N.M. Federal Lands News


My column this month is about Northern New Mexico being under attack by the Air Force, the Forest Service, Congressman Lujan and Secretary Salazar

Duck, the Air Force is Coming.

The Air Force is proposing a low altitude training area for the Air Force Special Operations Command at Clovis which will be in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

The training area would include all or parts of thirteen counties in New Mexico. Since their draft environmental assessment says “aircrews would plan and fly low altitude routes in mountainous terrain (especially at high elevations)” you can bet the northern most counties will be the most impacted. The Air Force says there will be three mission flights per day (688 flights per year) where the crews would “fly approximately 30 route segments in a mission, simulate dropping and retrieving personnel or supplies, participate in low altitude refueling” and related training activities. And, oh yes, some of these activities would be as low as 300 feet above ground.

Not to worry though, because if you are planning to work your cattle or undertake an activity that a C-130 flying 300 feet above might disrupt, the Air Force says just send them an email. And we all know that nothing “unplanned” happens out there.

Forest Service on the Attack

Carlos Salazar, President of the Northern New Mexico Stock Growers, says the Forest Service has been treating ranchers like “second class citizens”, and that the agency “could care less about sustaining rural communities.” Salazar also says they don’t even follow their own rules and regulations. Let’s take a look.

In August of 2009 a Carson National Forest team released a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) of livestock grazing on the Jarita Mesa and Alamosa allotments. The draft EA identified three alternatives: 1) no grazing, 2) grazing at the same level as the last ten years with a minor reduction and improved management, and 3) an 18 percent reduction.

After receiving public comments and expert advice from the Range Improvement Task Force at NMSU, on September 30, 2010 the Forest Service released the Final EA which selected alternative 2 as the proposed action. And that should have been that.

However, the ranchers say that in January of 2010, El Rito District Ranger Diana Trujillo attended a meeting of the Jarita Mesa Grazing Association, and even though this was eight months prior to the EA being finalized, announced the 18 percent reduction would be implemented. Not only that, the ranchers say Trujillo also announced she was working with “outside groups” for a buyout of their grazing permits. Not that she was prejudiced against grazing or anything like that you understand.

True to her word and in spite of what the EA recommended, Trujillo issued a decision calling for the 18 percent reduction. The ranchers had gone several times to the NM Congressional Delegation and to the Governor for assistance and they claim this was an act of unadulterated retaliation by Trujillo.

In addition, the EA did not address the increasing herds of elk and wild horses. The best I recall both of those animals graze. Years ago the Carson National Forest had cancelled these rancher’s horse permits.

That was to protect the range don’t you know. Apparently these particular wild horses don’t have teeth and their hooves are soft as cotton.

Unwilling to accept this kind of treatment, the ranchers and the Rio Arriba County Commission are going to sue the Forest Service for violations of NEPA, the National Forest Management Act, the Federal Sustained Yield Forest Management Act and violation of their First Amendment right of free speech. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this.

Lujan’s Legislative Assault

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan has introduced H.R. 1241, the Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act. This legislation would establish a 236,000-acre National Conservation Area (NCA) and two Wilderness Areas with a combined acreage of 21,000.

A statement released by Rep. Lujan says “New Mexicans’ access to the land for grazing and the harvesting of piñon nuts, wild herbs and firewood will also be protected.” It appears he did an excellent job of providing access for piñon nuts and wild herbs, but the same can’t be said for livestock grazing.

The legislative language designating the NCA lists eleven resources in the Purposes section which are to be preserved, protected and enhanced. Livestock is noticeably absent. Then if you go to the Grazing section of the bill, it says grazing must be “consistent” with the Purposes section and this creates a huge disadvantage for allotment owners. A letter to Lujan signed by New Mexico livestock organizations explains:

“Whenever the agency seeks to “conserve, protect and enhance” any of the eleven uses listed and there is a potential conflict with a grazing practice, grazing will be either diminished or eliminated. If a current ranching practice is determined to be in conflict, it will have to be discontinued. If a rancher proposes a range improvement project or any other new activity which is determined to be in conflict, it will be disallowed. The harmful effects of this language are self-evident . . .”

The livestock organizations propose two amendments which would put grazing on an equal footing with the other resources and they close their letter by saying they “look forward to working” with Rep. Lujan “toward some positive changes.” Let’s hope those changes will come about.

Salazar’s Shot

Then along comes Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar who unleashes a report “that labels 3.26 million acres in Colorado’s San Luis Valley and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and northern New Mexico as areas that could one day become part of a national park or historic site.”

Salazar’s plan entails:

  • Creating a Sangre de Cristo National Historic Park
  • Building a San Luis Valley Trail System along the Rio Grande from Colorado into New Mexico
  • Establishing new wildlife areas.

The Denver Post reports that Salazar has engaged key landowners in discussions about conservation easements as a way to protect 400,000 acres, along with purchases of another 30,000 acres. Ted Turner is one of those key landowners.

Some are not as supportive of this proposal as Salazar may have hoped. Maria Valdez of San Luis says the whole proposal lacked transparency, could threaten multi-generational grazing and firewood gathering, and generally objects to the effort to change her community into a “Latino-American Disneyland.” Many were also outraged the Park Service report included a photo of the inside of a penitente chapel, the San Francisco Morada, without permission and is considering making the morada a tourist attraction.

It appears the residents of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado should get ready for National Parks, National Historic Landmarks, wildlife corridors, acquisition of private property and conservation easements galore.

All of this is part of Obama’s Great Outdoors Initiative and Salazar’s efforts to tie more National Parks to Hispanic communities. It beats me how they think they can honor the history, traditions and culture of a community by destroying it.

Those Drones Again

I’ve written before about my concern the drones used by the military overseas would eventually be used for domestic purposes. There’s no need to speculate any longer. In the FAA Reauthorization Act the wise ones in Congress have “made it easier for the government to fly unmanned spy planes in U.S. airspace.” It also directs the FAA to issue regulations for the commercial use of drones.

It ain’t all bad news on drones though. An animal rights group, SHARK ((SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness), was using their Mikrokopter drone to video a live “pigeon shoot” which resulted in the event being cancelled. Before the air cleared somebody had shot the drone out of the sky. Steve Hindi, the President of SHARK called it an “act of revenge.”

This is probably just a misunderstanding. The shooter must have thought he was aiming at a super sized, Boone & Crocket-type pigeon. Yeah, that must have been what happened.

Until next time, 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 ).