A citizens' council for the the Bureau of Land Management in Northern New Mexico is meeting today (Jan. 30) for the first time since 2016.
The gathering of the Resource Advisory Council, or RAC, is happening at San Juan College in Farmington, though the council advises the federal agency on lands in Taos, including the Río Grande del Norte National Monument.
The BLM is not live streaming or posting a video of the meeting online. To make the council meeting more broadly available, The Taos News is streaming the video all day long – from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. – on our Facebook page. The public comment period begins at 3 p.m. The meeting agenda has only 30 minutes allotted for members of the public to address the council.
Videos of the day's meeting are available via Facebook and will be available later here on The Taos News website.
About 20 people attended the meeting throughout the morning.
The first session focused on the Farmington "Resource Management Plan Amendment," the document guiding all oil and gas development in the northwest part of the state. Extractive industries have increased oil and gas production in the area, partially due to the rise of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, also called "fracking."
According to Farmington Field Office director Victoria Barr, her office plans to release a draft of the amendment in June due to a "secretarial order" from the Department of Interior directing offices to shorten the turnaround time on environmental reviews.
But several members of the RAC found the fast-paced directive to be potentially harmful for tribal residents and land grant heirs.
"It takes time to unpackaged the complexity of those landscapes," said RAC member Theresa Pasqual. Unlike the BLM officials writing the amendment, tribal people "are going to have to live with" the government decisions made through the process, she said.
"If there's any room to put the brakes on this, now is the time," Pasqual said.
Victoria Burr, Farmington field manager, said the amendment had been in the works for about four years and that she's unsure if the local field office can realistically adjust the schedule given the demands from Washington, D.C.
Other issues that came up during Tuesday's meeting of the RAC included:
• Unconfirmed members to the citizens group - The White House must approve new members to the RAC, according to Burr. It hasn't approved a previous slate of nominations, and several more spots could soon become vacant. At today's meeting, the council was one member short of a quorum, so no votes were taken during the strictly informational meeting.
• Rio Grande del Norte National Monument - A planning document for future management of the monument will soon be available, according to monument manager John Bailey. Fire treatments are common to all potential plans. Bailey also noted that his office is keeping close watch on possible changes to the national monument proclamation, the document that established the monument in 2013.
• Rio Grande Gorge Bridge - The bridge is the most popular destination in the monument, which sees about 300,000 visitors a year. Improvements are sorely needed, he said, but the site involves a jumble of agencies, complicating the next steps toward making the bridge more accessible.
The afternoon session of the RAC meeting will include livestock grazing in the Taos area, air quality in the Four Corners and the public comment period.
Please see the Feb. 1 edition of The Taos News for more on this story.