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N.M. Federal Lands News

by Frank DuBois

The Federal Land Council News

The column this month covers the lump of coal served up to southern NM ranchers by our two U.S. Senators and some change in scenery on the Cibola

When compared to NM Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, former Senator Jeff Bingaman was a moderate on legislative designations to limit public access to federal lands and do harm to the NM ranching community. Over the years Bingaman introduced several bills that would have designated 360,000 acres of Wilderness and National Conservation Areas in Doña Ana County.  Now comes Udall and Heinrich with a bill to designate almost 500,000 acres as either Wilderness or a National Monument.

Here’s what our two U.S. Senators had to say about their Christmas present to the federal lands ranchers, hunters and other users of these lands.

“Designating a national monument would put the Organ Mountains and other spectacular areas of Doña Ana County on recreation maps around the world, attracting tourists to Southern New Mexico, creating jobs and bringing in millions of dollars in tourism revenue,” Udall said. “The Organ Mountains and surrounding area form a beautiful and iconic backdrop for Las Cruces and are beloved by New Mexicans. Our bill would help ensure local families and visitors will continue to be able to hike, hunt, and learn from the thousands of significant historic sites throughout the hills for generations to come.”

“The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region offers outstanding cultural resources, tourism and recreational opportunities like hunting, hiking, and camping, and links us strongly to our past. For years, diverse coalitions in New Mexico have worked tirelessly for its permanent protection. By designating this natural treasure a national monument, a critical piece of our shared outdoor heritage will be protected for us now and for future generations of Americans to enjoy,” Heinrich said. “I look forward to working with Senator Tom Udall and communities across New Mexico to get this done.”

Their press release also says, “Importantly, the bill preserves existing grazing rights and vehicular access to 100 percent of roads leading to currently used water wells, troughs and corrals, and it enhances hunting and other outdoor recreation opportunities. It also strengthens border security in the region by releasing wilderness study areas within five miles of the international border, creating a buffer area for Border Patrol activities, and adding an additional road for border security purposes.”

I beg to differ.

There are many problems with this legislation, but here are those that directly affect the ranching community.

Livestock Grazing In Wilderness

Livestock grazing is considered to be a “nonconforming, permitted use” in wilderness areas. The 1964 Wilderness Act allows for grazing where it had previously existed, but the same Act prohibits the use of motorized vehicles or mechanical equipment. Try running a ranch in today’s competitive environment without a pickup and other mechanized tools. Proponents will quickly point to the Congressional “grazing guidelines” which allows for the “occasional use” of some of these tools. The problem is these guidelines were written almost twenty-five years ago when wilderness designations were in high country. These allotments had natural water and in many cases natural boundaries, and are seasonal grazing where livestock are turned out in the late spring or summer and gathered in the fall.  Those guidelines do not work for desert allotments, where there are windmills, pipelines, dirt tanks and fences, and grazing occurs year ‘round.

Livestock Grazing in National Monuments

The problem here is the same as I’ve written about before concerning the Presidential Proclamation creating the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.

The Udall/Heinrich legislation, S. 1805, lists eleven uses or values in the Purposes section for which the monument is established and livestock grazing is not among them. Those eleven items are archaeological, historical, natural, wildlife, geological, ecological, watershed, educational, scenic, and recreational. When livestock grazing is discussed, it must be “consistent with the purposes described”.

So what does all this mean?

Whenever the agency seeks to “conserve, protect and enhance” any of the eleven uses listed and there is a potential conflict with a grazing practice, grazing will be either diminished or eliminated. If a current ranching practice is determined to be in conflict, it will have to be discontinued. If a rancher proposes a range improvement project or any other new activity which is determined to be in conflict, it will be disallowed.

That doesn’t sound very livestock friendly to me.

The proponents of this legislation will tell you they met and listened to the concerns of all the ranchers impacted. Well tell that to Jim Hyatt in Luna County. The Senator’s staff members met with him on a Tuesday afternoon and the legislation was introduced on Thursday. The bill was already drafted so it didn’t matter what issues Jim brought up, because it was already a done deal.

New Mexico’s ranchers deserve better treatment than this.

There is a way to protect these lands without harming current users, and Congressman Steve Pearce has shown us how.  His legislation, H.R. 995, would designate 55,000 acres as a National Monument in the Organ Mountains.

On livestock grazing, his legislation states “Nothing in this Act precludes the use of motorized vehicles or mechanical equipment for the construction or maintenance of range improvements or the performance of standard ranching operations or for the construction, maintenance, operation, or management of flood control or water conservation systems.”

The other issue of concern to ranchers and other rural citizens is border security.  On that issue the Pearce legislation has the following language, “Nothing in this Act, or regulations issued in furtherance of this Act, shall prevent Federal, State, or local law enforcement personnel from having unfettered access to  the entire monument, including the use of motorized vehicles and specialized equipment.”

If one’s intent is to do no harm to the ranching community and to provide for the safety of rural residents, that is the type of legislative language that should be included in any bill.

Scenery On The Cibola

The Cibola National Forest has announced it is undertaking an evaluation of scenery resources on its districts in New Mexico. This evaluation process involves converting from an older visual management system to a more modern approach to evaluating aesthetics of the land.  According to the announcement, the Forest Service is requesting your comments be provided on their website by January 31, 2014.

Speaking of the Cibola, there have been some almost unbelievable happenings to the nineteen allotment owners in the Mountainair District. I’ll have more on that next month.

Till 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).