N.M. Federal Lands News

by Mike Casabonne. 

The Federal Land Council News. 

The Sagebrush Rebellion is alive and well spurred by dissatisfaction with federal land management that continues to grow.

There are sporadic – mostly local – efforts to do something about it but so far only Utah and Arizona have produced state efforts to assume control of BLM and US Forest Service administered federal lands within their borders.

Utah has passed legislation requiring the federal government to “extinguish title” to federal land in the state by the end of 2014. American Indian lands, National Parks, Wilderness Areas and National Monuments administered by the National Park Service are excluded. The bill is supported by the Republicans in the Utah Congressional delegation including Senators Hatch and Lee.

As he walked out the door of the Oval Office, Bill Clinton slapped Utah with a huge National Monument designation that locked up a big chunk of Utah’s natural resources. The Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument holds some of largest reserves of clean burning coal in the country. There are also estimated to be huge petroleum reserves in the oil shale formations in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. Utah wants to determine its own destiny in the development of these resources and others on land within its own borders.

Arizona is taking a different route. The Arizona legislature passed a resolution that will place an issue on the ballot in the next election to basically do the same thing as the Utah bill. The Arizona resolution if approved by voters in November would assert state sovereignty over the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within its boundaries. The resolution excludes territory established as Indian reservations by the United States and other lands ceded to the federal government under Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution. That’s the clause that limits the authority of the federal government to own land other than “forts, arsenals, magazines, dock-yards and other needful buildings”purchased with the consent of the state legislature.

Both of these efforts base their legality on the Equal Footings Doctrine that requires all states to be admitted to the Union on an equal basis and their state’s Enabling Acts that preceded statehood.

Arizona is in serious conflict with the federal government over the enforcement of border security in wilderness areas, wildlife preserves and national parks along its southern border. In addition the Forest Service has forced the town of Tombstoneto sue to gain access to repair part of the municipal water supply system in the Miller Peak Wilderness Area. Water lines and pumping units were damaged by floods after the Miller Fire last year.

Federal land road closures and other limits on access to federal land is also an issue in both states. Twenty-two of Utah’s 27 counties are in lawsuits over RS 2477 rights of way on BLM lands. The Forest Service is attempting to close countless roads with its travel management plans.

Arizona and Utah would appreciate support from other western states to help pressure the feds to respond.

New Mexico has most of the same problems with federal land management as Arizona and Utah. And there are others looming. Much of the revenue that funds state government including public education is based on oil and gas production that is in jeopardy from the Endangered Species Act listing of the dunes sagebrush lizard. Local municipal and county representatives were in Washington recently and discussed the lizard’s status with Federal authorities. Environmental groups are watching this listing as an indicator of how FWS will handle rulings on other species named in the settlement agreement reached last year on ESA litigation. If FWS decides they need to demonstrate their subservience to these groups, the lizard may be listed regardless of the science. The onlyremaining recourse will be litigation.

Wilderness proponents have not been able to manipulate the legislative process to get what they want along New Mexico’s southern border. As Frank wrote last month, now they want to circumvent the public process and ask the President to give them even more as a National Monument. Leaked Interior Department studies show there are other sites under consideration as well. Whether Obama wins or loses, after the November elections there could be another rash of National Monument designations like those that came at the end of the Clinton administration.

This administration has been more than willing to sacrifice jobs and economic growth to satisfy the demands of environmental extremists. Most polls place New Mexico safely in the President’s column for reelection. He and his supporters may feel they have the room to do whatever they want on environmental issues here. Congressman Pearce is the only member of the congressional delegation who will defend his constituents.

The onset of the fire season this year has brought a few smaller blazes to southwestern forests. So far we have not had a major fire in New Mexico but it’s still early in the season. Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona has introduced legislation that would allow for public petitions to designate forests as “at-risk” or “threatened and endangered species habitat”. The Forest Service or BLM would then be required to implement wildfire prevention projects which could include logging, thinning and grazing. The bill would require that the approval process be expedited and that Environmental Impact Statements issued be good for 10 years for grazing and 20 years for logging. The bill has 27 cosponsors including New Mexico Congressman Steve Pearce.

Washington gridlock has allowed passage of very little legislation since Republicans took over the House in the 2010 election. Now with the November election in sight there is even less incentive to do anything that might put members on record so their votes can be used in campaign ads. Unless the failure to pass a measure has big negatives for both sides it is not likely to get through.

One positive measure that does have bi-partisan support is a House bill sponsored by John Mica of Florida. The EPA is trying to assume control over all water use by expanding its clean Water Act authority way beyond the scope of congressional intent. The companion bill in the Senate so far only has Republicans on the sponsor list. And of course, it still requires the President’s signature. The bill limits his administration’s EPA so you have to figure it won’t make it but the bi-partisan sponsorship may pressure them a little.

There are always new legal actions to report. The WildEarth Guardians think enough time has passed since USDA’s Wildlife Services issued their last Environmental Impact Statement that they can sue them over it. Most readers know WS is the federal predator control program that helps prevent predation on livestock and wildlife populations. USDA statistics report 180,000 calves lost to all predators in 2010. Coyotes are the species responsible for most of the predation. That is with the program in place. Wildlife Services has a small budget that is constantly under attack. The last time they had to do a programmatic EIS, it took a big part of it. That is the most likely goal of this suit-force funding to go topaperwork and eliminate on-the-ground activities.

Federal land ranchers as well as all agriculture in New Mexico lost a great communicator for the cause and a good friend in early May. Erik Ness who retired from his position as long time Communications Director for the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau in 2010 lost his battle with cancer May 15. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.

The National Weather Service has officially declared La Niña over. There were some good rains over parts of southern New Mexico in early May. Still, the majority of the state is in extreme to exceptional drought. Forecasts are for normal summer rainfall. We can probably live with normal.

Until next time, may God bless us all.