To The Point 2-11

Just When You Thought …

It seems that life continually operates at a dull roar around here, but just about the time you think it couldn’t get any more bizarre some wing-nut goes postal and shoots a Congresswoman, kills a federal judge, and wounds and kills many others –

 

We have become accustomed to the use of Executive Orders at both the state and federal levels that at least seem to circumvent the legislative bodies if not the courts. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is introducing us to a whole new realm of “orders” in the same vein — Secretarial Orders.

 

in a place that shaped a good part of my life in a parking lot that I could very well have used as some point in the past.

This certainly isn’t about me, but the intersections of the horrible tragedy and the events that we work on every day are fairly amazing. Congresswoman Gabriella Giffords represents southeastern Arizona including Cochise County with a good chunk of the international border with Mexico falling within her district. She is known for her Safeway grocery store parking lot meetings with constituents. Many of my friends and family in the district were less than impressed with the efforts of Giffords or anyone else in the Arizona congressional delegation regarding the safety of the Mexican border.

For Giffords, at least, that all changed on March 28, 2010, when Rob Krentz was murdered.  Within a few days, Giffords was meeting with local ranchers and hundreds of others at the Apache School House to try and figure out what could be done to prevent further tragedy.  I certainly won’t say that she was able to solve the problem, but Giffords interest was genuine and she has continued to work with ranchers and landowners in the area in an attempt to gain the attention of the Obama Administration. As we have seen, even with the pressure from New Mexico’s U.S. Senators and Congressman Teague and Senator John McCain and others joining in the chorus, there continues to be ridiculous statements from folks like Homeland Security Secretary and former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano about the supreme safety along the border. At the same time signs are going up in Arizona telling Americans they are not protected if they venture into federally controlled lands along the border.  Drugs continue to flow nearly unimpeded through Cochise County and all along the border and ranchers in the area continue to live in fear for their lives and property.

Like many incumbent Democrats, even though she was a “moderate,” Giffords had a tough election race with her vote in favor of Obama care at the center of the date. In the end, after lots of counting, Giffords held her seat in Congress.

While nothing compares with what will forever be dubbed The Tucson Tragedy, the actions of the media and local officials were at least as bizarre as the shooting itself. Being a political/news junky, I was alerted to the shootings by family and officers within minutes of reports hitting the airwaves. I then spent a great deal of time following news reports and commentary. I cannot help but think that the 24-hour news networks aided in the confusion about who was shot, how many were shot and who was alive in the effort to be the first with the news. There is no excuse for the misinformation that was spread on the alleged shooter and his motives.

It wasn’t like there was a giant search going on for the perpetrator. He was in custody of concerned citizens almost immediately and they likely prevented much more carnage. But not satisfied with the fact that they had their suspect and simply needed to begin to try and figure out what led up to the shooting and what might have motivated it, local law enforcement took their 15 minutes of fame blaming certain individuals with a certain political point of view for using hate speech to incite such violence.

Columnists jumped to point out that the security situation in Arizona was trumped up by fear mongers (my words, not theirs) and many other equally ignorant assertions.

In reality it turns out that apparently The Tucson Tragedy had a lot more to do with the status of mental health care in our nation, the weight that those local law enforcement officials put on previous threats — which might have influenced whether or not the deadly gun could have been purchased — and the personal responsibility that we all have when we see that someone needs help. Are we (including me) so tied up in political correctness that we can ignore those around us and their needs in the name of personal freedoms and minding our own business? Must we grab at virtually any opportunity, no matter how tragic, to score political points? Does the end justify any means?

These are questions that we must ponder as we pray for the continued recovery of Congresswoman Giffords and continue to assess our own surroundings for our own safety.

Losses

There is no way to fathom the loss of life in Tucson on that January Saturday, but the livestock industry in the Southwest is going to miss the fairness and even hand of Federal District Judge John Roll. We have learned much over the past few weeks about Judge Roll, the human, and his heroic efforts to save the life of another at the cost of his own, while he was doing nothing more than telling a friend hello after a visit to his church.

We first became acquainted with Judge Roll as he presided over the famed 666/2562 lawsuit in 1997 when the then Forest Guardians (now WildEarth Guardians — did our burning forests have anything to do with that politically motivated name change?) and Center for Biological Diversity (CDB) filed suit to remove all grazing from U.S. Forest Service (USFS) lands in Arizona and New Mexico. There were initially two cases filed that were combined into one that had its’ first hearing in Tucson in the spring of 1998 before Judge Roll.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association (NMCGA) and the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association (ACGA) intervened in the suit and were prepared to put on a case complete with plenty of ranchers across the two states to testify. You can imagine our surprise and chagrin when, not very far into the hearing, we learned that the USFS had cut a deal with the so-called environmental groups without so much as the courtesy of letting us know that there were discussions taking place. We were never able to present the land stewards story.

