N.M. Federal Lands News

by Frank DuBois

The Federal Land Council News

My column is about Smokey Bear & mice, wilderness wars, monumental threats and Michelle O’s trash problem


Jumping Feds

As previously reported, in an out of court settlement the Feds have listed the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse as endangered. Jumping right on this, the Forest Service has installed, or is proposing to install fencing to keep livestock off of certain riparian areas, thereby limiting or denying livestock access to water.
Jumping right back, the New Mexico Cattle Growers, New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau and a whole list of grazing associations and individual ranchers have filed suit claiming the feds actions are a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).
NEPA is important because it requires agencies to identify and assess reasonable alternatives to proposed actions and allows for public comment. In their complaint for the group, the attorneys argue the feds are in error for not entering into the NEPA process and instead claiming a categorical exclusion. 
The complaint also says the Forest Service is not using the best available science in reaching its decision. For instance, in a 2004 Forest Service Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) concerning livestock grazing on the San Diego Allotment, the agency incorporated specific management objectives and found that grazing within the allotment “would not cause a trend to Federal listing or decrease in the overall population” of the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse. The area the Forest Service proposes to fence off is only used from the beginning of October to mid-October, during which time the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse is hibernating, and for a brief period in the spring for breeding and occurs within those areas the 2004 EIS says, “have low potential for impacts” due to the short amount of use.  The EIS stated: “Riparian meadows in the Fenton, Virgin Canyon, Lower Guadalupe, and Jemez River areas are closed to grazing and would be available to the mouse with no associated grazing disturbance. Other riparian pastures in the allotment would have low potential for impacts to jumping mice because of the short amount of use these areas would receive.”
One could logically conclude that when the Forest Service has an open process in compliance with NEPA, they found that livestock grazing was not a threat to the mouse and when the Forest Service denies public input into the process they find that livestock grazing has suddenly become a threat.

Mas Wilderness?

A conference was held in Albuquerque last month to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Among those attending was Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell who said, “Wilderness becomes more important, not less important, at a time of climate change”. To further scare the public into supporting Wilderness, Jewell said we must learn from mother nature if we’re going to reduce the impact of “this freight train that is moving down the tracks very quickly – and that is climate change.” I say what’s to worry? Neither tracks or trains are allowed in Wilderness areas.
About 80 miles west of Albuquerque another wilderness meeting was convened by The Coalition to Keep Cibola National Forest Open for Multi-use. It seems the Cibola National Forest is beginning a six-step process to inventory lands with wilderness characteristics; a process that could eventually lead to a recommendation the lands be made part of the Wilderness Preservation System. At this “Wilderness Prevention Forum” were such luminaries as U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, State Speaker of the House Ken Martinez, and various other state and local elected officials and a panel was there to ask questions of Forest Service officials. One of those questions is of interest to this column.
According to a report in the Cibola Beacon, the Forest Service was asked what impact a Wilderness designation would have on area ranchers, and the Forest Service “assured audience members that active grazing allotments in good standing would remain valid for use.” That is an accurate answer as the Wilderness Act allows for grazing to continue. However, it doesn’t answer the question of what the impact will be on the ranchers. No motorized vehicles or mechanized equipment are allowed in Wilderness areas, and that has a huge impact on standard ranching operations. Think of hauling feed, repairing a fence or pulling a well.  Their permit may be valid but their ability to survive will be in jeopardy.

Mas Monuments?

President Obama recently unholstered his trusty pen and designated 347,000 acres of California’s San Gabriel Mountains a national monument. While doing so, Obama stated he’s “not through” with such actions. With the “flick of his bic”, Obama has designated 13 such monuments during his presidency totaling 260 million acres of both land and water
Several days later Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell said if Congress didn’t pass lingering wilderness legislation the President would continue to use his Executive authority. “There are dozens of bills in Congress, and they need to be passed – dozens of bipartisan bills, bills with wide support, broad support – but no one has the courage to pass them,” she said. “We need to encourage this Congress to get on with it and to move forward. Otherwise, we will take action.”
First, if any of these bills had “bipartisan”, “wide” and “broad” support, they would have passed. And if you assume they really had this type of support, it takes courage to bottle them up, not pass them.

Finally, look at the position Congress has placed themselves in by giving the President this authority. Think if he had this authority in other areas: Pass ObamaCare or I’ll socialize medicine, or pass the minimum wage or by Executive Order I’ll nationalize the labor force. The public wouldn’t put up with it and we shouldn’t be hammered this way on land issues.

Michelle O’s trash problem

The First Lady’s anti-meat school lunch program continues to have bad consequences, and this time its trash. The National School Boards Association just released a survey showing 83.7 percent of school districts “have seen an increase in wasted school lunch food” since her Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act passed in 2010. The kids are putting that supposedly healthy stuff in the trash. What we are really creating are healthy, hunger-free trash cans.

Wildfire erosion

Using the Sandia and Manzano mountains, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and The Nature Conservancy have developed a computer model that will predict erosion “hot spots” following a fire. A researcher said the new tool will allow land managers to specifically target those areas that have the highest risk of flooding and debris flows. “Figuring out which areas are vulnerable to damaging wildfire and post-fire flooding is necessary to protect communities and our water sources.”

Actually, what’s needed is a computer model that predicts those areas where the enviros and the courts will let the Forest Service conduct the appropriate management “to protect communities and our water sources.” Let’s call those “safe spots” and the results would be interesting to see.
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).