N.M. Federal Lands News 2-11

When Congress went into its lame duck session the Obama administration and the Democrats were on the political ropes…

They had just been handed one of the worst election defeats in modern times in November. All but the most partisan of political pundits saw it as a repudiation of the leftist agenda they had pursued for the last two years. At the end of the session, however, compromises were made to avoid massive tax increases while at the same time spending was increased even further in a frenzy of deal-making just before Christmas. The incredible end result was a rehabilitation of at least some of the administration’s reputation.
For New Mexico and advocates of multiple use on western federal lands there was also a major win in the Senate. The Omnibus Lands Bill that included S.1689, Senator Bingaman’s wilderness bill, was allowed to die. The Omnibus Bill included a lot of bad legislation but S. 1689 was among the worst of it. Frank Dubois and the rest of the People for Preserving Our Western Heritage group deserve a round of applause for organizing the opposition to this proposal and saving all of us from another massive boondoggle of wilderness designation that by its proximity to the border would have exposed southern New Mexico to even more of the border violence that plagues the region already.
Senator Bingaman’s cooperation with extreme environmental groups in pursuing this legislation and his support of Reid, Pelosi and the administration’s agenda during the last two years has disappointed many of his supporters who had previously considered him to be a consensus builder.  During this last session he was a part of a majority that repeatedly forced unpopular legislation through Congress against the wishes of most of his constituents.
With the Republicans in control of the House, it’s not likely that there will be more wilderness proposals in this Congress but wilderness supporters will try to find other ways to control land use and come back at us when the political climate is more favorable to their cause.
One of the ways they intend to do that is apparently through administrative fiat.  Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Secretarial Order 3310, a new initiative to identify BLM lands with wilderness attributes in need of special protection. The implication is that he intends to go around congressional jurisdiction to declare wilderness and establish de-facto wilderness on his own without congressional approval. The proposal has been met with vocal opposition by western governors and legislators who see it as another way to control development and use of western natural resources by Washington without input from state or local interests.
Republicans have promised oversight of administration policies when federal agencies overstep their bounds. This is one area where they will have a great opportunity to demonstrate the value of that process and show that their campaign talk before the last election was not just more political hot air. They also now have the means to stop a lot of administrative nonsense with control of the House and the ability to deny funding to crazy ideas like the new EPA greenhouse gas emissions rules.
In some of the ongoing legal battles, grazing and other ag interests came out of the Ninth Circuit court with a rare win.  The court struck down the “none but a federal defendant” rule that has given an unfair advantage to litigious environmental groups for years. Until this ruling these groups could sue federal agencies like the Forest Service or BLM over an issue that affected grazing permittees or other federal land users. Those most affected by the decision could file briefs but they couldn’t intervene. The new ruling means they can now assume a more meaningful role in the process and be a factor in any ruling or settlement. That will be a big help in legal actions filed by environmentalists who use the courts to manipulate the system.
An example of how this comes into play is the current enviro petition and the companion suit against the BLM and Forest Service over the grazing fee. In response to the grazing fee petition, the agencies said they weren’t going to pursue new regulations to raise the fee. They didn’t say it wasn’t warranted but they are just too busy with other things.
In the lawsuit over the grazing fee, however, the administration reportedly has a tentative agreement with the enviros awaiting court approval. The attorney representing ranchers in the case says he has requested to be involved in the discussions but has been denied. In the future if the Ninth Circuit ruling is applied, affected interests could intervene and be made party to the argument and presumably any settlement discussions.
The BLM has published a federal register notice that they intend to reverse their previous policy and make permittee’s names and addresses available on the web with other permit information. That used to be considered a violation of the Privacy Act. If you comment on the proposal, your name and address will be included in the public record of your comment. Looks like another cave-in by the BLM and a no-win situation for permittees.
The New Mexico Cattle Growers has filed a petition with the Water Quality Control Commission to halt implementation of the Outstanding Natural Resource Waters rules. Although it doesn’t directly affect grazing, the rule would give environmentalists another avenue to sue state government over watershed management or protection that could restrict or eliminate grazing. This rule would give them another open door to try to remove grazing from federal land. They have plenty of those already.
Congress won’t have a chance to stop EPA greenhouse gas regulation until the budget process begins at the federal level but in New Mexico the election did make an immediate difference on that issue.  Governor Martinez in one of her first administrative acts fired the conflict-ridden Environmental Improvement Board and placed their new emissions regulations under review. That at least slows the process down to allow the legislature time to debate and act on the proposal or failing that, a new EIB to wind it down.
Although the majority party did not change in the New Mexico legislature, there is a better balance and after two terms of the Governor’s office dominating everything at the state level there may be more even-handed control of the state’s business. There are several signs that point to more cooperation and the state’s fiscal condition may force some of that. Governor Martinez seems to have gotten off to a good start with an effective transition and appointment of capable people to serve on her team but she inherited a financial situation that will be a real challenge.
Public education funding is always one of the toughest financial matters to deal with and this year promises to be even worse. There is already a Senate bill to force schools with fewer than 1,000 students to consolidate with bigger systems.  All of us who know anything about country and small town schools know that closing the school means closing the community and once a small school goes away, it never comes back. That would force many ranch families to either move to town or home school. Some choose those options anyway but they shouldn’t be forced to because legislators think they need the illusion of budget savings to cover throwing money away in urban school districts.  When all the costs of moving rural kids to big school districts and the loss of the rural school atmosphere and what it does for academic performance by rural kids are considered the move would be a net loss.
Congratulations to Alice Eppers the newest recipient of the Bud’s Contract Award. Alice may be the most deserving of all who have been recognized because no one did more to help Bud with his efforts on our behalf than Alice. She has also been the Secretary Treasurer of the New Mexico Federal Lands Council until this last year and served as Chaves County Commissioner. Congratulations also to the other award recipients including Frank Dubois recognized with the Bruce and Alice King Service award, Larry Dominguez, winner of the Siempre Ayudando Alli award and Bill King, Cattleman of the Year. The folks who win these awards don’t do what they do for the recognition but it is always nice when we can shine a little light on someone who has done a lot for our industry and our way of life.
This winter has been exceptionally dry so far. At least it hasn’t been too cold. I hear the Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a wet spring and summer if we can hold out that long. Until next time, may God bless us all.■n

