To The Point

by Caren Cowan

Dear Mr. President . . . 

YES I have had help in life. I was blessed with a great-grandfather who traveled from Canada to Tombstone, Arizona in 1881 where he contributed to the economy and other business by being a banker and a cattle rancher. He helped build roads, developed water sources for man and beast, and whatever else was necessary for him, his family and others to survive.

I was blessed with a grandfather who carried on in his father’s footsteps in ranching. He also contributed more than 20 years of service in the Arizona Legislature — as a Democrat. He had three sons who carried on in his image. My uncles served in the military. My father served well over 30 years on the Tombstone School Board.

They all taught me to work hard and care for others. And that’s just one side of my paternal family. On the maternal side my great-grandfather helped to build the Episcopal Church in Tombstone, one of the first in the area.

Today I am supported by a strong group of men, women and children who just want the right to raise their families in the country with wholesome values — and for the government to let them do it. Last but certainly not least, I have the Lord to watch over and lift me up every day.

YES, Mr. President, I am thankful to many for what I have and what I am able to do. But I am NOT beholding to the government for much besides the right to pay taxes and the job security of the battles that are brought down on ranching and farming families in our state and country.

One-Tree Fires

It seems that the fires just won’t leave the news and there are many large fires in western states that haven’t even made the news. The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association (NMCGA) was honored to have President Elect Jose J. Varela Lopez invited to testify before the full U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Resources in Washington, D.C. on the subject. The Committee was interested in not only the impact of this year’s fires, but what role the Endangered Species Act and litigation may have played in them.

As expected, Jose did New Mexico and the Southwest proud. If you missed the live hearing, you can locate the link to the hearing on the NMCGA website at www.nmagriculture.org . The entire hearing lasted about two hours and Jose’s testimony is at the beginning.

But watching the entire hearing is worth the time and certainly demonstrates the great divide in our nation’s Capitol on issues that would seem to be no-brainers

. . . like fires destroying our land, our homes, our wildlife, and our water supplies for decades to come. The partisanship started at the onset with the opening statements by the Chairman and the Ranking Member of the Committee.

I was particularly offended by a statement, not a question, directed to Jose by Oregon’s Peter DeFazio. The gentleman has never been a supporter of livestock even though he is from the West, and he stopped just short of questioning Jose’s integrity.

It is no secret that New Mexico’s largest and most devastating fires ever started with a lightning strike and fire in a single tree. We know this because our members saw some of them start. Had U.S. Forest Service policy been to extinguish rather than “contain,” over 300,000 acres in the Gila and 250 homes in Lincoln County would have been untouched. While there is overwhelming evidence of these facts, Mr. DeFazio simply doesn’t believe it. Seems he had some “one-tree” fires in his state years ago and he had the problem fixed. If only it were that easy.

Another reason to watch the entire hearing is to catch the testimony of Alison Berry, Energy & Economics Specialist with The Sonoran Institute, a Tucson based group, with an office in Bozeman, Montana where Ms. Berry works.

Her take on the fire situation ads a new twist. Those who live near the woods are being subsidized by the rest of Americans.

According to Ms. Berry, “As housing subdivisions are built in fire-prone areas, however, there is an increasing risk to people and property. This results in higher costs to taxpayers for federal fire prevention and suppression, and greater property losses and risk to life in the event of catastrophic wildfires.

“Successful fire suppression often creates a false sense of security in fire-prone areas, effectively encouraging development on the edge of these forests, in the so-called “wildland-urban interface, or WUI,” she continued.

“An early study of fire suppression in the wildland urban interface found that when fighting large fires, between 50 and 95 percent of federal spending goes towards protecting private homes,” Berry said.

To date, most efforts to reduce risks of fire in the WUI have focused on reducing “fuels” — removing small trees and brush, either mechanically or with prescribed burning. Local land use planning efforts generally consist of requiring new subdivisions to incorporate “firewise” characteristics such as fire-resistant building and landscaping materials, adequate water supplies for firefighting, and road access for emergency vehicles.”

And who is to blame?

“Guiding development away from high risk areas is primarily a state and local responsibility,” according to Berry.

“If western counties and communities promoted responsible development patterns in forested areas, it would save millions of taxpayer dollars needed for fire suppression, reduce risks to people and property, and restore forests to healthier conditions,” she concludes.

“State and federal agencies — such as the U.S. Forest Service — cover the majority of the costs for fire suppression in the WUI. This amounts to a taxpayer subsidy for development in fire-prone areas, increasing the amount of land converted to residential uses in these areas,” she continued.

“Most existing WUI maps are notoriously vague, making it difficult to implement local growth management efforts in fire-prone areas. Better mapping would allow more effective growth management in these areas; the investment by the federal government would be recouped by reduced federal fire suppression costs,” said Berry.

