To The Point

by Caren Cowan

There is Good News!

As we work through the ups and downs of life, there were several “ups” in courtrooms for the animal and natural resource world during the month of December. The good news started with a victory in the case the WildEarth Guardians (WEG) filed against the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish to stop trapping the Gila National Forest because of the Mexican Wolf Program. The New Mexico Trappers’ Association intervened in the case assisted by the Cattle Growers, Wool Growers, Federal Lands Council, Farm & Livestock Bureau, Houndsmen, Council of Outfitters & Guides, Coalition of Counties, Farm Credit of New Mexico and others. While the case was costly for both the Department and the interveners, the Federal District Judge could not have made it more clear that the WEG should have kept their traps shut on the issue.

The case drew national interest because had the WEG prevailed, management of wildlife would be taken from the hands of states and put into the courts. The 2012 fire season graphically demonstrated the consequences of forest management via the courts.

Of course, the case has been appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, so the story isn’t over yet, but we go into the appeal on firm ground that was laid by Karen Budd-Falen and the crew at the Budd-Falen Law Office.

Next came a victory for ski resorts that bodes well for ranching. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced in 2011 that the agency was going to begin claiming water rights associated with activities on forest lands for improvements in the future. AND they were going to retroactively take water rights that “should” have been theirs from the past. The two groups that would suffer the greatest loss of property rights were ranchers and ski resorts. The USFS was just going to accomplish this grab via regulations.

Not so fast ruled U.S. District Court Judge William Martinez who questioned the USFS’s theory that ski resorts and others might sell off their water rights for other uses, leaving themselves without water to operate. The agency was only trying to protect existing uses on the forest, after all.

The ruling stated that the government violated its own procedures, failed to evaluate the economic impact and violated ski area rights. The judge ordered the agency not to enforce the new rules and sent the issue back to the Forest Service for further review.

In yet another case challenging the use of categorical exclusions to renew permits on USFS Allotments in Arizona, the court granted the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association’s intervener motion for summary judgment. This case filed by the Western Watersheds Project (WWP) against the USFS was similar to one filed in New Mexico by the WEG a few years ago.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers’ and the New Mexico Federal Lands Council intervened in that case and assisted the USFS in winning the case, as Arizona did. Unfortunately, when the New Mexico case was appealed, the USFS settled with the WEG, throwing NMCGA and the allotment owners under the bus.

The deadline for appeal of the Arizona case has not yet come, so stay tuned for further developments in this case.

In a fourth victory “for the good guys,” Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus will receive $9.3 million from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to settle part of a lawsuit the circus owners filed against the ASPCA and several other animal-rights groups.

Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros., sued the ASPCA and the other groups in 2007 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, claiming the groups and their lawyers paid more than $190,000 to a former Ringling employee who had joined them in suing the circus company in 2000, alleging animal cruelty under the Endangered Species Act.

A federal court at the end of a six-week trial in 2009 ruled in the circus’ favor. In its ruling, the court characterized former employee, Tom Rider, as a paid witness whose testimony was not credible.

Feld’s racketeering lawsuit against the ASPCA also includes the Humane Society of the United States, the Fund for Animals, Animal Welfare Institute, Animal Protection Institute United with Born Free USA, Tom Rider and some of the attorneys involved in the litigation. But this settlement only covers the ASPCA.

On might wonder about how this windfall of victories has come about. Ranchers have been fighting injustice and supporting actions of regulatory agencies for literally decades. One theory is the proactive actions taken to demonstrate to the courts and the public the misuse of the legal system by groups using lawsuits as funding sources.

The work of Karen Budd-Falen and groups like the Western Legacy Alliance have exposed the millions of dollars that groups like the WEG and WWP have been collecting from the federal government simply by filing lawsuits. This work has resulted in legislation and congressional hearings on the misuse of the well intended Equal Access to Just Act (EAJA).

It has been said that the only way to influence judges is through the media. Maybe the media attention EAJA received over that past few years is paying off.

Heritage

During the holidays I had the privilege of attending two celebrations of lives well-lived by gentlemen who left a profound impact on their families, their communities and well beyond — Adolph Sanchez and Speaker Ben Lujan. As I watched three and four generations of families gathering to bid farewell and thanks to those who had come before them, I couldn’t help but think of my own grandfather who I lost during the holidays more years ago than I care to admit.

I credit my grandmother with much of my molding, but I would be remiss in not acknowledging all the things Granddaddy was to me. One of the first memories I have with him was when we were gathering when I was about five. I was sent with Granddaddy for the morning. I fell asleep on my horse. Granddaddy broke into a trot and I fell off. I was convinced it was entirely his fault that I hit the ground so hard. That combined with a short jaunt to check heifers with Daddy that turned into about a 10-hour ride pretty much set the course for my cowboying career. Marguerite was always the best cowboy of the bunch.

