Don’t fence me in

We sometimes hear people say something like, “New Mexico is a fence-out state, so if you don’t want free-roaming horses on your property, build a fence.”

farm-fenceHow do New Mexico’s “fence-out” and livestock impoundment laws apply to free-roaming horses? To sort out the legalese, we reviewed materials from a recent professional seminar for lawyers entitled, “The Law and Horses in New Mexico,” sponsored by the State Bar of New Mexico. Continue reading

WHOA’s survey shows most Placitans want horses removed or behind a fence

The Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) says on its website that its recent telephone poll shows 85.7% of Placitans “want the free-roaming horses to remain.” Remain where? In your yard? In my subdivision? On the BLM tract? Let’s unpack this statistic a bit.rabbit on phone

A total of 208 persons—that’s about 5% of Placitas adults–completed the August phone survey. Using the pollster’s report, we’ve done some simple number crunching to clarify the main findings and sentiments:

  • Move ’em out. About 14% of respondents want the horses to be rounded up and removed.
  • Put ’em behind a fence. About 38% want the horses managed on a horse sanctuary on BLM land.
  • Put ’em behind two fences. About 16% want the horses to be managed on a horse sanctuary on both BLM and Placitas Open Space (POS) lands.
  • All-you-can-eat buffet option. About 22% want the horses to be able to roam on “all unfenced private lands and all public lands in and adjacent to Placitas.”
  • Don’t talk to me about horses. About 11% don’t like any of these options or have no opinion.

Continue reading

Pueblo of Santa Ana: a neighbor committed to wildlife and partnerships

We sometimes get pretty depressed about the seriously trashed state of the lands in Placitas and surrounding areas, thanks to several years of feral horse incursions and a multi-year drought.

But last week was a real bright spot. We learned about the Pueblo of Santa Ana’s achievements in wildlife conservation and land restoration. We met with pueblo staff and also attended a group presentation by the pueblo (more about that in a future post).

Southwestern willow flycatcher

Photo credit: Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA

Maybe we don’t get out enough, but until now, we had known very little about Santa Ana’s programs and successes in these areas. Here’s a brief overview.

The Santa Ana Department of Natural Resources has a staff of 30, many with a background in wildlife science, forestry or environmental science. The department’s main areas of focus are:

  • Bosque restoration
  • Rangeland and wildlife management
  • Water resource management
  • Environmental education
  • Geographic information systems and other data tools

The pueblo has spent nearly two decades restoring the grasslands, rivers and riparian areas within its boundaries. The photos staff showed us of restored bosque areas, riverbanks teeming with vegetation, and healthy grasslands were a real sight for sore eyes. You can read an article about their river restoration and endangered species work here.

In the last decade, Santa Ana has reintroduced both wild turkeys and pronghorn antelope onto pueblo lands. Wildlife staff are currently working to monitor and conserve endangered or threatened species, including the southwestern willow flycatcher, yellow-billed cuckoo, and Rio Grande silvery minnow. They’ve documented 77 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians on pueblo lands and regularly see elk and mountain lions.

Pronghorn antelope

Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

The pueblo makes good use of technology. A network of solar-powered wells and drinkers for wildlife and grazing animals has been installed throughout the pueblo’s 79,000 acres. Along with on-the-ground legwork and annual fly-overs, the natural resources staff use satellite and other imagery to map and monitor the land and vegetation. To better understand wildlife ranges, they track the wanderings of elk, antelope and wild turkeys — both on and off pueblo lands — using radio collars.

The pueblo doesn’t attempt to go it alone. It has a track record of partnering with many agencies and organizations to leverage resources, including:

  • US Environmental Protection Agency
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • US Forest Service
  • NM Department of Game and Fish
  • University of New Mexico Museum of Southwestern Biology
  • National Wild Turkey Federation
  • Ducks Unlimited

The Pueblo of Santa Ana has received a number of significant grants to fund conservation and restoration projects (too many to mention here) and has been recognized nationally and internationally for its achievements. We’re pleased as punch to know there’s such a committed team of experienced professionals—working to preserve lands and wildlife—just down the road.

Wildlife corridors in the Placitas vicinity

Many native wildlife species in New Mexico range across a hundred or more miles throughout the year. The two maps below display probable wildlife corridors in the Placitas vicinity based on what’s known about cougar (mountain lion) ranges. Elk, deer, and other mammals also use these wildlife corridors.

The first map shows a corridor between the Sandia Mountains and the Jemez Mountains, with the red and pink portions indicating the most critical areas. Placitas sits in the lower right portion of the corridor. The second map shows corridors between the Sandias and the Sangre de Cristo range to the north. Placitas is in the bottom left portion of the map near where the two corridors meet. Click on the maps for a larger image.

Wild animals rely on the vegetation, water sources, and other wildlife-friendly characteristics of these corridors as they travel through their native ranges, including through the Placitas area.

Unfortunately, wildlife corridors are increasingly fragmented by roads, highways, fences, mining operations, and home construction. This fragmentation leads to roadkills, loss of habitat and food, and other stresses on wildlife populations.