“The insurance industry can also help discourage development in risky locations. As they do in floodplains, insurance companies should require higher premiums in areas of higher fire risk.”

“There are very specific actions the federal government can take to help reduce taxpayer costs associated with wildfires, including partnering with local jurisdictions and the private insurance industry to provide resources and incentives for policy reform. With federal leadership, there is every reason for local governments to use well-established, effective growth management tools to limit or prohibit development in the high risk areas for wildfire,” Berry finished.

There were members of the Committee who did ask if many of these lands Ms. Berry wants local government to control with “federal leadership” are private. Clearly it isn’t the land that The Sonoran Institute suggests needs controlling, it is people.

So who is The Sonoran Institute? You should figure it out because its mantra is “Shaping The Future Of The West.” It calls itself “community-based collaborative conservation.” The Institute came into being in 1990 — so surely they know the West better than those of us who have been here for generations. According to its IRS 1099, the Institute generates more than $3 million a year in contributions and grants and has assets of over $1.2 million. The group’s website profiles some of its major donors. As expected, there are more than a few who come from east of the Mississippi.

However, no matter how much we might disagree with groups like these, there are things to be learned from them. The Institute is part of the “One Percent for the Planet – Keep Earth in Business. When you patronize a 1 percent member business, 1 percent of their profits are donated to Partners.”

Speaking of disagreement . . .

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) never ceases to amaze at the depths they will go to garner publicity. The latest outrage is wagering on when Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa will die — because he eats meat.

With all of that said

The House Committee on Resources recently passed H.R. 6089, the Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act of 2012, with a bipartisan vote of 28 to 19. Introduced by Colorado Members Scott Tipton, Doug Lamborn, Mike Coffman, and Cory Gardner, the bill would reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, address factors that contribute to insect infestation, and restore forest health by prioritizing and implementing hazardous fuels reduction projects on federal land.

Although New Mexico has two members on this Committee it is disappointing that they did not vote in the majority.

Food Or Fuel?

With the nation suffering the worst natural disaster in its history, a drought that encompasses some 60 percent of the continental United States there are more hard choices coming. Over the past several years the federal government as well as some state governments, including New Mexico, have imposed renewable fuel standards. The theory is that the nation needs to move away from non-renewal fossil fuels and to renewables like wind, solar and ethanol. Given that there isn’t a way, at least yet, to put wind or solar in the your vehicle’s fuel tank, corn based ethanol is one way to achieve the mandates.

The current drought is impacting not only food prices, but fuel costs as well. Here is yet another place that government intervention/regulation doesn’t meet the needs of Mother Nature and thus citizens.

In a piece entitled “Corn for Food, Not Fuel” on the New York Times Opinion Page, Colin A. Carter and Henry I. Miller write, “It is not often that a stroke of a pen can quickly undo the ravages of nature, but federal regulators now have an opportunity to do just that. By suspending renewable-fuel standards that were unwise from the start, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could divert vast amounts of corn from inefficient ethanol production back into the food chain, where market forces.

“As a result [of the drought] , global food prices are rising steeply. Corn futures prices on the Chicago exchange have risen about 60 percent since mid-June, hitting record levels, and other grains such as wheat and soybeans are also sharply higher. Livestock and dairy product prices will inevitably follow.

“More than one-third of our corn crop is used to feed livestock. Another 13 percent is exported, much of it to feed livestock as well. Another 40 percent is used to produce ethanol. The remainder goes toward food and beverage production.

“Previous droughts in the Midwest . . . resulted in higher food prices, but misguided energy policies are magnifying the effects of the current one. Federal renewable-fuel standards require the blending of 13.2 billion gallons of corn ethanol with gasoline this year. This will require 4.7 billion bushels of corn, 40 percent of this year’s crop. Common sense dictates it should go.

“Other countries seem to have a better grasp of market forces and common sense.

“Another large ethanol producer uses sugar instead of corn to make ethanol. It has flexible policies that allow the market to determine whether sugar should be sold on the sugar market or be converted to fuel. Our government could learn from the approach and direct the EPA to waive a portion of the renewable-fuel standards, thereby directing corn back to the marketplace. Under the law, the E.P.A. would first have to determine that the program was causing economic harm. That’s a no-brainer, given the effects of sharply higher grain prices that are already rippling through the economy.”

Like I said at the beginning . . .

It is time for government to get out of the way and let Americans not just survive but thrive, as we have in the past without this oppression. As Americans, we can no longer sit by and think the problems are someone else’s.

With the general election just 90 days away, we CAN change government, one vote at a time. Make sure you and everyone you come in contact with is registered to vote. Make sure you and everyone you know gets involved in this election. Get to know ALL the candidates so that whoever wins will know your face and your issues. One by one, we can and WILL make a difference.

See you at the State Fair!