Western Wildfires

Kylee Moberg tries to get through a road block on NM94 to get to her friend and horses on Friday April 22, 2022. Police blocked the road because of the new Calf Fire buring near the area of the Hermit Peak Fire. 


Fires hit Southwest 'dangerously early,’ governor says

New Mexico faces a long and potentially devastating wildfire season, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said on April 23, as Southwestern wildfires cause destruction and force people from their homes.

Hundreds of structures were lost in a growing number of wind-driven blazes across drought-stricken New Mexico, Lujan Grisham said.

Over 20 active wildfires were burning in at least 16 of the state's 33 counties, in the wake of winds that gusted up to 90 mph on April 22, Lujan said during a briefing, adding, “So half the state has a fire issue."

With so many fires burning in April, well before the normal May or June start of the wildfire season, "our risk season is incredibly and dangerously early," Lujan Grisham said.

Wildfire has become a year-round threat in the West given changing conditions that include earlier snowmelt and rain coming later in the fall, scientist have said. The problems have been exacerbated by decades of fire suppression and poor management along with a more than 20-year megadrought that studies link to human-caused climate change.

New Mexico as of April 23 had the most major wildfires burning of any state, though neighboring Arizona also had large fires that included one that burned 30 homes near Flagstaff on April 19.

The largest blazes were concentrated in northern New Mexico, where two major fires merged and numerous villages were threatened by advancing flames as residents heeded calls to leave.


Judge blocks transgender birth certificate law

HELENA — A Montana judge on April 21 temporarily blocked enforcement of a law that required transgender people to have undergone a "surgical procedure" before being allowed to change their sex on their birth certificates.

The law was part of a growing list of Republican-controlled states that have moved to restrict transgender rights as they gain more visibility in culture and society.

In Montana, District Judge Michael Moses of Billings ruled the law is unconstitutionally vague because it does not specify what surgical procedure must be performed. The law also required transgender people to obtain a court order indicating they'd had a surgical procedure.

Because he could grant the temporary injunction based on the vagueness issue, Moses said he did not further analyze the constitutionality of the law.

The plaintiffs — Amelia Marquez of Billings and a transgender man who is not identified in court records — wanted to change the sex on their birth certificates without undergoing costly surgical procedures.

Both argue having a birth certificate that does not match their gender identity puts them at risk of embarrassment, discrimination, harassment or violence if they are asked to provide their birth certificate.

The temporary injunction remains in place until the full case is decided.

Before the 2021 legislature passed the challenged law, transgender residents seeking to change their birth certificate needed only to provide an affidavit to the state health department. The temporary injunction puts that process back in place.

Republican state Sen. Carl Glimm, who sponsored the legislation, has argued that the health department overstepped its authority in changing the designation on a birth certificate from "sex" to "gender" and then setting rules for how it could be changed.


FBI ads highlight unsolved homicide, missing person cases

ALBUQUERQUE — Federal authorities are taking to the airwaves to call attention to unsolved homicide and missing person cases on the largest Native American reservation in the U.S. as several states are starting to funnel more resources and investigators toward solving such cases.

The FBI on April 19 announced it's running a 60-second radio ad in the Navajo language to call attention to what family members and advocacy groups have described as a crisis that is affecting Indian Country.

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The spot features a plea from the mother of Lee Michael Pahe, who was found fatally shot last summer in Naschitti, New Mexico.

The radio spot comes as New Mexico implements legislation adopted earlier this year to ensure more effective coordination among law enforcement agencies when it comes to missing Native Americans or unsolved homicides.

On the Navajo Nation, which spans parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, federal authorities hope listeners will come forward if they have any information about Pahe's case or the others the FBI and Navajo Nation law enforcement are investigating.

The FBI is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever was responsible for his killing.


House speaker gets Profile in Courage award

PHOENIX — Arizona's Republican House speaker on April 21 was named one of five recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award for his refusal to consider overturning the 2020 election results despite massive pressure from former President Donald Trump and his supporters.

Speaker Rusty Bowers rebuffed repeated direct efforts by Trump, his attorney Rudy Giuliani and others to overturn results that saw President Joe Biden narrowly defeat Trump in Arizona. Trump and Giuliani urged Bowers in a phone call to retroactively change Arizona law to allow the Legislature to chose a different slate of presidential electors than those picked by the voters.

Bowers said he was honored by the award but felt undeserving. ”Honoring my oath and the people's choices at the ballot box are not heroic acts — they are the least that Arizonans should expect from the people elected to serve them,” he said.

The award created by Kennedy's family in 1989 is designed "to recognize and celebrate the quality of political courage that he admired most.” This year's award honors those who showed "courage to protect and defend democracy in the United States and abroad."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will be honored for his effort to rally his nation and the world against the Russian invasion. Besides Bowers, the other American honorees are Republican Wyoming U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, Democratic Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Fulton County, Georgia, elections department employee Wandrea "Shaye" Moss.


Democrats back independent as US Senate candidate

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Democrats pulling hard to defeat Republican Sen. Mike Lee took the unusual step on April 23 of spurning a party hopeful to instead get behind an independent, former presidential candidate Evan McMullin.

Democrats were swayed by calls from prominent members who said McMullin, a conservative who captured a significant share of the vote in Utah in 2016, was the best chance to beat Lee in the deeply conservative state that hasn't elected a Democratic U.S. senator for more than 50 years.

Lee also faced two GOP challengers at his party's nominating conventions. He handily won in front of the right-leaning crowd with over 70% of the vote. But those candidates will still appear on the primary ballot because they used the state's other path to the primary ballot and gathered signatures.

Lee's relationship with former president Donald Trump has been front and center since CNN reported on text messages showing that the senator was involved in early efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, though Lee later pivoted and voted to confirm the election results after no widespread fraud emerged.

McMullin is a former CIA officer ran for president in 2016 and made inroads in the deeply conservative state where where many GOP voters had reservations about then-candidate Trump. Lee himself cast a protest vote for McMullin, though he later became as staunch Trump ally, and the former president has endorsed him.

Republican Party Chair Carson Jorgensen took aim at the Democrats' decision, arguing it showed a weakness in the other party's platform.