To The Point 3/11

We Have Identified the Enemy.

There are many sayings that sometimes seem trite. Unfortunately, all too often they are true. There is no doubt that our state, our nation and our industry are in some of the most interesting times imaginable. Equally unfortunate is the reaction that seems to be occurring. Way too often, the enemy is us.

While there are many examples of this on the home front, it is probably best to use broader examples.

Hopefully sometime in the last two years every rancher in the West has become aware of a brave, intelligent and energetic group known as the Western Legacy Alliance (WLA). The mission of the group, made up of ranchers and those fighting for ranchers rights, is/was to shed light on what so-called environmental groups and others are doing to eliminate the range livestock industry. A core group mostly in Idaho and Nevada dug into their own pockets and called upon their friends and neighbors to do the same. With a little pot of money they engaged a public relations firm and an attorney and started asking questions and digging into records.

Among the first things the WLA learned was that a group called the Western Watersheds Project (WWP) (also known as the Forest Guardians of the North) owned a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grazing allotment in Idaho without meeting the terms and conditions of the permit — something that has and would cost true livestock producers the allotment. Part of the conditions of a BLM grazing permit is that the allotment must run livestock. Although the ranch was located near a livestock auction market, the WWP was unable to locate cattle to stock the allotment within 10 year period.

It was also learned that a WWP employee had been less than honest in proceedings. After exposure of those facts by the WLA last year, a courageous BLM employee pulled the permit for the WWP allotment.

Clearly legal action would ensue. Although litigation on this issue would be contained to this single permit and single radical group, having the WWP removed from the allotment would send a powerful message. There would be good sized expenses involved if the grazing industry became involved. Given that many state organizations and some national organizations could have an interest in the action, WLA gathered those groups via conference call so that the industry could move forward with unity. Fat chance.

There were the predictable turf skirmishes. Some groups pledged financial support, others wanted to drive the train, thanking WLA kindly for their efforts and saying that WLA had done its job in exposing the situation and could step back. The WWP first appealed the decision to the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) within the U.S. Department of the Interior. There could have been an intervention or amicus briefs filed at that stage of the game. However, ultimately, industry decided that they would wait for the courts to come into play. Too little too late. Since the first of the year, the IBLA has ordered that the permit be reinstated for the WWP.

While this WWP situation played out, WLA and its’ attorney Karen Budd-Falen, began to research litigation payments made by the government when environmental groups sue. There have been several articles in the Stockman on the tens of millions of dollars that the federal government has paid out to groups whose sole purpose is to drive the range livestock industry from the West. That story brought the attention of Fox News on television that covered the issue several times. In turn, a few members of Congress began to sit up and take notice.

There are two ways that the federal government makes these payments to environmental groups. One is through the Judgement Fund, which contains settlement payments for a wide variety of settlements made by the federal government. The other is under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). However, finding how much has been paid from either fund totally is nearly impossible after the passage Paperwork Reduction Act in the mid 1990s because no records have been kept since then. It was only by going court by court, state by state, that any numbers at all were located — and they were staggering.

On that basis, the WLA began beating that drum and were able to get a bill dropped in the 111th Congress in the House that would at least require the government to keep records on how much was paid out to so-called environmental groups or the attorneys or non-profit organizations who represent them. It really should have been no surprise that rather than working with WLA, one national group cried foul claiming — legislation was their turf.

Undeterred WLA continues to work this issue and look for partners who will work with them in an effort that will not only aide the range livestock industry, but the American taxpayer who is being cheated out of millions by small groups of special interest.

Then we come to the whole Ruby Pipeline debacle. At every level, we as one of only about three natural resource users left today are told by state and federal legislators that we must band together. That’s sometimes pretty hard to do, although I am proud of the progress we have been able to make here in New Mexico with the oil and gas industry. At the national level it hasn’t been that easy.

In mid-summer it was learned that El Paso Natural Gas had made a $22 million deal with WWP and similar group based in Oregon not to protest the building of a huge pipeline from Wyoming crossing Nevada and Idaho on its way to Oregon. That $22 million cannot be used for litigation by these anti-grazing groups, but it can be used to remove ranchers from federal livestock grazing permits and state trust land grazing leases. There is a clause that says they must wait five (5) years before they can use that money outside of the directly affected states.

One more time WLA jumped on the issue and began contacting other groups to see how best to represent the industry in correcting this grossly unfair situation. Once again, they were rebuffed, being told that this was too big an issue for them and that a national group must be in charge. Then that national group turned around and made a deal with El Paso for a $15 million endowment fund that wouldn’t kick in for a year. Even their math isn’t any good. And, by the way, their agreement hasn’t even been signed yet.

