N.M. Federal Lands News

by Frank DuBois

The Federal Land Council News

My column this month is about chickens, jaguars, wildfire studies and ranchers being fined for protecting their property

Endangered Species

In 1995, the USFWS was petitioned to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened under provisions of the Endangered Species Act. The USFWS finding was that the listing was “warranted but precluded” indicating that evidence supported listing the species, but the agency had higher-priority species to be concerned about.

This year, the Grassland Initiative and the Lesser Prairie Chicken Interstate Working Group, composed of biologists from state fish and wildlife agencies in five states and the Bureau of Land Management, conducted a large-scale, helicopter-based survey of lesser prairie chicken leks across all five states, including New Mexico.

The good news is they found an estimated 37,170 birds. This estimate will be included in a plan being developed by the state wildlife agencies that could influence the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision whether to designate the lesser prairie chicken as a federally threatened or endangered species. The plan will be completed next Spring.

As Mike reported last month, the USFWS has proposed 838,232 acres of critical habitat for the jaguar in Arizona & New Mexico. To be more specific, the proposal includes six units as follows:

  • 138,975 acres in the Baboquivari Mountains, Ariz.
  • 143,578 acres in the Tumacacori, Atascosa and Pajarito mountains, Ariz.
  • 343,033 acres in the Santa Rita, Patagonia and Huachuca mountains and the Canelo Hills, Ariz.
  • 105,498 acres in the Whetstone Mountains, including connections to the Santa Rita and Huachuca Mountains, Ariz.
  • 99,559 acres in the Peloncillo Mountains, Ariz. and N.M.
  • 7,590 acres in the San Luis Mountains, N.M.


I might add that 103,143 of those acres are private land and all of the 7,590 acres in the San Luis Mountains, N.M. are private.

Rest assured the enviros won’t be happy with the current proposal. They are already hollering and one just wrote, “That’s an area larger than the state of Rhode Island, but still leaves out some of the best possible habitat farther north in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest and Arizona’s Mogollon Rim.”

And just two years ago the Center For Biological Diversity proposed 53 million acres of critical habitat for the jaguar: 27 million acres in Arizona and 26 million acres in New Mexico. Their map for New Mexico shows basically all of the southwestern part of the state plus Doña Ana and Otero County. That fits in real well with the proposals for national monuments in both counties.

As I’m about to finish writing this a “mysterious” photo of a jaguar in southern Arizona has shown up. Actually, the photo is of a tail, but Arizona Game & Fish says nine out of ten experts they consulted said the tail was that of a jaguar. This just happens to occur during the comment period. Quite a coincidence, ain’t it. As Sue Krentz recently wrote, “Without a GPS stamp and date stamp, that photo could have been taken anywhere in the world at any time.”

Truth be known, anyone who has read attorney and biologist Dennis Parker’s comments on behalf of the Pima Natural Resources Conservation District, the Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties and others will know the USFWS proposal is on awful shaky ground.

Forest Fires

Two Democrat Senators from a western state have written to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asking for an in-depth wildfire study. Saying it had been “ a historic wildfire year” with records broken for the “most destructive wildfire in state history”, the Senators wanted some answers. They wrote, “The unprecedented nature and pattern of these fires calls for a systematic and scientific analysis to learn how we as a society can do better. Our goal is to make sure that the lessons learned — positive and negative — are captured and acted upon appropriately.”

New Mexico Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall you ask? Nope, I’m afraid not. The two Senators seeking to protect their citizens are Mark Udall and Michael Bennett of Colorado.

Now let’s say you’re a rancher who spots a fire on your place. You have the means and equipment to fight or slow down the fire. Should you take immediate action? Not if BLM is involved and you don’t want to pay a fine. The most recent examples are from Idaho.

In August, Elba rancher Clair Teeter, with the help of local firefighters, was able to save his home from a fire which started on federal land. He watched his farm equipment smolder though, as they were unable to save it. Sixteen years prior, he lost miles of fencing and 150 tons of hay from a similar fire.

“You can’t go onto public land even to save your own home,” Teeter said. “They’ll give you a ticket”.

The Times-News reports that “Landowners sometimes watch as crops, livestock and equipment burn, because public land policies prevent them from using their own tractors or dozers to make firebreaks on public lands to prevent the blaze from encroaching on their property.”

Earlier this summer, BLM sent letters out to ranchers reminding them of their policy. One rancher has since received a $1,250 fine for “unauthorized destruction of vegetation”.

Save your property and pay the government a fine. Sounds like a great policy.

The feds have accumulated all kinds of “emergency” powers. It’s way past time some emergency powers were handed back to private individuals.

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 (www.nmsu.edu/~duboisrodeo/).