N.M. Federal Lands News

The political season is upon us with most of the national news dominated by coverage of the Republican primaries. There has been a lot of ink and airtime expended trying to explain primary voters’ seemingly conflicting goals of nominating a candidate who can win in November

and who is also fiscally and socially conservative enough to save the economy while restoring faith in the constitutional principles that made this country great. If our country is to prosper, or even to survive long-term, voters will have to make the right choice. If we believe in our system we have to believe they will. But when you see some of the things our elected representatives enact into law you sometimes wonder.

In March the Senate passed the Restore Act as a late amendment to the Transportation Bill. The Restore Act sends penalty money from the Gulf oil spill to the states affected by it and also funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The LWCF is a scheme to use taxpayer dollars to buy private land, conservation easements and other private property to increase the federal government’s holdings in the name of conservation. Initially the money will come from oil spill penalties but the program will be funded until 2022 without further congressional approval. The cost to taxpayers? $2.8 billion over the next 10 years. At a time when the country is facing historic deficits and debt.

The bill passed with a Democratic majority that also included several Republicans presumably as a compromise to send some of the penalty money to Gulf states. This is the kind of stuff that makes compromise a dirty word. LWCF funding has been a priority of the Obama administration in their effort to appease the environmental left. New Mexico’s two Senators, of course, voted for the measure.

The House incredibly has already passed a similar version of this thing so it’s possible it could be enacted without debate in the House. The only chance to stop it would be for the House to amend the Transportation Bill forcing a House-Senate conference on the result.

Another part of the administration’s green agenda is forcing all of us to pay more for our energy, whether it comes from impractical renewable sources or inflated oil and gas prices. The President claims he has increased oil and gas production since he was elected. It’s true production has increased but it has been more in spite of his policies than because of them. Multiple sources have released data to show that the increase in oil production comes from federal land permits that were approved during the Bush administration and state and private lands that Obama had nothing to do with.

In March the President created a press event in Carlsbad with an oil patch tour to show how he is really trying to bring down gas prices. Local oil and gas producers are cashing in on the current market but they tell a different story about this administration’s energy policy.

For federal and state land ranchers, energy production hurts on both ends. If there is production on a grazing permit, the rancher can’t collect for grazing capacity lost to well locations, pipelines and roads. But we all depend on gasoline and diesel powered vehicles. Fuel is usually one of the biggest expenses in a ranch budget not to mention the added cost of freight on feed and livestock due to higher fuel prices. But in an economy that depends on reliable, affordable energy, we are usually all better off with more, not less. And our politicians shouldn’t try to con us into paying higher prices for renewable energy or fossil fuels.

At the same time, taxpayer dollars have been wasted on numerous green energy initiatives that have either failed in the marketplace at great cost to the company like the GM Volt electric car or have ended in taxpayer funded bankruptcy like Solyndra. Not to mention the huge subsidies to renewable energy production and mandates for its use no matter the cost. How much more of this can we afford?

The House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held an Oversight Field Hearing in Elko, Nevada March 12. The purpose of the hearing was to examine the “Explosion of Federal Regulations Threatening Jobs and Economic Survival in the West.” Nevada Republican Mark Amodei requested the hearing because of criticism of the Forest Service’s Travel Management Plans. Howard Hutchinson testified on behalf of the Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties. Howard described some of the difficulties dealing with the Forest Service and other federal agencies. “Repeated attempts to secure local government participation and meaningful input into the NFMA, NEPA, ESA and other planning processes have been met with extreme resistance by federal agencies.” Howard also cited several examples where the agencies have ignored local public opinion in favor of restricting access to federal land. The March 13 edition of Frank’s blog, “The Westerner” has a link to the full text of Howard’s testimony.

Utah Representative Bob Bishop chairs the subcommittee. He and Senator Orin Hatch have both pledged their support to the Utah state legislature’s effort to assume control of federal land. Utah has been a frequent victim of job-killing restrictions on federal land use and on the leading edge of state’s rights activism to correct the situation. The Sagebrush Rebellion sentiment has been awakened by this administration’s attacks on federal land use and access. There are more state and federal legislators across the West who are openly talking about assuming authority over federal land in their states. When western states were granted statehood, the federal government pledged to dispose of the federal land within their borders. Of course that promise has not been kept. Utah wants to give the feds a chance to do what’s right and keep their word for a change.

No one wants clean air, water and abundant wildlife more than those of us who live here and interact with our environment every day. But local residents and their locally elected representatives should be the ones to decide how our local resources are managed, not some federal judge or titled Washington agency administrator we didn’t elect and don’t even know. Utah’s legislators pledge to support state sovereignty. New Mexico’s two Senators vote for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands, Ray Powell, Jr., has signed an agreement with federal agencies concerning habitat for the prairie chicken and dunes sagebrush lizard. As part of the agreement, landowners and energy developers agree to take certain steps to minimize impacts to the lizards and chickens. In return, the agencies agree not to add further restrictions if the species are listed. A decision on the lizard is expected sometime this summer.

In other ESA news, a new map released as part of the 5-year review of wolf reintroduction shows Mexican wolf habitat extending across southern New Mexico and just across the border into West Texas. Although this is not a map of the current Blue Range Recovery area it is still an indication of where the FWS believes wolves should be. Meanwhile FWS personnel tracked radio collared wolves near homes around Jackson, Wyoming for a month before they decided they should remove them. Why would anyone believe the FWS is more concerned with wolves than the safety of the families living around Jackson?

Again there has been some moisture around the state. Not enough in most places but still more than last winter. Forecasters say the La Niña event is moderating but it will be well into the summer before we see a return to normal rainfall. We will take what we can get and pray for more. Until next time, may God bless all of us. n

Back by Popular Demand …

In the January 2012 issue the latter portion of this piece by Frank DuBois was omitted. Here is the section in its entirety.

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 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 ).