N.M. Federal Lands News

by Frank DuBois

The Federal Land Council News

My column addresses states and federal lands, hauling goods in a monument, and Yogi Bear and drones

In my May column I wrote New Mexico and other western states had language in their state constitutions and enabling acts whereby they ceded control over unappropriated public land to the feds.  The language in New Mexico’s constitution reads, “The people inhabiting this state do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated and ungranted public lands lying within the boundaries thereof . . .”.

Many, including myself, had assumed this, along with the inapplicability of the various Homestead Acts to a desert environment, was the explanation for why ninety percent of all lands owned by the feds were in the western states. The western states had been discriminated against because they were required to include the cession language.

It turns out this is not even close to being correct. Lands were ceded to the feds before there was even a Constitution.

Recall that our original colonies were created by grants, some of which read “from sea to sea”. Those claims were cut off at the Mississippi River by England in 1763 when they recognized Spain’s right to territory in the area west of the river. Of the original thirteen colonies seven had claims to western lands. This created friction between those states with land claims and the six so-called “landless” states, who worried about the size and power the landed states would bring to any union of states. Before the landless states would sign on to the Articles of Confederation they demanded the landed states cede their western lands to the Confederation.

Between 1780 and 1802 the states of New York, Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, in that order, ceded a total of 233 million acres to the feds. That 233 million acres wound up being in all or parts of ten states. Yet none of those new states formed are a “public land” state. For instance, the feds own less than one percent of Ohio and only three percent of Kentucky.

Seven of our original states ceded lands to the feds, but those lands were converted to states where the feds have a very limited land ownership. How can this be? I’ll get into the disposal of federal lands next month.

Hauling in a monument

New Mexico has been “blessed” with two new National Monuments totaling just under 750,000 acres, so we are paying attention to management issues associated with that designation.

The Colorado National Monument recently announced that vehicles containing “hazardous” cargo would be banned from using the route they have used for decades. “Ranchers and other residents of Glade Park — a rural community situated on the plateau above CNM — use Monument Road to haul goods, equipment, hay, fertilizer, livestock, fuel, and other necessities, to and from their operations” says one publication. In addition, the decision was made without consulting the residents of Glade Park nor the relevant county commission.

Welcome to the world of National Monuments.

Federal wolf is after your sheep

The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) tells us that half of all domestic sheep in the United States graze on federal lands at least part of the time. The FS and BLM are systematically removing domestic sheep from grazing allotments in the name of bighorn sheep management despite the fact there are reasonable solutions to accommodate sheep ranches says ASI. “In Idaho, the FS removed 70 percent of domestic sheep from the Payette National Forest and one ranch is now out of business and two others reduced their sheep numbers drastically. Only 10 percent of FS allotments and 3 percent of BLM allotments are actually within occupied bighorn habitat however recent documents indicate the agencies are expanding the Payette analogy beyond that occupied territory to vast additional areas through the West. Such expansion of removing sheep grazing would impact fully 23 percent of the nation’s sheep production and therefore jeopardize lamb and wool companies used by all sheep producers.”

Yogi Bear to ban drones

Jonathan Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service has just issued a policy memorandum that orders the superintendents of national park areas to prohibit landing, launching or operating drones on federal park land or water, an area covering 84 million acres. A Park Service spokesman indicated they were issuing the policy in response to safety concerns, noise complaints and an incident in which a drone reportedly separated some young bighorn sheep from the herd. There’s those bighorn sheep again.

I think we are getting a little closer to the truth when the spokesman says they designed roads and trails so visitors could enjoy the park’s natural beauty but not impinge on it. “Now unmanned aircraft let people get into a lot of different places where we never intended human activity.”

That’s close, but I think the Parkies don’t want members of the public or the media watching them as they go about their daily duties. In other words, they don’t want to be spied upon.

I know how they feel.

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).