N.M. Federal Lands News

My column this month will cover Governors with guts, other uprisings over federal land management, and the different legislative approaches to roadless and wilderness areas exhibited by Heinrich, Lujan and Pearce.


Montana Governor Halts Federal Movement of Wildlife

Governor Brian Schweitzer has issued an order blocking the Interior Department from transporting fish and wildlife anywhere within his state or across state lines. By doing so the governor has upped the ante in his simmering dispute with Interior over elk and bison. The Governor’s Executive Order says the Department of Interior “has demonstrated a lack of responsiveness and a cavalier attitude toward wildlife disease management in Montana and the West” and further states that actions by the federal agency “constitute an unacceptable threat to the health and integrity of Montana’s wildlife.”

Schweitzer said he was concerned the federal agency’s actions have allowed animal diseases such as brucellosis and chronic wasting disease to spread across the region, and that the order will remain in place until federal officials show cooperation with Montana over wildlife.

That raises some interesting thoughts for us in New Mexico.

Let’s take the Mexican Gray Wolf for instance. Some are saying Interior is considering expanding the recovery area to include New Mexico, Arizona and the southern portions of Colorado and Utah. If the Governors of those states issued orders like Schweitzer has, the wolves couldn’t be transported. In New Mexico, such an order right now would stop the transport of wolves back and forth from the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. I’ll bet that would get their attention.

Also consider if we ran into another Kit Laney situation. The Governor issues an order prohibiting the transport of livestock by federal land agencies. That would force the federal agency to confiscate livestock according to state statutes and procedures, rather than running roughshod over the ranch family and sneaking the livestock out of state at an outrageous cost.

Yes sir, if you have a Governor who will stand up for the people and resources of your state some interesting things can happen.

Utah Governor files suit on roads

Governor Gary Herbert has served notice that Utah will sue the Interior Department for control of nearly 19,000 roads crossing federally managed lands in the state. The Governor said, “The BLM has completely ignored local and state requests for local control of vital roads within the public lands, instead choosing to unilaterally close roads and restrict access enjoyed by Utahns for decades, contrary to the protections with FLPMA of 1976.” Herbert says, “We will now bring the historical evidence to court, and ask that the access rights and travel needs of Utahns be upheld in the face of federal indifference. Ownership is the only tool that allows local and state governments to have a legitimate say in the management of access to public lands,” the Governor said. The Utah Attorney Generals’ Office says they have “strong evidence” the roads predate 1976 and that “some even pre-date Utah’s statehood in 1896.”

It’s refreshing to see another Governor demonstrating leadership on behalf of his state.

Wyoming Governor Takes on Roadless Areas

In October, a three-judge panel from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Environmentalists hailed the ruling as one of the most significant in decades.

Now comes Wyoming Governor Matt Mead who is petitioning for a rehearing of the decision that upheld the rule which affects nearly 50 million acres of land in national forests across the United States. The petition says the Forest Service violated the 1964 Wilderness Act by creating de facto wilderness areas, circumvented required environmental and forest management rules and that the Forest Service is required to evaluate forest use only on a forest-by-forest basis. The petition asks the entire 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the case. Governor Mead says, “The creation of these de facto wilderness areas means the voice of the public and the state are stifled in managing the lands here,” and “Not only does this prevent many uses of public land, but it also limits our ability to fight back against the bark beetles that are devastating our forests.”

Go get’em Guv.

In a related manner, there are competing congressional bills on this issue. On the pro-wilderness, anti-ranching side, New Mexico Reps Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan are cosponsoring The Roadless Area Conservation Act which would codify the 2001 rule that applies to national forest lands in 38 states. On the pro-multiple use and ranching side, NM Rep. Steve Pearce is cosponsoring The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act of 2011 which would release 43 million acres of BLM and Forest Service land back to local planning.

You’ll have to guess which bill we support.

Senator Promotes State Takeover of Arizona Forests

Arizona should take over the national forests and quickly begin logging to thin forests and prevent catastrophic wildfires, said state Sen. Sylvia Allen and a group of people affected by the massive Wallow Fire that consumed 730 square miles in the White Mountains. Senator Allen said, “If the Forest Service will not act now, then the state of Arizona needs to step up on this emergency and take over management of our forest lands.” Allen, who is President Pro Tem of the Arizona Senate, is working with a group called Courage to Stand for Arizona’s Forests. While the Apache-Sitgraves forest is moving faster than ever to let contracts for thinning, the group says they are not moving fast enough. One county official said, “. . . our tree density in some areas is running anywhere from 12,200 trees per acre to 2,200 trees per acre. And it is supposed to be, according to the Department of the Interior, 70 trees per acre.”

Combine what’s happening in Montana, Utah, Wyoming and Arizona with what occurred on the Lincoln and Gila forests in New Mexico this year, and you can see there is much concern and dissatisfaction with the federal land management agencies. It is reminiscent, if not worse, than what we saw during the Carter Administration.

So what is the response to this from our illustrious leaders in Congress? Why now would be a good time to increase the amount of federal land they say!

As I wrap this up Congress has just announced they’ve reached agreement on a combined appropriations bill to fund the government for the rest of the year. I’ve taken a quick look at the bill and here are the budgets for land acquisition for some of the agencies:

BLM – $22.3 million
Forest Service – $52.6 million
USFWS – $54.7 million
Park Service – $102 million

Since we are not experiencing any budget problems and these agencies are doing such a great job of management Congress deems it wise to expand the federal estate. Why else would they give them more money? I guess we should be pleased they don’t receive the full amount authorized, but it’s clear the property-grabbing virus is still alive in D.C.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and a joyous holiday season. If you did, I’m sure it was on private property.

Until next time, be a nuisance to the devil and don’t forget to check that cinch.

Frank DuBois was the New Mexico 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/).