To The Point

No. Really.

The inability of bureaucrats to function in the real world that the rest of must deal with never ceases to amaze me. Back last fall, several New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association (NMCGA) members received letters from the New Mexico Forestry Division requesting permission to access private land for forest surveying purposes.

Some signed and granted, while others sought advice from the Association office. They didn’t want to grant access and wondered if there was any requirement for them to do so.

The fact that many of these letters went to the east side where there aren’t many forests that we can find was perplexing in and of itself. The advice from staff (all two of us) was to ignore the letter and go on about their business.

In the world of Bobby Cowan, if the answer wasn’t an affirmative “yes” then it was a definite “no.” It was only after I came to New Mexico that I learned the principle of “it is better to beg forgiveness than to ask for permission” from Bud Eppers.

Nothing much was heard on the subject until late June. A member called to say they had been called by the girlfriend of a contractor hired by the Forestry Division again asking for permission to access private land near the Texas border. The request to survey was rather vague, but not only included forest characteristics but also to sample air quality. The member said that they were not going to grant access, but were told that they need to talk to the contractor directly.

It was about that time that there were multiple fires burning across New Mexico and in western Arizona. Air quality in Albuquerque was so bad some days that it was recommended that pets not even be allowed outdoors.

Not only is it disturbing that “no” didn’t mean no access, but why would an agency be stirring around in the country where there was such fire danger AND why would air quality be on the survey list for forestry at all?

We ran those questions up the political flag pole. In fairly short order we got a call from the Forestry Division telling us that because people had not returned the original request letters (which had no place to say “no” on them), they were going to be contacted one more time. If anyone said no, they would not be bothered in the future.

The funding for the survey came from federal stimulus funds, I was informed. New Mexico is behind in such surveying and the data acquired would be used to obtain future federal grants.

As to the issue of air quality surveying

. . . the NMCGA member must have just misunderstood.

I took the opportunity to remind the Forestry official that since the Division had seen fit to impose regulations requiring PRIVATE PROPERTY owners who wanted to clear more than 25 acres of their OWN land, and receive any compensation for it, to obtain a permit, that to expect cooperation from landowners on the surveying endeavor was perhaps unrealistic. Maybe I didn’t say it in just those words . . . because she pretty much hung up on me.

After this pleasant conversation, I distributed the following email:

Importance: High

Over the past several months many New Mexico landowners have received requests from the New Mexico State Forestry Division requesting access to private land for surveying purposes. Some have returned them granting permission.  Others have simply not responded, assuming that was an answer in and of itself.

Not so much. Landowners are now receiving calls from a private contractor requesting permission for access. NMCGA talked with the Forestry Division today asking why the phone calls were being made if permission wasn’t granted. We were told that this was a final attempt to gain access.

If landowners do not want this survey done on their property, they need to tell the contractor “no” and asked to be removed from the Forestry Division’s list.

The survey is part of a “forest inventory analysis” that states do in order to receive federal funding. Apparently New Mexico is many years behind in its’ analysis. The funding for this current project came from federal stimulus funds. There are 6,000 plots that have been randomly chosen for surveying.

It is difficult NOT to remember that it is the New Mexico State Forestry Division who, about five years ago, put in place regulations REQUIRING that private landowners obtain a permit for clearing more than 75 acres (an error on my part – it’s actually 25 acres. Yes, I make mistakes, too.) on their OWN PRIVATE LAND if they going to receive compensation for the cleared materials. No doubt these regulations, including penalties, have impacted landowners’ willingness to participate in any program with the Division. Additionally, the places where requests are being made are not necessarily “forest” . . . like northeast New Mexico. Finally, with the fires burning across the state, now might not be the best time to be surveying anything.

Some of the requests for access may be on State Trust Lands leased for grazing purposes. It is NMCGA’s understanding that unless the access is during scouting and hunting seasons anyone accessing State Trust Lands must have a permit from the State Land Office. The Association has contacted the State Land Office for clarity on this issue, but have not yet received a response. As soon as we do it will be passed on.

NMCGA members have also received similar requests from the University of New Mexico regarding surveying “wetlands”. Again, “no” is an acceptable answer.

If you have questions, please let us know.

One might expect that would be enough said. Not so much.

Our NMCGA member talked on the phone two more times with the contractor, telling him no. THEN they received ANOTHER letter requesting permission for access. This one included the number of the contractor, so I called it. I asked why private landowners were being harassed by these continued contacts. When I wouldn’t give her the name of our member, she hung up on me.

After that encounter NMCGA officers also paid a call on the Governor’s office as well as the Secretary of Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources requesting that the Forestry division accept no for an answer and leave private landowners alone.

End of story, right? Wrong.

