plan to conduct salvage work this week. About 30 miles of the river still remain dry.

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This has been a dry year in New Mexico. Statewide, we’ve received only half the precipitation of average, and most of eastern New Mexico is experiencing what the National Weather Service calls “extreme drought.” 

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Local News
11:08 pm
Tue August 21, 2012

The legacy of uranium on the Navajo reservation

Northeast Church Rock Mine
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

In 1979, a dam at a uranium mine collapsed. More than 90 million gallons of radioactive waste shot down the Rio Puerco.

It was the largest release of radioactive material in United States history. And it happened in Church Rock, on the Navajo reservation in northwestern New Mexico.

No comprehensive health studies were done to learn how the spill might have affected people living nearby.

Now, Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Edward J. Markey, Henry A. Waxman, and Frank Pallone are asking for a formal update on a study that Congress authorized four years ago.

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Local News
3:10 pm
Fri August 17, 2012

Bingaman hears New Mexico climate change testimony

2011's Las Conchas fire in the Jemez Mountains
Wikipedia

New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman, D, was in Santa Fe today, listening to testimony about the impacts of climate change. During a field hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the senator heard what’s happening on the ground in New Mexico.

In his testimony, Governor Walter Dasheno of Santa Clara Pueblo pointed out that climate change contributed to last year’s Las Conchas fire. That fire burned more than 150,000 acres in the Jemez Mountains.

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Local News
4:52 pm
Wed August 15, 2012

Energy Department report highlights wind industry

The New Mexico Wind Energy Center is 170 miles southeast of Albuquerque.
Sandia National Laboratories

Although the wind energy industry in the United States is below the peak it hit three years ago, 2011 was still a pretty good year.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s annual market report, last year, wind power accounted for about one-third of the nation’s new sources of electricity.  And much of the equipment installed at U.S. wind farms last year came from domestic factories.

Almost three-quarters of the wind turbines, towers, blades, and generators were made within the U.S.  That number is double what it was in 2005.

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Local News
4:44 pm
Fri August 10, 2012

FWS orders "lethal removal" of Mexican Gray Wolf

US Fish and Wildlife Service

UPDATED 8/12/12. 3:15 pm

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has rescinded its lethal removal order for AF1188. The agency has agreed to allow the Arizona-based Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center to provide permanent sanctuary to the female wolf.

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Earlier this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in Albuquerque ordered the killing of a Mexican Gray Wolf whose pack is responsible for the killing of four head of cattle within the past year.

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Local News
8:09 am
Tue August 7, 2012

At 68, Smokey Bear's message still resonates

Dr. Ed Smith and Smokey Bear in 1950. Briefly named “Hotfoot Teddy” this five-pound bear with burned paws was found clinging to a charred tree during a fire in the Lincoln National Forest. He became the "living symbol" of Smokey Bear.
New Mexico State Forestry Division / NMEMRD

This week, an American icon celebrates his birthday: Smokey Bear is turning 68.

He’s still a spry old guy, kept alive by the Ad Council and the US Forest Service. It’s New Mexico’s forests that have been taking a hammering. In 2011, the Las Conchas Fire was the largest in state history. Then this year, the Whitewater-Baldy Fire in the Gila National Forest doubled its record. This summer also saw the state’s most destructive wildfire, the Little Bear Fire near Ruidoso.

But believe it or not, there’s good news.

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Local News
2:17 pm
Fri August 3, 2012

Groups seek clean energy standard in New Mexico

Coal-fired power plants in the area impact air quality in the Four Corners.
EcoFlight / http://ecoflight.org/

On Thursday, 33 organizations asked the state’s Public Regulation Commission (PRC) to create a new "clean energy standard" to reduce carbon emissions in New Mexico.

The groups include the American Lung Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility  and a number of environmental organizations.

Under the standard, utilities could choose to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by three percent each year.

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Local News
9:15 am
Thu August 2, 2012

State fears federal control of groundwater

The US Bureau of Reclamation's Elephant Butte reservoir helps supply water to farmers along the lower Rio Grande.
US Bureau of Reclamation

A legal battle over water in the lower Rio Grande has New Mexico accusing the federal government of trying to take control of the state’s groundwater.

