Farm Bureau Minute

Farm Bureau Minute

by Mike White, President, New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau

So What Went Wrong

In the aftermath of the Organ Mountains being designated a National Monument by President Obama through the Antiquities Act, many are asking what went wrong? Didn’t people understand that when land is acquired by the Federal Government that the tax base shrinks and there is less revenue for the state? Don’t they know that attendance at National Monuments has been in a steady rate of decline and that it will never meet projected revenue expectations? Were they aware that ranchers pay fees to use the land for grazing but that grazing becomes unfeasible when lands are managed for preservation? The answer is yes, a portion of the population knew those things, but they were overwhelmed by a vocal, well-funded minority.

Led by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, this minority convinced law makers that the majority of residents wanted the monument. This was patently false. A survey conducted by the Las Cruces Sun News – after the monument had been designated, showed that 52 percent of respondents did not favor the monument, while only 45 percent did. Of those who did favor the monument, a poll by GOAL Advocacy showed that two-thirds of them wanted the designation to be achieved through the legislative process rather than through presidential proclamation. But when the politicians are on your payroll, it’s easy to convince them. Jeff Steinborn, State Representative for the Las Cruces area, is the NMWA’s Southern NM Director. Nathan Small, a Las Cruces City Councilor, is the Wilderness Protection Coordinator for NMWA. Bill Soules, a NM Senator for the Doña Ana County area, is the brother of David Soules, a member of the NMWA Board of Directors. (The Soules family is very politically active – their sister Merrie Lee Soules ran in the Democratic Primary for PRC Commissioner but lost to Sandy Jones). Senator Martin Heinrich was Chairman of the NMWA in 2001, and in 2012 his campaign received its largest donation ($154,374) from the League of Conservation Voters.

Not only is the NMWA well-connected, they are well funded. With revenue in excess of $1 million for 2013, they could afford countless television, radio and newspaper commercials. When Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel visited Las Cruces for a listening session, the NMWA bused in “stakeholders” from Silver City, Santa Fe and Albuquerque. One million dollars buys a lot of activism.

Doña Ana County Farm & Livestock Bureau and their President, Bud Deerman, are to be commended for their efforts to push back against the monument designation. Members wrote letters to the editor, attended meetings to voice the concerns of local farmers and ranchers, and met with radio talk show hosts and newspaper editors to spread awareness of the issues.  NMF&LB funded full page ads in the newspaper and contributed to a radio campaign that encouraged like-minded citizens to call their local law-makers. State office staff coordinated countless meetings with Mesilla Valley ranchers and farmers, served as guests on numerous radio talk shows, and managed social media efforts to sound the alarm about the consequences of a monument designation.

Residents were made aware that the land use plan would threaten the existence of ranching, would cause public safety concerns since current dams along the Organ Mountains watershed could not be managed with modern equipment and that designation would open a corridor for increased drug smuggling along the border. But in the end it came down to a president with a pen. “I have preserved more than 3 million acres of public lands for future generations, and I am not done,” said President Obama during his statement prior to signing the proclamation.

So what’s next? The NMWA is not satisfied with the naming of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monuments. Next on their list is Otero Mesa. From the NMWA website “Our campaign to protect Otero Mesa has been ongoing since 2001, when the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance helped form the Coalition for Otero Mesa, a broad coalition of hunters, ranchers, conservationists, and state leaders. The Coalition has led the way in preserving this last great desert grassland as our nation’s next National Monument, a designation the President can proclaim without Congressional legislation by invoking the American Antiquities Act.” Followed by the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area, a 46,000-acre portion of Taos County in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Also in their sights – the proposed Chaco Canyon Wilderness. The list goes on and on.

What can we do? First we need to elect politicians who understand our issues. It’s easy to get busy, ignore the process, and then try to educate whomever gets elected, but as we’ve seen that doesn’t work very well. It’s better to elect one of our own.  Secondly, we need to be proactive at the beginning of the process instead of being behind the curve as in the past. So please become aware of these types of movements in your own community. Get involved, get social, become an activist! Together we can prevent initiatives which hurt our industry and our way of life.