When we were little the ranch still had cotton fields. Granddaddy would take Flossie and me to the field to help pick cotton — and he paid us for it. He kept our names in his tally book right along with the other field hands and at the end of the season we proudly walked away with our eight to eleven cents. We were much more trouble than we were worth, especially to those who were actually working, but they were patient with us and jumping in the cotton trailer was great fun.

When I was in the 8th grade it was Granddaddy who came to the house while everyone was working cows to check on me during one of my bouts with measles (who knew you could have them more than once). I didn’t think I was doing so badly. My room was on the west side of the house and it was afternoon so I was supposed to be hot. I don’t know what he told Mother and Daddy, but in nothing flat they were both in the house and had me in a cold bathtub of water to bring down the fever.

I am sure that Granddaddy was the source of my love for all things political. He served in the Arizona Legislature for well over 20 years and stayed involved for decades after. I got to make several of those trips to Phoenix and stay in the Adams Hotel.

But probably one of the best memories of Granddaddy was the celebration of his life. Despite his fondness of cigarettes and a little bourbon, he lived to the ripe old age of 78. He passed right after Christmas and the services were on New Year’s Eve. His wit and sense of humor were never more on display. Carol and I were working at the Arizona National which lasted nearly a week back then. Uncle Jim and Arizona Feeds were kind enough to arrange for the plane to take us along with cousin Nellie Stevenson to Douglas.

Granddaddy always believed in lots of flowers and open caskets and his wishes were honored. The services were tough on everyone. But at the cemetery things took a different turn. It was a rainy day so there was a canopy involved. Grandmother suffered from debilitating arthritis for as long as I could remember so it was a process for her to walk to gravesite.

When we were all finally settled, with me in the front row next to Grandmother, and Daddy behind me, the graveside service started with the Masons throwing the apron on the casket stand. That seemed a little odd to me, but I hadn’t been to a Masonic service in awhile so maybe I had forgotten something.

Not so much. The funeral director came rushing up to inform the elderly Masons that the casket was yet to arrive. It was hard to stifle the giggles, especially with Grandmother on my left arm asking what was going on. Her sight was failing as well. Dad had his hands on my shoulders and he was beginning to pinch me.

The casket arrived and the service proceeded . . . right up until the Shriners started their part. One of the gentlemen on our side of the grave was very tall. His forehead collided with the canopy and his fez fell off into the grave.

Again Grandmother couldn’t see what was going on and had questions. I simply couldn’t talk without falling out of my chair with laughter and Daddy was about to strangle me. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that he, too, was fighting laughter and was simply using me for grounding . . . not reprimanding.

There is no doubt that Granddaddy was having a great time at our expense. Then we got back to the house. The funeral director discretely gave the guest book to Aunt Florence and expressed his hope that all were satisfied with the service. Ever the consummate lady and hostess, she responded “We all had a lovely time.”

At my look of horror, she asked “What are you supposed to say?” Indeed, what are you supposed to say?

There is a moral to the story

Our fathers and grandfathers passed on a heritage in land and stewardship, but also the heritage of living a good life . . . to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and keep going, even if it is in another direction; to care for family and others; to appreciate the value of hard work, of a penny, of record keeping; to understand the duty to contribute to our community at home and afar; to make the best of any situation and to laugh at ourselves. Mainly to understand that in the grand scheme of things, none of us is important, but collectively we are a force to be reckoned with.

And Today?

The challenge today is how to take all of these values that have served us so well over the generations and turn them into solutions for today. In early December the United States Secretary of Agriculture told rural America that we are becoming less and less relevant, that we don’t know how to pick our battles, that there is too much infighting and in so many words we are our own worst enemy.

Dealing with these statements is akin to working through the stages of grief or a 12-step program. The first reaction is to get really mad (mine) — this guy is supposed to be our industry’s champion. He admits that we in rural America hold some of the nation’s “biggest assets — the food supply, recreational areas and energy.”

We feed the world, we care for the environment and its creatures, we work hard all day every day. How can we be irrelevant?

Then sadness may come. Is this really what our heritage has come to?

Somewhere along the way you might wonder what we do to fix the Secretary’s perception along with the rest of our country. We have known for literally decades that our customers are moving further and further away from their roots in the country.

In the Associated Press story on the Secretary’s comments, Tom Vilsak is quoted as saying “It’s time for us to have an adult conversation with folks in rural America. It’s time for a different thought process here . . .”

Okay Mr. Secretary, we are listening. What do you suggest?