N.M. Federal Lands News 1/11

My column this month covers two species of predator: Wolves and U.S. Senators. They are both dangerous to you, your family and your property.

Wolves – Arizona Gets It Right, Will New Mexico?

The Arizona Game & Fish Commission has voted to support federal legislation that would remove federal protection of the Mexican Grey Wolf and return its management to the state.

The Arizona Game & Fish Department has issued a statement saying if the wolf was delisted they could run the program in a “more affordable, efficient and effective manner.” Let’s encourage the Martinez administration to do the same. The federal legislation is the “State Sovereignty Wildlife Management Act” introduced by Representative Rob Bishop of Utah.


Only Smokey Can Ban Guns

In September, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Forest Service’s regulations required that it consider banning hunting with guns on lands designated as “semi-primitive.” As a result of the ruling the U.S. Forest Service is beginning a review of its Management Plan for the Huron-Manistee National Forest to consider banning hunting with firearms in some areas. The judge ruled the noise associated with gun hunting could harm the quality of the recreational experience of hikers, backpackers, and skiers. I hope all those so-called sportsmen’s groups who have endorsed the Bingaman wilderness bill will be satisfied throwing rocks at rabbits.

Bingaman’s Bandito Boulevard

The war over the Bingaman Wilderness bill, S. 1689, has truly been a battle of the people versus politicians, the media and well-funded liberal nonprofits.

Arrayed on one side were New Mexico’s two U.S. Senators, the Governor, the mayors and city councilors of Las Cruces, Mesilla and El Paso, and the Doña Ana County Commission; the editorial boards of the Albuquerque Journal, Santa Fe New Mexican and Las Cruces Sun-News; and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, the Wilderness Society, Pew Charitable Trusts and a founder of Microsoft.

In opposition are what Stephen Ward of Bingaman’s office kept telling people were only “five angry ranchers.” It turns out they were not only angry, they were pretty damn smart. Here’s what they did:

  • They organized and named their group People For Preserving Our Western Heritage.
  • They established a website which provided background materials on the Wilderness Act and the latest news and commentary on wilderness issues. The website has now had over 250,000 hits.
  • They wrote and submitted to the NM Congressional Delegation an alternative proposal which protected the land from development without inflicting harm on current users.
  • They published brochures and other handouts explaining the wilderness issue.
  • They made presentations to groups and institutions.
  • They presented testimony at the D.C. and Las Cruces hearings on Bingaman’s bill.
  • They made You Tube videos, at zero cost, on the wilderness issue and the proposed legislation. Those videos have now been viewed over 30,000 times.
  • They formed a coalition of those opposed to the wilderness bill and developed an email list to keep the coalition members informed.

All this activity, effort and education produced results. Stephen Ward’s “five angry ranchers” has turned into a coalition of over 800 professionals and organizations opposed to the Bingaman bill. Opposed to the legislation are the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, the Las Cruces Association of Realtors, the Las Cruces Homebuilders Association, the Doña Ana Soil & Water Conservation District, the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers, and many other local, state and national groups. The Las Cruces Tea Party alone has submitted petitions to Bingaman with over 2,200 signatures of those opposed to his bill. In addition, both Governor-elect Martinez and Congressman-elect Pearce have expressed opposition to the bill.

Bingaman’s reaction to this has been curious, especially to an old Senate watcher like me. I had always considered Bingaman to be a deliberate but effective legislator, careful to get things right and always seeking a consensus where there are competing interests.

Let’s chuck that analysis out the window right now. No matter the amount of opposition nor the number of concerns expressed about access, flood control or border security, Bingaman has continued to plow ahead and push his bill to designate a quarter of a million acres on or near the border as wilderness.

The bill was reported out of the Committee Bingaman chairs on July 21, 2010. Much has been made that the vote was “unanimous” and some have praised its “bipartisan support.” Bull hockey. It was unanimous alright, but with only Democrats voting yes. You see there wasn’t a single Republican at the session. All of the Republicans had boycotted that markup session. Somebody tell me how that is bipartisan.

Bingaman could have brought the bill up for a vote on the Senate floor at any time, but he chose not to. The Senate was busy, but he apparently knew the bill was controversial and decided the best chance it had of passing was in an Omnibus bill, where it would be packaged with many other bills and then “log rolled” through Congress. It was either that or he had decided to not move the bill for a reason unknown to me – but either way the bill lay idle as Congress broke for the elections.

Then came the lame duck session. During the first week of December Bingaman, along with Senator Barbara Boxer, met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and requested he support an Omnibus Public Lands and Water bill. Reports say Reid reacted favorably and tasked the two Committee Chairman with putting together such a bill.

Upon hearing this, the Presidents of the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, the Las Cruces Association of Realtors and the Homebuilders Association jointly signed a letter to Bingaman reiterating their concerns with the bill stating “We do not believe S. 1689 as currently written is in the best interests of the citizens of Doña Ana County,” and “we fervently request you remove S. 1689 from any last minute consideration by the Congress.”

Again, all for naught, as Bingaman continued to push the wilderness advocates proposal. On December 17 Senator Reid released his Omnibus bill titled “America’s Great Outdoors Act of 2010”, which contains 110 bills from four different Committees, including Bingaman’s S. 1689.

That’s where it stands as we go to press. Will the people win this one, or will it go to the politicians and the moneyed environmental interests?

Oh, by the way, there are many important things in this Omnibus bill besides Wilderness. For instance, it authorizes $20 million in “Nutria Eradication Financial Assistance Awards”, which is a lot of money for rat killin’, and $17 million for 30 acres to expand ownership of lands near Jimmy Carter’s boyhood home. That’s almost $600,000 an acre and that ain’t peanuts. I’m sure those are both so important we must ram them through during a lame duck session.

Until next time, watch out for lame ducks, be a nuisance to the devil and don’t forget to check that cinch.

Frank DuBois was the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003, is the author of a blog: The Westerner (www.thewesterner.blogspot.com) and is the founder of The DuBois Rodeo Scholarship (www.nmsu.edu/~duboisrodeo/).