N.M. Federal Lands News


New Mexico celebrates its 100th birthday this year. January 6, 1912 was the date when the state of New Mexico joined the Union just ahead of Arizona which was admitted the next month on February 14. In the years preceding statehood ambitious politicians came to the territories in anticipation of statehood and the chance to fill one of the two new US Senate seats that would come with it. There were also politicians already in the House and Senate from other states, primarily in the East who coveted what they believed to be a vast treasure trove of wealth in form of natural resources in the west. Others feared economic competition from a fully independent West free to exploit all those natural resources for its own benefit. Some believe that is why the western states were denied control of most of the land within their borders as a condition of statehood.
There has always been some dissatisfaction with the way the feds managed the natural resources under their control but as the number and extent of regulations has escalated there are more county led efforts and even some actions at the state level to take control of natural resource use and tell the federal agencies to back off.
Frank reported on several such cases last month. Here are a few more that merit attention from the states.
President Obama has issued a 20-year ban on new uranium mines in northern Arizona. Citing no specific environmental concerns the administration withdrew over a million acres of land from the area that would be available for new mining permits. They want to study the impacts of the existing mines and those already permitted before any new permits are granted. The Obama administration seems to always have a little something special in store for Arizona.
Then there is the management of our National Forests. The Southwest may still be suffering drought impacts this spring which could bring another severe fire season. So far, Otero County is the only New Mexico government entity with a plan to address it. And the mismanagement of our National Forest watersheds will magnify the water concerns in the region. Most of New Mexico depends on stream flows or groundwater aquifer recharge from forest watersheds. Thick stands of trees prevent healthy watershed function for either purpose.
President Obama also has withdrawn approval for the Keystone pipeline project that would bring Canadian oil to refineries in the US. After expressing support for the project he capitulated to environmentalists and denied approval last year. Now he says the approval deadline House Republicans tried to enforce legislatively didn’t allow enough time to evaluate the environmental impacts. If there are legitimate environmental concerns with the pipeline that is one thing but it is obvious that this is just a cynical attempt to use the pipeline to appease environmentalists in an election year.
Secretary Salazar has been back home in the San Luis Valley of Colorado several times during the last year. On most of those trips he has been laying the groundwork for a new National monument or National Historic sites in the San Luis Valley. The Department of Interior has studied a 3.26 million acre area that extends south into northern New Mexico. According to Salazar he wants to preserve areas of historical significance to the Hispanic heritage of the area. The real irony is that the land use restrictions with these designations will eventually limit if not prohibit traditional uses of these lands by the local people many of whom share the Hispanic heritage he wants to recognize.
Southern New Mexico is still under threat of wilderness designation along the border that would open smuggling corridors into New Mexico similar to those in Arizona.
The Environmental Protection Administration is forging ahead with emissions regulations in the form of fuel economy standards. After the man-made global warming hoax was exposed, congress took a pass on Cap and Trade legislation in a rare episode of bipartisan agreement. Despite congressional sentiment to stop regulation in the name of global warming (now reincarnated as climate change) the EPA is forging ahead anyway. Although this federal action is not state specific it will have a negative economic impact on all the western states not only as oil producers but also fuel consumers.
Then of course there are always the Endangered Species Act concerns. Wolves are a growing problem. The delisting of Northern wolves is under assault in the courts. And wolves are expanding into Oregon with the resultant predation on livestock and big game. Mexican wolves continue to cause the same problems in New Mexico and Arizona. Arizona recently withdrew support for more releases pending completion of wolf studies although they are still supporting the program. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has withdrawn from the effort but has not tried to stop it either.
In addition to predation of livestock and big game populations, pen-raised Mexican wolves and their progeny are more likely to be accustomed to people and pose a threat to local residents. In December a collared female wolf was shot after terrorizing a young ranch family in the Gila. It is really unbelievable that wolf advocates can still support this insanity.
The Dunes Sagebrush Lizard listing is currently on hold and likely in trouble due to the lack of real science to support it. However it is still not dead and the threat will continue as long as the ESA is law.
These are just a few of the many western environmental issues that states could act on. Federal agencies go through the motions of soliciting local input but there are rarely any real changes made to a federal initiative due to local concerns unless state or local authorities put some effort into it. There are legal grounds to question federal management authority in most of these cases. But there is no question that the western states have not been treated the same as their eastern neighbors when it comes to natural resource/federal land issues.
The founding fathers wrote the constitution to prevent a strong federal government from subjugating the people. But on federal land use issues that has happened to the western states anyway.
The New Mexico Legislative session started January 17. Now during this centennial year would be a great time for our elected leaders to get together and do something positive for New Mexico by standing up to federal agencies against senseless regulation and exerting some authority over natural resource management.
This year the legislature will be dealing with budget bills and other things the Governor wants to consider. One of the state spending issues that concerns federal land livestock producers is the funding of the Range Improvement Task Force at New Mexico State University. The Task Force is an interdisciplinary team of scientists who specialize in areas that are important to grazing and livestock production. As University budgets have come under pressure the Task Force has been targeted for cuts in positions. While the federal agencies seem bent on increasing their control over natural resource use and support for environmental activism there is a greater need for independent scientific data to defend New Mexico’s interests. Now is not the time to be decreasing support for one of the most valuable assets we have in that area. Our legislators need to understand the value of support for the Task Force to the state and its citizens.
While we’re on the subject of the Task Force, congratulations to Nick Ashcroft, long time Task Force member and this year’s recipient of the New Mexico Federal Lands Council’s “Bud’s Contract Award”. Nick has been a mainstay with the Task Force for the last 15 years. During that time he has been instrumental in gathering and analyzing data to help further the cause of federal land grazing and responsible use of range resources. There are many federal land grazing operations that might not be in existence today if it were not for the work of Nick and the rest of the Task Force.
Even though weather forecasters still predict the rest of the winter and spring to be dry, most of the state had some welcome moisture at the end of the year. Even if it’s not enough for a good spring yet, it’s a start. Let’s pray for more and for God’s blessing on us all. n