N.M. Federal Lands News

by MIke Casabonne

The Federal Land Council News

The November election results were a big disappointment to those of us who depend on responsible management of natural resources on federal land. The Obama administration was re-elected in an Electoral College landslide. Environmentalist-backed candidates won several key races including N.M.’s US Senate seat. Environmentalists spent $2 million on the Heinrich campaign to defeat Heather Wilson. Nationally, the League of Conservation Voters alone poured $14 million into different contests around the country. Montana’s Jon Tester was re-elected by a 19,000 vote margin. He called the LCV president less than three hours after being declared the winner to thank him for their support. Green interests will take credit for electoral successes even where they didn’t have much impact and demand that elected officials toe the line on environmental legislation.

Although they weren’t on any ballots, the appointed members of the Obama administration were returned to office as well. Since the election there have been several new announcements of regulatory decisions and proposals that were on hold until their negative impacts could not affect the vote. On November 9, just three days after the election, Interior Secretary Salazar announced a plan to close 1.6 million acres in western states to oil shale development. The EPA is ramping up efforts to regulate emissions and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that now the Senate can push for climate change legislation.

Also in the aftermath of the election results there have been numerous studies and articles released promoting climate change regulation, confirming the disastrous effects of human activity on the world including one that claims climate change will make it necessary to stop or dramatically reduce livestock grazing across the western states.

Even Al Gore is back in the news calling for President Obama to “act boldly” in advancing climate change programs. He, along with the other global warming hysteria peddlers, claim Hurricane Sandy’s strength was a result of climate change. Have you noticed that any kind of weather, cold, hot, wet or dry is caused by climate change and it’s our fault for driving pickups and turning on the lights? Who do we blame for all the hurricanes, floods and droughts that occurred before the industrial age?

Politics has become increasingly unpredictable. The partisan divide is greater now than it was before the election and in spite of Obama’s margin of victory, Republicans are still in control of the House and Democrats slightly increased their Senate majority. Some Democrats talk about their mandate, Republicans point to their retention of the House as a counter to that. But, given the environmental community’s considerable investment in this election and the perception that they had an impact, they will try to get their money’s worth out of legislators and regulators during Obama’s second term.

Still it is hard to say what that will mean for grazing related issues. Energy production is the main target of enviro’s wrath. Coal, oil and gas production will be attacked on several fronts. Subsidies for renewable energy like wind and solar will increase in spite of the dismal failures of such projects during the last term. They have already announced there will be no relief from the ethanol fuel requirements. Permits for drilling on federal land will probably be even more difficult to get approved while solar and wind farm projects will likely cruise right through the NEPA process.

But the biggest problems for Congress and the Administration concern the economy and resolution of the “fiscal cliff” crisis. How that gets resolved may have some impact on what gets addressed next. Polling data before and after the election still show the environment far down the list of issues the public thinks are important for politicians to act on. There won’t be lot of money to throw at some of these problems unless Congress and the President intend to keep borrowing us into the poor house which they might well do.

On special land use designations like Wilderness and National Monuments it may be mixed. There is no urgency to make new declarations now, Obama has another four years. But lacking the congressional support to get their N.M. approvals passed, Senators Bingaman and Udall have requested the President to consider National Monument designation for the Rio Grande Gorge and adjacent Taos Plateau and the Organ Mountains and other BLM lands in Doña Ana County. Although the Senators both claim widespread public support, there is considerable opposition to the proposals, especially the Doña Any County designations for several reasons, not the least of which are law enforcement and border security issues.

Endangered Species Act problems will continue but a big part of those are driven by lawsuits, not new legislative action. There will be no administrative relief from these problems from Obama bureaucrats but the courts have recently ruled that Mexican wolves are not a separate species which at least doesn’t enhance their protection.

Critical habitat designations are administrative actions that cause a lot of problems. Frank reported last month on details of the Jaguar Critical Habitat proposal. Since then the Arizona Game and Fish Department has come out in opposition to critical habitat citing the data that shows Jaguar habitat is really farther south into Mexico and Central and South America.

So what do we do to defend ourselves from further restrictions on grazing and other natural resource use on federal land? Probably not much different from what we are doing now, hunker down and defend ourselves through the regulatory process and the courts where we have to. The House can still have considerable influence on legislation and Steve Pearce has stood up for his rural constituents against environmental political pressure and agency over-regulation before. He will undoubtedly be called on again.

There is also one other avenue that we have written about before being led by Ken Ivory and some other folks in Utah. That is the American Lands Council initiative for western states to assume management of their federal land as was intended before they were admitted to the Union. Utah has legislation to require the feds to turn federal lands over to the state, excluding some National Monuments, by the end of 2014. That is the best hope of returning management of government owned land to any kind of responsible management. If there ever was a chance of turning the federal bureaucracy around, there won’t be during another four years of the Obama administration.

None of the western states can afford to allow the federal government to continue the ridiculous mismanagement of their natural resources. Former Director of the Bureau of Land Management and Utah Department of Natural Resources Director Kathleen Clarke stated the case for state management very well in a recent editorial. She has seen it from both sides and knows what she is talking about. N.M.’s legislators have to wake up.

When I started writing these columns after we lost Bud Eppers I didn’t expect the job to be long-term. It just sort of turned out that way. A couple of years ago Frank Dubois agreed to help out every other month. Frank has since said that he could take the job on full time and I am taking him up on the offer before he has a chance to think about it too long. This will be my last issue of “N.M. Federal Lands News.”

For those of you who don’t already know, Frank was on Senator Domenici’s staff about the time Bud got involved in federal land grazing politics and they worked together from then on to the benefit of all of us in this business. Frank has held other positions since leaving the Senator’s staff including Deputy Secretary of Interior and N.M. Secretary of Agriculture and is the authority we all go to when we need to know something about federal land legislation, regulation or politics. I appreciate his taking on the job and look forward to reading his columns in the future as I do now. I also appreciate the support all of you have given me and the kind words when there was something here you enjoyed reading.

Once again the Holiday season is upon us. I hope we all take the time to remember why we celebrate this time of year and think about the things that are really important. We are all thankful for family and friends and can’t forget that some of them are still in foreign places fighting for the freedoms we all enjoy. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and may God bless us all.