To The Point

Relentless.

The best word to describe what is coming out of Washington, D.C. The general public has the pleasure of watching the economic future of our great nation hang in the balance as partisan politics play out over the “popular” or “main stream” press. That really is all a human should have to take at any given time.

Not so if you are involved in agriculture and the range livestock industry in the West. When it becomes clear that the gridlock is so great that things cannot be legislated (not necessarily a bad thing a lot of the time), the next avenue to the executive branch of government is to regulate. The current Administration figured that out some time ago and has done their level best to shake, if not destroy, the primary security of the U.S — our food supply.

Rather than rule the world with the food production, government is doing its level best to regulate ranchers and farmers out of business and thus force the import of more and more of our food.

About a year ago we began to get missives out of the U.S Department of the Interior (DOI) about new federal government land designations in what appeared to be blatant attempts to drive economic productivity and family ranchers off the land and circumvent Congress. It was Congress that passed the Wilderness Act and it is only Congress can designate “wilderness.” This may be one of those good gridlocks. But it must be remembered that there are a million acres now considered Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) where management requirements are often more restrictive than a Wilderness. That is on top of more than another million acres that has been designated as Wilderness by Congress.

The prospective new DOI program would have regulatorily begun to treat land as “wilderness” even though Congress had not acted. The push back from the country was almost unprecedented. A little into 2011 the DOI quietly announced that they would not be proceeding with the proposal.

Then this fall we heard about the “Crown Jewels,” a program that called for the Bureau of Land Management only to local governments to make recommendations back to Washington, DC. Turns out that there was only one designation suggested in New Mexico, where some 60 percent of the land is in control of some government entity — and New Mexico is much better off than neighbors like Nevada and Arizona where there is even less private land.

The proposal is for the Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation and Wilderness area. The November 2011 Preliminary Report on BLM Lands Deserving Protection as National Conservation Areas, Wilderness or Other Conservation Designations boast that this area has “abundant wildlife, including bighorn sheep, deer . . . blue ribbon trout fishing” and more. The area already contains a Wild & Scenic River designation as well as prehistoric sites. How many layers of “protection” does any piece of land need? If the land is already in the control of the BLM and the current management has provided all of these tremendous qualities, what more is needed? The short answer is that there is a desire to have no other productive uses. There are only about two other productive uses that might be available — grazing and oil and gas production.

Given that this area includes three volcanic cones, gorges and wildlife and scenic rivers there isn’t a lot of room for grazing.

It is worth noting that there have been bills introduced in Congress that would make new federal designations for land use in New Mexico including this Rio Grande del Norte. Many of the areas “deserving protection” in other states are already WSAs. This might beg the question on whether or not the DOI and the BLM were simply tasked to develop a report to support federal legislation. But perhaps the move was even more sinister.

Via the report word slipped out from DOI that dis-allowing the use of fire arms on “public” lands was under consideration. While we hate to say we told you so, this was a HUGE wake up call for the hunting community across the country who learned that it isn’t just the loggers, miners and ranchers that are destined to be driven from the land. Hunters too are in the crosshairs (yes, politically incorrect, but descriptive).

Fox News reported that “Gun enthusiasts are [were] rallying opposition to a string of new federal proposals that could close off hundreds of thousands of acres in the open West to target shooting.

The proposals from the Bureau of Land Management potentially would outlaw target shooting in swaths of public land in Arizona and Colorado as part of a broader conservation planning effort.

Federal officials said shooters are, under the proposals, being herded to different areas because of safety concerns and because — at least in Arizona — they’ve been leaving trash in public parks and damaging the environment with their bullets.

But the National Rifle Association calls the bureau’s response “unacceptable,” and gun groups say the government doesn’t need to go to such lengths to protect its open spaces.

The land “is owned by the public, and it should be available to the public,” said Ed Roberts, vice president of the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association.

The most sweeping proposals are in southern Arizona, where the bureau has proposed closing the nearly 490,000 acres in the Sonoran Desert National Monument to shooting. The agency has offered several different proposals, including the option of making no changes, but the manager of the land said the preferred option would shut out shooters from the monument.

“The monument’s not an appropriate place to have recreational target shooting,” said Richard Hanson, manager of the land.

The government would still allow hunting, and Hanson stressed that more than 900,000 acres of federal land outside the monument would remain open for target practice.

But Hanson said that in surveying the monument — which was designated in 2001 — officials found damage to rocks and cactus plants and other parts of the landscape near target-shooting sites, as well as tons of trash.

“The amount of trash was fairly astounding,” he said.

But Roberts said he doesn’t think sportsmen are responsible. He said he knows there’s trash at the shooting sites but doesn’t think the target shooters are the ones bringing it in.

“I can’t see a shooter bringing in a washing machine or a computer or bags of trash just to use as a target,” Roberts said. Besides, he said, there are existing laws that could be enforced to prevent more garbage in the monument.