In mid August the NMCGA and the New Mexico Wool Growers, Inc. participated in the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish’s Outdoor Expo at the Albuquerque Shooting range. The free event offered to area residents provided opportunities to experience a wide variety of hunting and fishing activities as well as a trade show. It was the tenth such event but the first time agricultural organizations had participated. For the most part the groups were warmly accepted by participants and exhibitors alike . . . right up until Sunday afternoon.

The New Mexico Forestry Division showed up in front of the NMCGA booth and made a remark about this being the organization that sent a letter to its members telling them not to cooperate with Forestry. That statement was taken with some exception by the person in charge of such mailings (remember there are only two of us on staff).

Michelle reported that no such letter had ever gone out. She would have put it on letterhead and that had not happened. The Division employee swore she was in possession of said letter and agreed to provide it.

Lo and behold the following Tuesday, an email appeared from the Forestry Division containing the email as it appeared here. Clearly, reading comprehension is at issue. The email stated (in bold red) that if private landowners don’t want to grant access, they merely have to say no.

I suppose that issue might be taken with bringing up the permit regulations, but if you don’t want to live with the consequences of your actions, you better not take the action (another Bobby Cowan/Bud Eppers lesson).

But it gets even better. In the diatribe on what a great agency Forestry is, the author actually states that “when several people do send back permission forms granting access from the second or third letter, we cannot “assume” that a no answer means “no access”.

Seems that sensitivity and political correctness are other issues within the Division. (And I hope there aren’t many teen-aged boys in their sphere of influence.)

But let me be clear, it is the regulations imposed by the Forestry Division that there is an issue with, not personalities. In fact, when the regulations were imposed, a dear friend of mine in the industry was the State Forester. We disagreed on the issue and moved on. Unfortunately the regulations remain in place and there will continue to be a problem as long as they are in place.

There is no dispute that the Division does good work and provides a service to the state. One only needed to watch the television news as Dan Ware kept citizens abreast of latest fire conditions.

Would this qualify?

As the fate of Libya swayed between the rebels and Gaddafi family and forces, CNN writer David Cortright said “When governments are unable or unwilling to protect their citizens, or when governments are terrorizing their own people and committing mass murder, the international community has a responsibility to step in and help those who are victimized.”

His opinion piece was written to try and vindicate President Obama for his foray into Libya earlier this year without Congressional approval . . . or even notice. Mr. Cortright didn’t mention the fact that the U.S. has now spent $1 billion dollars on Libya in the past few months.

One might wonder if international aide might be called for to assist those in the United States who are being terrorized and victimized by the lack of budget, a nearly double-digit unemployment rate, and a stimulus package that pays state agencies to harass tax payers.

Issues moving forward . . .

The drought has brought several issues to the forefront for New Mexico range livestock producers. According to New Mexico statute, it is against the law to haul in round bales of hay side by side. This came to the surface during the snow disasters a few years ago, but has been an even more serious issue now.

Because the language is embedded in law, there is nothing the Governor’s office can do to change it.

What we can do, however, is change the law and efforts are in place to do that during the Special Session slated to begin on September 6. A bill is in the works that we hope will be on the Governor’s Call so that it can be heard.

Another hot topic is the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) Forage Insurance program. This year was New Mexico’s first in the pilot program and based on the situation at press time, could be the last. Some 100 (plus or minus) ranchers have purchased the insurance that is backed by USDA through insurance agencies.

If there has ever been a year that forage insurance might be needed, 2011 is one. However, the New Mexico program is based on a vegetative (greenness) index rather than rainfall. I am not yet sure what the rationale for this was, but I have been told that there are not enough National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather stations to cover the state and adequately record rainfall.

Thus far for their premiums, New Mexicans have received about $2,000, while adjoining states have received literally millions. The Range Improvement Task Force, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, NMCGA, the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau, and the entire New Mexico Congressional Delegation have been on the problem and as a result RMA leadership will be in Albuquerque September 1 to meet with ranchers and analyze the issue.

Hopefully the answer will be something better than “we’ll try to do it right next year.” Stay tuned.

Just when you thought it might go away

Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) aka “animal id” is back on the regulatory docket. The USDA got so much flack over their last animal identification scheme that they finally withdrew it promising something more user friendly and state inclusive.

The “new and improved” version is out — all 114 pages — is not exactly as advertised. The plan calls for mandatory id of all breeding (18 months and over) age animals crossing state lines as well as performance animals. What the press release doesn’t tell you is that when 70 percent “compliance” is obtained the program will move to younger animals.

The press release also doesn’t tell you that your livestock must be shipped from an “approved premise.” And you just thought you were going to have to register your premise.

It does tell you that brands are not “official” identification and that the USDA is moving to less expensive technology, “bright” (metal) ear tags — just like those used for a variety of disease testing identification.

I could go on, but let’s leave it that the 90-day comment period ends in November and the NMCGA Board of Directors will develop policy on the issue at its’ Fall Meeting on September 1. Draft comments will be available prior to the deadline.