N.M. Federal Lands News

by Frank DuBois

The Federal Land Council News

My column asks, “are we under attack or what?”


Are we under attack?

The answer is “yes” and let me

begin to count the ways:

n The Forest Service has issued a policy directive on Groundwater Resource Management. The directive would claim that surface water and groundwater are “hydraulically interconnected” and allow the agency to object to state-regulated projects on “adjacent” land that might harm groundwater. The New Mexico State Engineer has testified before Congress that this is a violation of state water law and several well established Supreme Court decisions.

n The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have proposed regulations that would give them control over not only “navigable” waters, but in addition control over ditches, canals and wet spots. AFBF President Bob Stallman says the proposal is a serious threat to farmers, ranchers and other landowners. “Under EPA’s proposed rule, waters — even ditches — are regulated even if they are miles from the nearest ‘navigable’ waters,” Stallman said. “Indeed, so-called ‘waters’ are regulated even if they aren’t wet most of the time. EPA says its new rule will reduce uncertainty, and that much seems to be true: there isn’t much uncertainty if most every feature where water flows or stands after a rainfall is federally regulated.”

n The U.S Fish and Wildllife Service has proposed a huge expansion of the area in New Mexico and Arizona where the Mexican Grey Wolf would be protected. The Chairman of the Arizona Game Commission says he is “profoundly disappointed” in the proposal and adds that resistance by ranchers, hunters and residents of the towns in the expanded wolf recovery area could doom the program. “The biology of wolf repatriation has been relatively easy. The greatest challenge has been to develop social tolerance for the program,” said the Chairman. “Without social tolerance, Mexican wolf recovery will never achieve full success.”

n Under a rule finalized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service jaguars will have 1,194 square miles of critical habitat in southern Arizona and New Mexico for their recovery. The Arizona Game and Fish Department does not support the designation. Assistant Director for Wildlife Management Jim deVos states, “I find it difficult to justify designating critical habitat for a species that is so rarely found in Arizona. In looking at the available data on the presence of jaguars, there has been no documentation of a female jaguar in Arizona for nearly a century. There have been long periods when no jaguar was even found in the state. Such designations should be based on good science and effective conservation, which are both lacking with this designation.”

n The President issued a proclamation to create the 243,000 acre Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Rather than following the precedent in previous proclamations, this one contained new, discriminatory language against livestock grazing in spite of written testimony provided by New Mexico livestock organizations.

n The President issued a proclamation to create the 496,000 acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico, again containing the anti-grazing language. In addition, the designation creates problems for law enforcement and flood control efforts, and was opposed by the Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, the Hispano Chamber of Commerce, the Sheriff of Doña Ana County, the Mesilla Valley Sportsmen’s Alliance and many other groups.

n The Bureau of Land Management has issued a management plan for the Sabinoso Wilderness in northern New Mexico.  Senator Udall and other members of the New Mexico Congressional Delegation pushed for this designation, with Senator Udall saying the Wilderness “will now be open for grazing, hunting and other recreational uses.” Most recently, however, Senator Heinrich tells us, “It’s surrounded by private land and there is currently no legal access — not so much as an easement for a trail” and “It’s completely landlocked by private land.” As a result, the Bureau of Land Management has proposed that as a condition of their grazing permit the ranchers must grant public access across their private property. The BLM has the authority to condemn private property to gain access to federal land, but then they would have to pay for it.

n As a result of an out-of-court settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared the New Mexico jumping mouse as endangered, and identified almost 200 linear miles along streams in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado as critical habitat. The Forest Service is constructing eight foot high pipe fences to restrict livestock access to water, saying “livestock grazing has the potential to jeopardize the species.” New Mexico ranchers have filed a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s moves to block cattle from reaching water in order to protect the habitat of the mouse and doing so without finalizing the critical habitat designation nor completing a required environmental analysis.

n The Mountainair District of the Cibola National Forest ordered the blanket removal of all livestock based on a weather map and without performing any type of range analysis on the nineteen allotments involved. Five months later and after the appropriate on-the-ground analysis was completed, the Forest Service recanted and allowed the return of livestock. However, the economic damage to the ranch families had already occurred and relations and respect for the Forest Service had been permanently wounded (See Julie Carter’s follow up story in this and next month’s edition of the New Mexico Stockman).

n The Secretary of Interior issued an order directing the Bureau of Land Management to inventory all lands with wilderness characteristics, administratively designate them as “Wild Lands”, and take action to protect them during the planning process. After a storm of protest from Congress, Western Governors and various user groups, the Secretary withdrew the order. However, that has not stopped the BLM from implementing the policy. Current BLM land use plans are incorporating the lands with wilderness characteristics concept and has changed their field manuals accordingly.

This is just a partial list. But it’s a list you should keep in mind as you saunter into the voting booth 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).