N.M. Federal Lands News

Opposition continues to build in western states to Secretary of Interior Salazar’s Secretarial Order 3310. Last December Salazar issued the order that allowed the BLM to identify lands with wilderness attributes and effectively add new wilderness areas to the vast acreages already under some kind of federal special land use designation.

SO 3310 along with lots of other obnoxious federal land use polices has driven some states to consider legislation to take control of federal land within their boundaries.

Utah officials are among the most vocal in their criticism of SO 3310. The Utah House passed a joint resolution by a 61-9 vote calling on Congress to cede control of all Utah BLM lands back to the state. But they are not the only ones.
Wyoming has had a running battle with Interior over management of endangered wolves. Now environmental groups are challenging oil and gas development on Wyoming BLM lands based on SO 3310. Wyoming will not agree to the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s requirements for their wolf management plan. The Montana legislature has a bill pending to nullify the Endangered Species Act in the state to allow them to control federally protected wolves that are killing livestock and destroying big game herds. Alaska is also being decimated by federal controls on oil and gas production and a prohibition on road building on National Forest land that will shut down most of their timber industry. In virtually every western state there is some federal land issue that is costing revenue and jobs.

In a March Congressional hearing, under questioning by Representative Doc Hastings, BLM Director Bob Abbey admitted the BLM has no statutory authority to prioritize wilderness over other uses. By law only Congress can place one use of federal land over another. This is just one more example of a federal agency ignoring the law when it suits its purpose.
The founders of this country never intended for the federal government to own land other than for “Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, Dock-Yards and other needful Buildings” as stated in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. The western territories were blackmailed into agreeing to federal control of much of the land within their boundaries as a condition of statehood.

When times were good it was easy for states to ignore the tremendous price they pay for allowing the federal government to manage so much of their resources. Governors and legislators could let the feds do it and deal with rabid environmental groups (which is really what they have been doing, cutting sweetheart deals) and besides they were getting a lot of benefits back from the feds. The first threat when a state tries to resist federal control of anything is loss of highway funds. But now many states are coming to realize that the costs of these benefits are a lot more than they are worth and besides, the federal government can’t pay for them anymore because they have spent the country into the poor house.

The political climate has changed to the point that even some federal legislators now refer to the constitution and have made statements that show they have actually read it and understand at least some of its principles. Of course they are still a tiny minority but their concerns, along with the recognition by some states of these issues is encouraging.

Will this sentiment lead to any real change? The main difference so far is that some of these issues are getting into the national debate as part of the budget negotiations that are going on in Washington as this is written. It’s hard to tell where things are at any given time as congress and the administration lurch from one short term funding agreement to the next. There are some budget cuts being made in the process but it is hard to track them. There have been threats to deny funding to implement SO 3310, the EPA’s regulation of CO² emissions, and the funding of some land acquisitions but unless some of these things are made a part of the philosophy that prevails in the spending battles and carries through long-term, we can’t count on much changing out here in the country. Those of us who believe in these principles need to keep the pressure on the politicians.

The Forest Service has been writing “Travel Management Plans” for forests all over the country. The proclaimed purpose is to reduce the number of seldom-used roads in the forest and thereby the environmental damage the roads cause from erosion, their intrusion on the “viewscape”, etc. Many of us believe the real reason is to further disadvantage those who would like to use the Forest for some productive purpose like logging or grazing and to decrease the number of recreational users to stop things like hunting, hiking and man’s intrusion into natural processes generally. Of course a great side benefit is that then the area becomes “roadless” and will qualify for wilderness status that it seems now can be granted by the managing agency without even having to bother with congressional approval.

The Forest Service has been taking comments on their Travel Management Plan for the Gila. At a rally in Silver City around 100 people showed up to support the plan. The next day 700 opponents of the plan gathered to voice their opposition. The second rally was attended by Congressman Steve Pearce who also sent a letter of protest to the Chief of the Forest Service in support of his constituents. There were also county and local officials at the second rally opposing the plan. Gila area residents have been victimized for years by the environmental agenda. Now when they show up at rallies in numbers of 7 to 1 to their opposition will the Forest Service listen? We will find out when the final plan is announced. The record so far doesn’t give much encouragement but now when Congressman Pearce’s party can control the Forest Service budget maybe things will be different. How about budget language that would prohibit any expenditures on developing or implementing travel management plans?

Also, as we have warned in the past, don’t believe anyone in the Forest Service who tells you they just want to limit access by hunters or hikers. They will still let you use the road when you need to. Even if that FS officer is honest and believes that himself, the day will come when someone else will be enforcing the rule on the books and you will lose your access to get a truck or trailer to your pens or equipment where you need it to maintain your water improvements or for whatever other reason you need a road in the Forest. These plans need to be protested and stopped where ever they are proposed.
The New Mexico State Legislature is wrapping up its 60-day session as this is written. Governor Martinez won some battles but the opposing party still is in control of both houses. It looks like the end result was that there were not a lot of bills passed but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Senate Bill 13 carried by Senator Vernon Asbill of Carlsbad would prevent federal agencies from shipping confiscated livestock in New Mexico without a court order that gives the Livestock Board the authority to issue a permit. It appears that this bill was one of those that had support to pass but didn’t make it all the way through the process before time ran out. This bill if passed would allow a grazing permittee to at least have a hearing on his case before the agency confiscates and sells his livestock. It is needed legislation.

It seems we are stuck in a hot dry weather pattern. I don’t know anyone who likes this kind of weather except possibly those who make their living fighting fires. This La Niña event is supposed to change going into the summer. Let’s pray that it does. Until next time may God bless
us all.