They had just been handed one of the worst election defeats in modern times in November. All but the most partisan of political pundits saw it as a repudiation of the leftist agenda they had pursued for the last two years. At the end of the session, however, compromises were made to avoid massive tax increases while at the same time spending was increased even further in a frenzy of deal-making just before Christmas. The incredible end result was a rehabilitation of at least some of the administration’s reputation. 

For New Mexico and advocates of multiple use on western federal lands there was also a major win in the Senate. The Omnibus Lands Bill that included S.1689, Senator Bingaman’s wilderness bill, was allowed to die. The Omnibus Bill included a lot of bad legislation but S. 1689 was among the worst of it. Frank Dubois and the rest of the People for Preserving Our Western Heritage group deserve a round of applause for organizing the opposition to this proposal and saving all of us from another massive boondoggle of wilderness designation that by its proximity to the border would have exposed southern New Mexico to even more of the border violence that plagues the region already. 

Senator Bingaman’s cooperation with extreme environmental groups in pursuing this legislation and his support of Reid, Pelosi and the administration’s agenda during the last two years has disappointed many of his supporters who had previously considered him to be a consensus builder.  During this last session he was a part of a majority that repeatedly forced unpopular legislation through Congress against the wishes of most of his constituents. 

With the Republicans in control of the House, it’s not likely that there will be more wilderness proposals in this Congress but wilderness supporters will try to find other ways to control land use and come back at us when the political climate is more favorable to their cause. 

One of the ways they intend to do that is apparently through administrative fiat.  Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Secretarial Order 3310, a new initiative to identify BLM lands with wilderness attributes in need of special protection. The implication is that he intends to go around congressional jurisdiction to declare wilderness and establish de-facto wilderness on his own without congressional approval. The proposal has been met with vocal opposition by western governors and legislators who see it as another way to control development and use of western natural resources by Washington without input from state or local interests. 

Republicans have promised oversight of administration policies when federal agencies overstep their bounds. This is one area where they will have a great opportunity to demonstrate the value of that process and show that their campaign talk before the last election was not just more political hot air. They also now have the means to stop a lot of administrative nonsense with control of the House and the ability to deny funding to crazy ideas like the new EPA greenhouse gas emissions rules. 

