N.M. Federal Lands News

by Frank DuBois

The Federal Land Council News

My column this month covers monuments, mice, wild horses and Gandhi

Another anti-rancher monument

On May 21, 2014 President Obama issued a proclamation to create the 500,000 acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Unfortunately it contained the same bad grazing language as was used in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.

The proclamations say grazing can continue but it must be “consistent” with the purposes of the monument, in other words wildlife, recreation, science and so on. As I’ve written before, this sets up a dual management system where the items listed as purposes become the dominant use, while grazing becomes subservient. This consistency language is a relatively new phenomenon. For instance there was no consistency language in President Clinton’s proclamation creating the huge Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  However, the enviros weren’t winning some of their lawsuits against grazing in monuments so the consistency language has been added. All of this has been explained to Senators Udall and Heinrich, but to no avail.

They have now hit the northern and southern parts of New Mexico and those living in other areas of the state better get ready. The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance has identified over three million acres they want to see “protected” and President Obama, while signing this most recent proclamation said, “And I am not finished.”

The tale of two Udalls

I’m not the only one concerned about the negative impact on grazing a monument designation will bring.

On the same day Senator Tom Udall introduced his legislation (S. 1805) to designate the monument, his cousin, Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) introduced legislation (S. 1794) to do the same in Colorado.  His approach to grazing is far different than New Mexico’s Udall.

First, grazing is mentioned in the Findings section with the following language:

permanently protecting the values described in paragraph (1) while sustaining the local ranching economy would enhance the economic prosperity of local communities that depend on the area

Then he includes grazing in the Purposes section with this language:

to sustain traditional uses in the Browns Canyon area, including hunting, angling, livestock grazing, commercial outfitting, and boating

And in the Management section he has the following language on grazing:

. . . the laws (including regulations) and policies followed by the Secretary concerned in issuing and administering grazing permits or leases for the National Monument shall continue to apply in the same manner as on the day before the date of enactment of this Act.

(ii) Effect of designation.–There shall be no curtailment of grazing in the National Monument or Wilderness simply because of a designation under this Act.

(iii) Adjustments.–Any adjustments in the numbers of livestock permitted to graze in the National Monument or Wilderness shall be based on revisions in the normal grazing and land management planning and policy setting process, giving consideration to legal mandates, range condition, and the protection of range resources from deterioration.

That’s pretty strong wording and you won’t find the “consistency” language because livestock grazing is listed as one of the purposes.

The Colorado Udall wants to protect special lands, but do so in a manner that also protects ranching and the local economy, while the New Mexico Udall wants to designate monuments and wilderness and is apparently unconcerned about the negative impacts on our ranching families.

Ratones sí, ganado no

What’s the big deal about a measly 23 acres in a 200 cow outfit? Well, it’s a darn big deal when it controls your access to water.

On the Lincoln National Forest the feds have put a pipe fence around the banks of the Agua Chiquita to protect a riparian area and habitat for the meadow jumping mouse. In response, the Otero County Commission passed a resolution instructing the County Sheriff to “immediately take steps to remove or open gates that are unlawfully denying citizens access to their private property rights.” That made the national news and resulted in a meeting in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Albuquerque.

According to Blair Dunn, the attorney representing Otero County, the meeting was a disappointment. “It was very frustrating for the sheriff and the county commissioners to go all that way, have that meeting in good faith, and nobody in that room from the federal government ever had any intention of compromising,” said Dunn. Otero County Commissioner Ronny Rardin indicated the dispute is far from over saying, “Ultimately, it is incumbent upon the commission, the sheriff and the citizens of Otero County to stand up for our constitutional rights.” Congressman Pearce says, “These disputes could be easily avoided if federal bureaucrats would stick to their constitutional oath and respect property rights” and Gary Stone, President of the local cattlemen’s association says, “If we let them take over our water rights, that’s the first step. Then we would have nothing left here.”

A Forest Service official has explained the fence was authorized using the NEPA process and to even open the gate they would have to repeat the lengthy planning document. If the Forest Service really wanted that gate open you can bet the FONSI would have already been completed and filed.

In the meantime, Otero County Sheriff Benny House says he will continue his investigation to determine if the Forest Service broke any state laws.

Wild horses & wild rides

In Utah and Nevada there are contentious issues over wild horses, access roads and livestock grazing.

Utah ranchers are suing BLM for not removing the prescribed number of horses, which are denuding the range and causing all sorts of resource damage. They are doing so with the backing of two counties, state wildlife officials and the Governor. One county commissioner says BLM’s recent proposal to remove 200 horses is a “joke”.

Another Utah county commissioner has fired up his ATV to take a ride on a road the BLM claims is on their land and has closed. He and an estimated fifty other protesters did this in spite of BLM’s threat to prosecute.

In Nevada, Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber is reacting to BLM’s order to not allow livestock grazing on selected allotments for all of 2014. He is organizing a “Grass March” where individuals on Memorial Day weekend will ride their horses over a seventy mile trek from Elko to Battle Mountain. Gerber says the “Grass March” is patterned after Gandhi’s “Salt March” in the 1930s. Gerber explains the British government “had a total monopoly on all salt. A citizen of India was even prevented from distilling a little salt from ocean water for his family. All salt had to be bought from the British government. In Nevada the federal government has a monopoly on Nevada land and the grass. The government owns 87 percent of the land, but also exercises total control over much of the private land as well. The effective control of the government exceeds 92 percent of the grass in Nevada.”

Let’s hope the “Grass March” is as successful as the “Salt March”.

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).