While all of these events were in the forefront, WLA was doggedly working to raise funds to continue efforts to help the industry remain viable. To that end they engaged the assistance of a well-known Idaho figure, former U.S. Senator Larry Craig. His services were to be paid for on a commission basis and lots of confidential information was shared with him so that he would have a full understanding of the value of WLA. It became clear by early winter that he wasn’t going to be able to deliver.

It wasn’t until early February that the world learned why. The government’s Christmas present to the West was a secretarial order from Interior Secretary Kent Salazar on a “wildlands” policy. This policy not only attempts to circumvent the Wilderness Act and the will of Congress, but it is worse than all the other federal land grabs — on steroids.

As you have hopefully seen, there has been a huge hue and cry across the West to do something about this policy as well as the negative impacts it may have on natural resource use. In proposed language, a wildlands designation could trump multiple use.

It was the governors of Wyoming and Utah and county commissioners in those states who started the fight back, and it is gratifying to see that New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, along with Arizona’s Jan Brewer quickly joined in the fray. The leaders in Wyoming and Utah held a West-wide meeting in early February in Salt Lake City to begin to band folks together to wage whatever battles are necessary. There was a great turn out from across the West. Things were going well right up until former Senator Larry Craig took the mic and suggested that there be a new organization to run this fight — the Western Homestead Legacy Alliance. And, for a mere $25,000 any group could play. Last I heard, there weren’t many, if any checks written.

The reason I have gone into this sad, long tale isn’t because I wanted to irritate the nameless parties involved – or the named ones for that matter. I have liked and respected most of these people and sincerely hope that someday soon we can come together to pull in the same direction.

I told the story because it is the one that I can tell without causing myself even more grief. We are an extremely small industry, whether we are talking about range livestock or agriculture as a whole. We CANNOT afford to be at each other’s throats or throwing knives at each other’s backs.

By the same token, everybody isn’t always the first to know everything and there are only so many leadership roles to be filled. Policy is set by our membership, that also elect our leaders, who hire the staff to carry out the policy. If there isn’t trust in those leaders, don’t vote for them.

It is also impossible to sit at home and understand all the dynamics at play in Santa Fe or Washington DC. And, if your representatives in these areas spend a majority of their time to keeping the folks at home informed, they probably are not representing your interests very well legislatively.

Every new issue doesn’t require a new organization with new leadership to address. If we could find a way to keep those who have a proven track record afloat, we would all better off. It is the running to be at the head of every parade that is fatal. Believe me, there are enough issues to go around.

Just imagine what we could do if we turned all the bullets outward. That is the message I close each of my emails with. I certainly won’t take credit for its authorship. It probably is another one of those sayings that I picked up somewhere in life and I am too lazy to Google it on the internet. But that’s the philosophy we must accept if we expect to survive.

This Job

From time to time over the years I have had the chance to poke a little fun at the folks who hired me for this job in June 1997. As you may recall, the hiring process ended with a three-day interview at the Mid Year meeting in Angle Fire, where I was required to be nice, dress appropriately and smile sweetly for three entire days and nights from the golf tournament to the CowBelle meetings and everywhere in between. At the time I had no idea how rewarding all that effort would be.

I also had no idea if I would end up with the job. The interview committee had pretty well sorted itself out and the decision within the committee was down to about one vote. That vote was held by Stella Montoya. I didn’t know Stella well at the time and certainly didn’t know which way the chips were going to fall.

About a year later, Stella was hospitalized here in Albuquerque for several days. I took the opportunity to go by and check on her and used the opportunity to thank her for her obvious support of me. She gave me that little grin and asked how I could ever question her support of another woman.

I was fortunate to get to know Stella well over the years and she was a mentor that I could always count on. Whether it was how to deal with the issues between ranching and the oil and gas industry or whether or not I should be participating in a Sumo wrestling contest, she was always there to give advice and express her opinion. She was a strong supporter of the Women In Agriculture Leadership Conference (WALC) and often drove further than anyone else to participate. I could go for pages, but suffice it to say that we were all blessed to have had Stella in our lives and we appreciate not only the caring she give us, but the fact that her family shared her with us.

Legislature

After 20 years, you might think that there couldn’t be anything different about how a Legislature runs. You would be wrong. After years of having literally thousands of bills introduced, this year there are only 1,283 bills that have been introduced with 224 other measures, including memorials and resolutions. This is much less than half the number we have seen over the past several years.

Part of the reduction is due to the fact that there is no capital outlay – there is no money. Another reason is that fact that legislators are being encouraged not to introduce the same measure in the House and the Senate. This is a practice that was developed as a backup plan. If you get stuck in one body, you may be able to keep moving in the other and cross over.

But on many days it seems as though this Session is happening in slow motion. NMCGA started out tracking over 100 bills, but we are down to less than half of that.

Special appreciation is due to all the bill readers as well as those folks who are regular faces at the Session! n