In some of the ongoing legal battles, grazing and other ag interests came out of the Ninth Circuit court with a rare win.  The court struck down the “none but a federal defendant” rule that has given an unfair advantage to litigious environmental groups for years. Until this ruling these groups could sue federal agencies like the Forest Service or BLM over an issue that affected grazing permittees or other federal land users. Those most affected by the decision could file briefs but they couldn’t intervene. The new ruling means they can now assume a more meaningful role in the process and be a factor in any ruling or settlement. That will be a big help in legal actions filed by environmentalists who use the courts to manipulate the system. 

An example of how this comes into play is the current enviro petition and the companion suit against the BLM and Forest Service over the grazing fee. In response to the grazing fee petition, the agencies said they weren’t going to pursue new regulations to raise the fee. They didn’t say it wasn’t warranted but they are just too busy with other things. 

In the lawsuit over the grazing fee, however, the administration reportedly has a tentative agreement with the enviros awaiting court approval. The attorney representing ranchers in the case says he has requested to be involved in the discussions but has been denied. In the future if the Ninth Circuit ruling is applied, affected interests could intervene and be made party to the argument and presumably any settlement discussions.   

The BLM has published a federal register notice that they intend to reverse their previous policy and make permittee’s names and addresses available on the web with other permit information. That used to be considered a violation of the Privacy Act. If you comment on the proposal, your name and address will be included in the public record of your comment. Looks like another cave-in by the BLM and a no-win situation for permittees. 

The New Mexico Cattle Growers has filed a petition with the Water Quality Control Commission to halt implementation of the Outstanding Natural Resource Waters rules. Although it doesn’t directly affect grazing, the rule would give environmentalists another avenue to sue state government over watershed management or protection that could restrict or eliminate grazing. This rule would give them another open door to try to remove grazing from federal land. They have plenty of those already. 

Congress won’t have a chance to stop EPA greenhouse gas regulation until the budget process begins at the federal level but in New Mexico the election did make an immediate difference on that issue.  Governor Martinez in one of her first administrative acts fired the conflict-ridden Environmental Improvement Board and placed their new emissions regulations under review. That at least slows the process down to allow the legislature time to debate and act on the proposal or failing that, a new EIB to wind it down. 

Although the majority party did not change in the New Mexico legislature, there is a better balance and after two terms of the Governor’s office dominating everything at the state level there may be more even-handed control of the state’s business. There are several signs that point to more cooperation and the state’s fiscal condition may force some of that. Governor Martinez seems to have gotten off to a good start with an effective transition and appointment of capable people to serve on her team but she inherited a financial situation that will be a real challenge. 

Public education funding is always one of the toughest financial matters to deal with and this year promises to be even worse. There is already a Senate bill to force schools with fewer than 1,000 students to consolidate with bigger systems.  All of us who know anything about country and small town schools know that closing the school means closing the community and once a small school goes away, it never comes back. That would force many ranch families to either move to town or home school. Some choose those options anyway but they shouldn’t be forced to because legislators think they need the illusion of budget savings to cover throwing money away in urban school districts.  When all the costs of moving rural kids to big school districts and the loss of the rural school atmosphere and what it does for academic performance by rural kids are considered the move would be a net loss. 

Congratulations to Alice Eppers the newest recipient of the Bud’s Contract Award. Alice may be the most deserving of all who have been recognized because no one did more to help Bud with his efforts on our behalf than Alice. She has also been the Secretary Treasurer of the New Mexico Federal Lands Council until this last year and served as Chaves County Commissioner. Congratulations also to the other award recipients including Frank Dubois recognized with the Bruce and Alice King Service award, Larry Dominguez, winner of the Siempre Ayudando Alli award and Bill King, Cattleman of the Year. The folks who win these awards don’t do what they do for the recognition but it is always nice when we can shine a little light on someone who has done a lot for our industry and our way of life. 

This winter has been exceptionally dry so far. At least it hasn’t been too cold. I hear the Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a wet spring and summer if we can hold out that long. Until next time, may God bless us all.