N.M. Federal Lands News

by Frank DuBois

The Federal Land Council News

My column this month is about livestock grazing legislation, dissecting a major speech by the Interior Secretary, and the mysterious story behind the Bill Humphries National Monument.

Grazing Improvement Act

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has passed the Grazing Improvement Act, S. 258.  The legislation, sponsored by Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), will codify existing appropriations NEPA language and extend the term for grazing permits from a minimum of 10 up to 20 years, providing for added permit security.

“The act is vital for ensuring the fate of our producer’s permits – livelihoods are depending on the efficiency of the system – which undoubtedly needs restructuring,” said Scott George, NCBA president and Wyoming rancher. “Not only will the bill codify the language of the decades old appropriations rider, it will also allow categorical exclusions from NEPA for permits continuing current practices and for crossing and trailing of livestock. Additionally, it will allow for NEPA on a broad scale, reducing paper pushing within the federal agencies.”

Some are concerned the Senate version of this bill contains a pilot program for voluntary “buy-outs” of grazing permits, where grazing would be permanently retired on those allotments. According to the Public Lands Council, New Mexico and Oregon would be impacted – allowing for up to 25 permits per year in each state to be “voluntarily” relinquished. New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich serves on this committee and I doubt this could have happened without his approval.

“PLC strongly opposes buyouts – voluntary or otherwise,” said Brice Lee, PLC president and Colorado rancher. “Ultimately, buyouts create an issue for the industry due to the wealthy special interest groups who work to remove livestock from public lands. The language in the amendment addresses ‘voluntary’ buyouts; however, radical, anti-grazing agendas are likely at play. Litigation and persistent harassment serve as a way to eliminate grazing on public lands-and could force many ranchers into these ‘voluntary’ relinquishments, unwillingly. There can be no ‘market based solution’ in which any given special interest group is able to ratchet up ranchers’ cost of operation, and artificially create a ‘voluntary’ sale or relinquishment.”

A similar bill (without the buy-out provision), H.R. 657, has passed the House Natural Resources Committee.

Secretary Jewell’s Speech

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recently gave a lengthy talk to the National Press Club. Here are some “takeaways” from her presentation:

n On the Land & Water Conservation Fund, she supports the President’s proposal to have mandatory full funding, i.e. a billion dollars a year for federal land acquisition. She’s caught the private property eating virus in spite of the fact they can’t manage or maintain what they have now.

n “We need a comprehensive public lands package that conserves our nation’s most special lands and waters – just like the one that President Obama signed into law in 2009 that protected more than 2 million acres of wilderness, designated more than 1,100 miles of wild and scenic rivers, expanded the national park system and established several new national conservation areas.” She wants to bundle bills instead of having individual votes on each bill based on its merits; i.e. log roll the suckers through Congress.

n On national monuments, she said Obama has designated nine of them over the past four years to provide protections for special places “like the Rio Grande del Norte in northern New Mexico” and to  preserve key chapters in our nation’s story “like that of Cesar Chavez and Harriet Tubman.” In the coming weeks and months, she will be meeting with communities and “evaluating opportunities” to ensure our nation’s stories and landscapes are “honored, celebrated and preserved.” She indicated if Congress doesn’t act to pass land protection bills “President Obama is ready and willing to step up where Congress falls short.” She’s got a hammer and is threatening to use it.

n They just can’t leave our kids alone.  Secretary Jewell announced a multiple part program to engage our nation’s youth. First, there will be partnerships with 50 cities for urban parks and “to create opportunities for outdoor recreation for more than ten million young people.” Next, we’re going to “use the nation’s best natural classrooms – our public lands – to provide educational opportunities to at least ten million of the nation’s K through 12 students annually.” Yes, that’s ten million annually. Further, “to develop the next generation of stewards of our public lands” Interior and other federal land management agencies will provide “100,000 work and training opportunities to young people over the next four years.” There are several ways to look at this. First, what may be education to some may look a whole like indoctrination to others.  Second, 100,000 “work and training opportunities” could actually be a 100,000 ways to influence future voters. Finally, Interior has a product to market: federal lands.  They foresee a declining demand for their product, so they will use your tax money to go out and increase demand for their product amongst a certain age group.

n Interior is going to make a big whoop-tee-do next year over the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and again in 2016 over the 100th anniversary of “America’s Best Idea”, the National Park Service. Sorry, but I think the U.S. Constitution and through it the creation of a representative republic by far was our best idea.

If stories and landscapes make for monuments, then I think Bill Humphries and I deserve one. Time: back when the cattle growers had a team roping during the summer quarterly. Landscape: a roping arena somewhere in the Las Vegas, NM area. Story: After Humphries (Land Commissioner) and I (Sec. of Ag) made a nice run on our first steer we were feeling our oats. We decided right then and there to challenge Jim Baca (former Land Commissioner) and Dr. Stephens (former Sec. of Ag) to a matched team roping. That was a fairly safe bet and surely a story worth preserving as a national monument. We could call it Bill’s Hills & Roping Thrills National Monument.

I don’t think I’ll share what happened on our second steer.

One final thought for this year’s last column. Back in the mid-to-late 60s did anybody, in the farthest reaches of their mind, ever think that Curtis Fort and I would both end up writing for the NM Stockman? Miracles do happen.

Hope you and yours have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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).