In a filing in the Third District Court in Las Cruces recently, the Bureau of Reclamation said it should be able to pump groundwater when it needs to deliver water in the Rio Grande to downstream users, such as farmers.

That raised the hackles of New Mexico state legislators, and others, including the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer. That office controls the state’s groundwater.

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Local News
7:41 pm
Mon July 30, 2012

Bigger storms mean bigger punch into ozone layer

Strong storms, like this one in New Mexico, can punch water vapor into the stratosphere, causing cooling and ozone destruction.
Greg Lundeen / NOAA/CreativeCommons

The journal Science has just published a new study from scientists at Harvard University showing how a rise in global temperatures is helping to destroy the ozone layer.

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Local News
8:37 am
Sun July 29, 2012

Drilling delayed at Kirtland

In this 2008 photo, the progress of fuel recovery at a pump sight is monitored.
U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Berenger

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the drilling of monitoring wells at Kirtland Air Force Base has been delayed until later this year. The monitoring wells are being drilled in order to determine the extent of contamination from a leak of about 24 million gallons of jet fuel.

One of the two contractors drilling the wells has gone out of business.

According to the story, available online:

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Local News
9:23 am
Wed July 25, 2012

Signs of life in the Gila National Forest

Sprouting seeds between two downed trees.
USDA, Gila National Forest

Even after the flames have died down, the impacts of a wildfire persist. Without tree and grass roots to absorb rainfall and hold soil in place, flooding can be a big problem.

In the wake of the Whitewater-Baldy Fire—which burned almost 300,000 acres in southwestern New Mexico—officials in the Gila National Forest have been working to get ahead of the summer rains and next year’s snowmelt.

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Local News
10:23 am
Mon July 23, 2012

Hot springs transferred to Pueblo of Taos

At the hot springs signing ceremony, from the left: Laureano B. Romero, Governor of Taos Pueblo; Christopher Smith, President of the Taos Land Trust Board of Directors; and Benito M. Sandoval, Warchief of Taos Pueblo.
Taos Land Trust

In northern New Mexico, a sacred site has been returned to its indigenous community.

On  July 14, the Taos Land Trust officially transferred the Ponce de León Hot Springs to the Pueblo of Taos.

Now, the springs will be protected from any future development and also remain open to the general public. “This kind of partnership is very rare in the conservation community,” says Patricia Quintana, executive director of Taos Land Trust.

The land trust had purchased the 44-acre parcel in 1997 to save the springs from private development and create a public park.

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Local News
9:55 am
Mon July 23, 2012

Santa Fe National Forest plans to release travel map

Overlooking the Rio Chama located in Northern New Mexico within the Coyote Ranger District of the Santa Fe National Forest.
USFS

The Santa Fe National Forest is expected to come out with a map this fall that tells visitors where they can and cannot travel with motorized vehicles such as trucks and all terrain vehicles.

All national forests are required to create what are called "travel management plans" to control the impacts of motorized vehicles on natural resources.

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Local News
8:33 am
Thu July 19, 2012

Cibola County added to list of drought disaster areas

Drought and climate change are causing extensive forest dieback in the U.S. West as well as worldwide. This photo shows dead ponderosa pines in the Jemez Mountains killed by a combination of drought stress and attacks by bark beetles on weakened trees.
Craig D. Allen , USGS

 The U.S. Department of Agriculture has added a New Mexico county to its list of primary natural disaster areas due to drought and excessive heat.

Cibola County joins 39 counties in eight states in the latest designation Wednesday.

In all, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has declared nearly 1,300 counties in 29 states as disaster areas during the current crop year. Much of New Mexico and the Southwest is already on the list.

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Local News
3:48 pm
Wed July 18, 2012

Saving fish from a drying river

Biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers seine a pool, then sort through the fish for endangered silvery minnows.
Laura Paskus/KUNM

The monsoon rains arrived this month, but it’s still hot and dry in New Mexico.

The ongoing drought is placing stress on the state’s rivers and streams, including the Rio Grande. And while cities and farmers still receive their shares of water, each summer, one user gets left out—the Rio Grande itself. Like it has every summer for the past decade, the Rio Grande downstream of Albuquerque is drying.

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