“I don’t think that closing it . . . is the only solution,” Roberts said. His group has also expressed concern that the plan would close land to off-road vehicles.

The NRA, which estimated more than 60 target sites are currently used by target shooters in the monument, said the plan is “unacceptable.” Other alternatives would leave part of the monument open.

The NRA is urging shooters to attend upcoming public meetings to press for keeping as much land open as possible, in advance of a Nov. 25 deadline for public comment.

The federal government is proposing a range of similar plans for two other areas in Colorado — one in the northern part of the state and another to the west.

In those cases, the Bureau of Land Management is looking to potentially close off certain areas to target shooting mainly over safety concerns, the bureau’s Colorado spokesman David Boyd said.

He said the plans were last completed in 1984, and people are using the land much more than they used to — for camping, recreational vehicle use, walking their dogs and other things.

Do any of these arguments sound familiar? These are the same thoughts that are being used to remove livestock, trapping and other uses.

The outcry was so huge across the nation that it only took a couple of days for DOI to come and say “what we meant to say was . . .”

Boston.com reported “The Obama administration said . . . it will not impose new restrictions on recreational shooting on public lands, a Thanksgiving gift for thousands of gun owners and hunters concerned about a draft plan to limit target shooting near residential areas.

The policy, proposed this summer, could have closed millions of acres of federal land to gun use, a prospect that caused alarm among gun owners, particularly in the West, where target shooting on public land is a longtime tradition. Hunting season for deer and other game begins around Thanksgiving in many states.

Officials said they were trying to ensure public safety in rapidly growing areas of the West, where some residents have clashed with gun owners who use public lands for target practice.

In a memo obtained by The Associated Press, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said his department supports opportunities for hunting, fishing and recreational shooting on federal land. “By facilitating access, multiple use and safe activities on public lands, the Bureau of Land Management helps ensure that the vast majority of the 245 million acres it oversees are open and remain open to recreational shooting,” he wrote.

The memo directs BLM Director Bob Abbey to “take no further action to develop or implement” the draft policy on recreational shooting.

But recreational gun users better read the fine print. Not only was the initial statement a huge tell, but the retraction said “However, the official said it is possible that areas previously used for target practice that are too close to houses or areas of urban growth could be put off limits. The new plan would be to provide shooters with a map or guide on where they can go for target practice nearby, said the official.

Additionally, the DOI has been busy churning out reports that mischaracterize the reality on the ground. The Department of the Interior’s Economic Contributions June 2011 publication makes it sound like there is virtually no economic value in the range livestock industry in the West. While there are those who have been yelling that chant for years — those folks have made it clear that their goal is to remove ranchers, livestock and their culture from the land. It is disappointing that the federal agency has bought into that line of thinking and is working to distort the facts and mis-inform decision makers and the public.

The national Public Lands Council has taken on the challenge of refuting the 146-page waste of trees. Lee Pitts went into some detail on the report with his unique spin in the August 2011 issue of the Livestock Market Digest calling the document “A Greenie’s Manifesto.”

 

    • According to the Manifesto, offshore minerals create more direct jobs in New Mexico (5,531) than grazing permits (486).

    • Grazing is administered on 64.08 percent of BLM lands (157 million acres) and there is NO economic benefit to ranching operations, ranching families and rural communities?

    • Study makes no reference to the wild horse and burro program.

    • No visitors were drawn from grazing? Wouldn’t grazing contribute to the recreation and tourism through dude ranches and the improved wildlife habitat because of rangeland management?

    • There doesn’t seem to be any non-use valuation for grazing permits, but it should also be weighed.

    • Even if land acquisition creates 3,000 jobs, which is questionable, how many does it destroy?

New Mexico Has A State Fair In It

The New Mexico State Fair and the facilities that house it, now called “Expo New Mexico” has been the subject of much debate not only in the media, but at coffee shops and kitchen tables across the state. There is no question that the 2011 event was a disappointment and it is clear that if the Fair is to be saved, citizens from across the State are going to have to roll up their sleeves and put some elbow grease to work.

It would take more than an entire column to layout the litany of problems the Fair is facing. Suffice it to say that there is plenty of opportunity for solution, and if things are done correctly it shouldn’t take long to see a tremendous payoff given the efforts expended. There also isn’t a lot of value in pointing fingers of blame. The fact is that the Fair and the Fairgrounds survived the past nine years despite some extremely powerful efforts to kill it.

The Fairgrounds are prime real estate that many a developer has designs on. A case could be made that the Fair should be packed up and moved to some more remote location. On the other hand, it is the urban resident that so desperately needs a Fair to learn about agriculture and it is the best place to showcase the tremendous youth our rural communities produce.

If you’d like to be a part of the solution, let us know. n