Because feral horses severely degrade native vegetation, dominate watering spots, and scare off shy wildlife species, their presence within the already squeezed and fragmented wildlife corridors of central New Mexico is a particular concern.

Menke_NM Wildlife Corridors_2008 27













Menke_NM Wildlife Corridors_2008 28














Source: Menke K. Locating Potential Cougar (Puma concolor) Corridors in New Mexico Using a Least-Cost Path Corridor GIS Analysis. Share with Wildlife Final Project Report. New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, 2008.

WHOA supporters get concept of “due process” wrong

Supporters of the Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) are talking on their Facebook page about the Bureau of Land Management’s planned and attempted horse gathers on the large BLM tract adjacent to Placitas commonly known as the Buffalo Tract. They say their right to “due process” is being violated by this activity because WHOA is “still in court.” Presumably, this refers to the fact that WHOA has petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear its lawsuit against the BLM (which they lost in federal district court, appealed, and lost again*) and is awaiting word of the petition’s fate.

BLM’s activities related to management of feral horses on Placitas-area BLM lands fall within the agency’s purview under current laws, so it’s perfectly entitled to carry on with its usual work. At any given time there are lawsuits in progress across the country that challenge particular laws or their application in specific circumstances. The ability and right to file such a lawsuit and have the courts hear one’s argument is, in fact, an example of due process. But the existing laws and regulations don’t cease to be operational while the argument is being heard in the courts, a process that may take months to years. That would pretty much ensure a constant state of chaos everywhere and no public agency would know from one day to the next what laws and statutes it was operating under.

WHOA has filed a number of lawsuits and appeals, all of which have accorded WHOA due process under the law. By incorrectly claiming their right to due process is being violated, it seems WHOA supporters have a basic misunderstanding of how our country’s laws and legal system work.


*In 2011, WHOA filed a lawsuit against the BLM in US District Court claiming the Placitas free-roaming horses are “wild” and must be treated and protected as such by BLM. The District Court ruled against WHOA. WHOA then appealed to the US Court of Appeals (Tenth Circuit), which upheld the lower court’s ruling. WHOA has now petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear the case. The Supreme Court receives about 10,000 such petitions each year and grants a hearing to about 75.

Readers weigh in on snakeweed

Spraying snakeweed 1938

Spraying snakeweed in an Arizona field, 1938.

Our recent post on broom snakeweed brought in a lot of comments—mostly pointing out the good side of this plant.

One person opines, “I love snakeweed. It’s pretty and unique, and grows more when it rains. In September the tops turn yellow, and is the precursor to fall… I’ve been here over 20 years (and in New Mexico over 60 years) and I’d say this is just a slightly better than average crop year for the plant.”

In contrast to our BLM expert’s advice, a reader writes that  NM State University says chemical spraying is the best way to control it [on large-acreage rangelands]. Another reader writes, “The other terrible plants that will come up with snakeweed are goat heads and eventually cholla. While some folks like cholla for its flowers, it is a nasty plant well deserving of its name Jumping Cactus.”

Why the moniker snakeweed? “There are two reasons for the name,” writes a local farmer. “One is the roots snake out far from the base. The other is a tincture of the root is a good antidote for snakebite, externally and internally. It works best on dogs.” That sent us to a botanical database, where we learned broom snakeweed contains some of the same chemical compounds found in Amazonian plants traditionally used to treat snakebite.

Snake Clipart“Another reason to call it snakeweed is that rattlesnakes use it for cover,” writes one reader. “The one that bit me was hiding in one.” Yikes!

Several Native American tribes have traditionally used snakeweed to treat respiratory infections and other ailments, and a local Placitan notes that, “One of the old Spanish remedios for hemorrhoids, documented in the late Judge Tibo Chavez’s book [New Mexican Folklore of the Rio Abajo], is smoke from a snakeweed plant.” Okay, we’ll keep that in mind.

And let’s not overlook perhaps the plant’s most practical use: a bundle of dried broom snakeweed stems is just the thing for sweeping out one’s dusty casita, a never-ending task in this beautiful land of wind and sand.

On the road. Again.

WHOA, Nellie!

Rumor has it that pro-horse folks are busily herding, transporting, and relocating dozens of feral horses around the Placitas area in a shell game designed to keep them from being legally impounded by the BLM or private landowners (the BLM issued a notice this summer that they would be impounding horses on the Placitas BLM tract). Since apparently none of these relocation activities have been reported to the NM Livestock Board, as required, the horse advocates once again show their disdain for the law.

After several months of having relatively horse-free roads and subdivisions, several readers report there are suddenly a lot of horses wandering around. Is this coincidence, or are horses gathered from the BLM tract being released into Placitas subdivisions because PAR corrals and hay are in short supply? Perhaps these are just hungry horses that can’t find enough forage in the severely overgrazed hills. This video was shot this morning on my way to work. In the few minutes I watched, this horse was almost hit by three vehicles as it looked for grass along the roadside. Until the situation is resolved, be careful on the roads—horse-vehicle collisions can be deadly for both horse and driver.