N.M. Federal Lands News

by Mike Cassabonne

The Federal Land Council News 

The Hage case has been one of the most closely followed by federal land ranchers over the last several years. It involved Nevada rancher Wayne Hage’s dispute with the Forest Service and BLM that ended with their taking of his private property rights to water, grazing and improvements associated with them. The Federal Court of Claims upheld the property rights and awarded the Hage Estate $14.2 million in damages and interest. As Frank reported last month, the feds appealed, and a three-judge panel vacated the damage award. As legal experts have reviewed the ruling it appears that it was not a complete loss because it did not overturn the recognition of property rights.

The Hage’s have reportedly requested an en banc hearing before the full 13-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The hope is that the full panel will be more objective than the three who vacated the original Claims Court damage award.

In a parallel case, Reno Federal District Court Judge Robert C. Jones found BLM and Forest Service administrators to be in contempt of court and ordered them to personally pay $33,000 in damages should the government not compensate the Hage’s and third parties involved.

In addition Judge Jones found Forest Service Region 4 Director Harv Forsgren to be lying to the court and Nevada FS head Jean Higgins to be less than truthful. After those findings were announced several others slated to testify declined to do so. Before transferring to Region 4 in 2007, Forsgren served as FS Region 3 Director in Albuquerque over forests in Arizona and New Mexico. Judge Jones says his full opinion will be published by early October.

The insanity of the Endangered Species Act continues. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has announced plans to declare 838,232 acres as Jaguar critical habitat. Environmentalists want several times as much which is no surprise. There have been Jaguar sightings in extreme southeastern Arizona and the boot heel of New Mexico over the years. A Scientific American article quotes Jagu­­­ar experts who say the cat’s real habitat starts miles south of the border in Mexico and continues into Central and South America. They say the designation is a waste of resources that could be better used conserving Jaguar habitat south of the border. If approved, critical habitat designation will give the Center for Biological Diversity another avenue to push for land use restrictions and collect from lawsuits.

That has also been the enviros pattern and practice with the wolf reintroduction. There are several suits either pending or threatened over northern gray wolves. WildEarth Guardians latest nuisance suit has cost New Mexico over $200,000 in legal fees defending the NM Department of Game and Fish authority to regulate trapping in the Mexican wolf recovery area.

The administration recently announced plans to fast track development of solar and wind energy across the west on Defense Department and BLM lands. The Defense Department is expected to contribute 16 million acres to such projects.

One of the largest is a Wyoming wind farm that will cover 220,000 acres. That is a mind boggling 350 sections of windmills.

The next largest project is a 75-section wind farm in Arizona. There are several large solar projects proposed for California most of which pose serious conflicts for environmentalists. Solar farms are green energy but they aren’t environmentally friendly. These will destroy endangered desert tortoise habitat that was used to stop grazing in California’s deserts. This is another opportunity for green groups to demonstrate their hypocrisy by lack of opposition to these boondoggles to protect the tortoise they were so concerned about just a few short years ago.

Ruidoso is facing water shortages as a result of this summer’s fires. Some of the community’s water supply comes from surface water. Since the fires the runoff in the streams and lakes is so full of ash and silt that it cannot be made safe to drink. Ultimately the damage to the watershed will even depress the recharge of groundwater aquifers.

This has been one of the worst fire seasons ever across the West. Drought and an exceptionally hot summer had a lot to do with it but Federal mismanagement of our National Forests is largely responsible for the conditions that made them susceptible to so many huge, destructive wildfires. Although they will never admit it, the tree-huggers and their lawyers are in large part responsible for the sorry condition of most of our National Forests.

Environmental groups are skilled at producing PR campaigns that play to emotions and demonize their opponents. If you believe their propaganda you would think anyone who doesn’t agree with them wants our kids to breathe diesel smoke and drink muddy sewer water. In reality the smoke we were breathing this summer and the filthy water full of ash, silt and burnt logs in lakes and streams in New Mexico and across the western states is courtesy of these same groups and their supporters in Washington.

Those of us who are involved in production agriculture either directly or indirectly as part of an associated industry or group have a closer relationship with our natural surroundings than the environmental activists who run these groups ever will. We know that gives us a better understanding of natural processes and what works and what doesn’t. We can’t afford the luxury of believing in fantasies when it comes to the environment. If it doesn’t rain we have to deal with reality of drought. If we don’t manage our forests, they will burn. If we turn large predators loose they will kill livestock and wildlife. We end up dealing with the results of stupid government policy. It is way past time for that to stop.

Political parties treat their platforms like they are irrelevant if they are criticized and like governing documents if they happen to be popular. Either way at least they are an indication of party philosophy.

Here are some excerpts from the Democrats: “We affirm the science of climate change, commit to significantly reducing the pollution that causes climate change, and know we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits.” “We understand that global climate change may disproportionately affect the poor, and we are committed to environmental justice.”

And from the Republicans: “Experience has shown that, in caring for the land and water, private ownership has been our best guarantee of conscientious stewardship, while the worst instances of environmental degradation have occurred under government control. By the same token, the most economically advanced countries – those that respect and protect private property rights – also have the strongest environmental protections, because their economic progress makes possible the conservation of natural resources.”

You can decide which of those positions makes more sense.

I don’t believe we have ever seen a statewide race with as much money spent on political ads by environmental groups in support of a candidate as we have seen for Martin Heinrich in this campaign. They were all emotional appeals with no real facts to support the premise of the ad. Most of the Heather Wilson ads were based on appeals to logic.

This year there is a clear choice between two very different directions for the country. On the issues most important to the future of those of us to whom natural resources and their use are important this election is crucial. All the political pundits agree that voter turnout will decide this one. We don’t have the resources to fund slick media campaigns for our causes or candidates. But we can still influence the outcome by making sure we get people to either vote early or absentee or show up on election day. Study the issues and decide which candidate’s positions more closely match your own and vote. And make sure all your friends, neighbors and relatives do the same.

Most of New Mexico is still in one stage or the other of some serious drought. The promised summer monsoons came up way short. Forecasts are for a weak El Niño this winter and spring with a chance for above normal moisture late this year and the first half of 2013. Sooner would be better but if it can’t be in time for this year’s growing season it’s better late than never. All we can do is cut back where we have to and take care of the country so it can recover when the rains come.

Until next time, pray for rain and God’s blessing on us all.