Judge Roll refused to ratify the settlement agreement because the range livestock industry had been left out of the process. There were several other cases since that that Judge Roll played a pivotal role in. We didn’t win them all, but we knew that we were given a fair opportunity to present our side of the story. He will be deeply missed.

Moving Forward

Although relationships on some fronts with the USFS are better, their habits in court haven’t improved greatly despite a glimmer of hope. We were extremely pleased last year when we teamed up with the USFS to win the case filed by the WildEarth Guardians against the use of Congressional authorized categorical exclusions (CEs) for permit renewal in the Gila National Forest. Only to be crushed when the agency decided to settle an appeal to the 10th Circuit by subjecting several allotment owners to environment assessments (EAs) and maybe even full blown environmental impact statements (EISs). There was enough evidence to prove to Federal District Court Judge Browning that this additional work was not necessary. Judges on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals were never even given the opportunity to consider the case, yet the USFS is rolling over and playing dead.

There is more to come on this story because the NMCGA, the New Mexico Federal Lands Council and the Arizona/New Mexico Coalition of Counties have protested the settlement agreement. A hearing back before Judge Browning is anticipated in the near future.

Then there are the circles

The 2011 New Mexico Legislature has opened its 60 day Session and as usual, it is a different breed of duck this year. I have learned over time that there are never any two that are alike.

To be clear and with full respect to members of the Legislature, for those of you who haven’t been there, the New Mexico State Capitol is a round building fondly called the Roundhouse – so everything is in a circle.

The change in Administration and make up the House has caused some changes and committees got a bit slower start than usual. There are bills of every kind and nature. If you want to follow along from home you can do so via the website at http://www.nmlegis.gov/lcs/. The website not only allows you to look up and read bills, but it also provides schedules and agendas and you can watch or listen to Floor Sessions as well as committee hearings.

As to issues that might impact the range livestock industry and agriculture, as usual there are many. However, the overarching issue as of this writing is school consolidation. There are two Senate bills that would at least start the process of consolidating all schools with student enrollment of less than 1,000. That would be pretty much all rural schools as well as urban charter schools – some 60 percent of the schools in New Mexico.

There is also a memorial to look into the potential of such consolidation. Hopefully if anything prevails it will be that memorial. According to the media, New Mexico currently ranks 49th in the nation in education. I hope that decision makers will take the time to look at the statistics on success rates of rural schools. One school that serves NMCGA members has a 100 percent high school graduation rate followed up with a 70 percent college graduation rate. Yes, that school generally graduates less than 10 students per year, but they are productive citizens.

In what would today be a totally unacceptable statement, a school board member from this school told then Secretary of the Interior that he and his neighbors sent their children to school with guns not condoms. Clearly he meant for protection during their travels to and from school, not for use at school. Today, of course, it is illegal to have a fire arm around a school. But we haven’t heard of many school shootings over time in rural areas anywhere.

Many of those students are already driving or being bused 30 or 40 miles. This is the rule in rural New Mexico, not the exception. Consolidation could double or triple that trip. One county in New Mexico could end up with a single school system – and that county is larger than some states in the Union.

With the amount of the state budget spent on education and the ranking the state has, there is no doubt that something needs to be done, but I respectfully submit the solution does not lie in larger schools. And just imagine what the carbon foot print might be of all that school transportation!

The Hits Keep Coming

On the heels of the introduction of these school consolidation measures, we learned that the U.S. Postal Service is looking at closing Post Offices across the nation, several in New Mexico. If you take away the Post Office and the school, what is left in many, many rural communities?

But what the heck, let’s take out one of the two industries left in rural New Mexico just for good measure. Ever after the destruction of the range livestock industry the New Mexico Wildlife Federation is doing just what was expected in the Legislature. They are attempting to eliminate the outfitting and guide industry.

In the mid 1990s there was a major war in the Legislature in an attempt to provide more hunting opportunity for residents. Up until that time anyone had an equal chance of drawing an elk tag in New Mexico, residents and non residents alike. The dispute was eventually settled by setting aside ten percent of the states draw tags for non residents, 12 percent for guides and outfitters and 78 percent for resident. These numbers are in addition to the private landowner tags that provide incentive to landowners to provide habitat, water and supplementation when necessary to the state’s wildlife.

The amount of federal land in New Mexico and federal funding of hunting programs prohibits totally closing this or any state to only resident hunters. With the logging and mining industries gone, there is little to support rural economies besides grazing and hunting. Guides and outfitters play a big part in the hunting aspect. Many ranchers have become guides or outfitters on the side to supplement their income. Others utilizing their neighbors who are guides and outfitters to generate income from their private tags that keep operations going.

I am out of time and space, but SB 196 is the bill that has the potential to eliminate from 4,000 to 6,000 jobs from New Mexico’s rural economies. Please help oppose it.

Watch your email and the website for other bills and issues that will affect you.