N.M. Federal Lands News

The Obama administration has had their hands full dealing with environmental issues lately. After the President disappointed the enviros by backing off on some new emissions regulations he tried to appease them by delaying a decision on a transcontinental oil pipeline from Canada. 

Citing concerns for the Oglala aquifer the State Department said it would study the project for another 13 months so the decision would be made after next year’s election. Evidently they believe environmentalist votes are more important to reelection than union votes. The Canadian Prime Minister announced that they would begin discussions with the Chinese on selling them the oil that would have been in the pipeline since the U.S. doesn’t want it.

Also last month Interior Secretary Salazar released the list of “Crown Jewells” worthy of wilderness protection. The Doña Ana county wilderness proposals were not on the list. The 236,000 acres of wilderness and conservation areas in northern New Mexico were. There were complaints from legislators in several states that Congress, not the Secretary of Interior is the proper entity to designate wilderness. Senator Mike Lee of Utah said that he would not vote for any wilderness that had not first been approved by the Utah state legislature.

The administration is also dealing with the Solyndra scandal involving $537 billion in government loan guarantees to a now bankrupt solar panel company in California. Several other troubled Energy Department loans have come under scrutiny for the political ties of investors to the Obama administration. Besides the fact that wind and solar power generation cause more environmental destruction than the proponents will acknowledge, they are economically stupid. Still, renewable energy mandates are forcing power companies to build more of them with the resulting environmental damage to mostly federal land in western states and increased power costs to consumers.

The WildEarth Guardians has petitioned the EPA to enforce Clean Air Act regulations to stop “dangerously dusty” conditions in areas in several western states. Several communities in southern New Mexico were on the list. As drought persists in the Southwest we can expect more dangerously dusty conditions. Although the Clean Air Act doesn’t give the EPA the authority to make it rain (which is the only solution to the problem), it does allow them to force the state to take measures to alleviate dust in the air. Look for calls to reduce or eliminate grazing and any other use of federal land natural resources if the WEG gets any traction with their petition.

Another permit buyout bill has surfaced in Congress. HR 3432 has been introduced by Representative Adam Smith (D) Washington and cosponsored by some of the same folks who have supported similar legislation in the past. Deceptively named The Rural Economic Vitalization Act it would allow for third party compensation to pay for a grazing permit that would be relinquished to the agency to be permanently retired. Supporters use the same old worn out arguments, grazing is destructive to the environment and economically insignificant.

In most western states agriculture is among the top industries in the state and livestock production is always a significant if not dominant part of that. Range livestock production is the foundation that the rest of the industry is built on. In New Mexico, much of that production depends on federal land grazing.

Space is too short here to list all the benefits of well-managed grazing on federal land to the environment and the communities that depend on it. Most readers of this column already understand the fallacies in the arguments used to support this legislation anyway. It has always been our position that ranchers should be allowed to buy or sell their assets as best fits their situation. They shouldn’t be forced or coerced by ill-conceived programs like this one to conform to environmentalists’ social agenda.

The US Forest Service continues to anger local residents in several states with its Travel Management Plans. Sheriffs in more rural counties are asserting control of law enforcement activities in their counties to prevent federal officers from using heavy-handed tactics to enforce silly regulations to limit use of federal land. Frank mentioned some of these last month. There have been more in northern California and southern Oregon who have stated their support for their county’s residents in their opposition to road closures in the forest. It seems that there is little hope for common sense to make any progress in Washington on government policy. Maybe there is still a chance to make it work from the bottom up. County government is the place to start and it looks like some of these counties are starting to get it.

Although there has been nothing new with the Mexican wolf reintroduction program in New Mexico, the state of Utah has informed Interior Secretary Salazar that they don’t want any. Utah has caught wind of the effort to expand the area qualified as Mexican wolf habitat to include southern Utah and Arizona. A bill has also been introduced in the Utah state legislature to move wolves from furbearer classification onto their list of big game species so that when and if the population of northern gray wolves loses ESA protection in the state, they will be classified correctly to allow wolf hunting. More examples of states moving to protect themselves from federal intrusion into their business.

Closer to home, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to issue a decision on the Endangered Species Act listing of the dunes sagebrush lizard by mid-December. Congressman Steve Pearce has called for a delay in the listing and a majority of the House Natural Resources Committee of the New Mexico State Legislature voted to publicly oppose it. Most experts who know the scientific data used to support the listing claim that it is too weak to meet the standards to list. We all know that often FWS decisions on ESA listings are based on sketchy scientific data. The only recourse for those harmed by the listing and the land use restrictions and other regulations that come with it is the legal process.

Steve Pearce continues to take positions that support his district’s constituents in the face of harmful federal action. He has been rewarded for his efforts by an op-ed hit piece in the Albuquerque Journal. The editorial comes from the Defenders of Wildlife, who never met an ESA listing they didn’t like whether it met scientific requirements or not. If Pearce is causing heartburn at DOW he must be on the right track.

The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board has held hearings on repeal of the Cap and Trade scheme approved by the Richardson administration EIB. Efforts to overturn the costly and impractical plan in the legislature were blocked so this is the only way left to straighten things out. The EIB decision should be made early next year.

The dry weather continues. Predictions dwell on the La Niña effects on our weather that forecasters say will bring a warmer and drier than normal winter and spring. Ranchers continue to cut numbers and sell livestock. We can’t change the weather, the best we can do is try to adapt to it. Even though weather forecasting has come a long way in the last few years, there is still leeway in the predictions to allow for some moisture to come our way. We will keep praying for it.

In the meantime, the holidays are coming. As always it is a time for us to remember why we celebrate this time of the year and count our many blessings. Faith, family and friends are some that come to mind during this season. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and may God bless us