To The Point

by Caren Cowan

Beltway Bandits . . . on so many levels

Why do people in Washington, D.C. think they are so much smarter than the people who live on the land and deal with the government every day? And it is not just the politicians and bureaucrats that I am talking about.

Please understand that I am coming from the New Mexico perspective… the land of constitutionalists and unlicensed legal professionals. Fairly soon after I moved to New Mexico and went to work for the New Mexico Wool Growers, Inc. I was treated to a dose from the East who felt the need to make it very clear that it took a high priced public relations guru from somewhere near the Atlantic to communicate messages about the value of western grazing. We here in the West simply are not smart enough to do that.

Granted, we in the West haven’t done a good job of telling our story. We have long been taught from generation to generation that if you kept your head down, and worked hard you would be appreciated. Thus we have let generations move from the land to urban places where they make enough money to buy food, fiber and shelter rather than growing it. Not only that, but up until recently the nation’s cheap food policy made it possible for them to have food and everything else imaginable. It has reached the point that a part of society believes they are entitled to virtually everything up to and including cell phones and outrageously priced tennis shoes. Of course there is no responsibility or work attached to that entitlement.

There is no doubt that we need to tell our story better, but no one can tell it better than we do.

Likewise in making decisions about what laws and regulations ranchers can live with. New Mexico is leading a storm against the hijacked Grazing Improvement Act (S 258 as amended via substitute). Originally intended to provide greater stability to land management, ranching families and rural economies, the bill now just exactly the opposite… and then some.

Although national organizations have policy to opposed buyouts or “voluntary relinquishment” of federal grazing allotments, they continue to support a bill that does just that. There is lip service given that “we have to pass the bill so we can fix it.” Really??? Have they ever heard of Nancy Pelosi?

How does supporting a bill that is so clearly harmful to a good part of your constituency instill any confidence in your membership or your membership numbers?

Unfortunately, that is the least of the issues with the measure. Instead of increasing tenure for ranch families, the bill does just the opposite by taking tenure from 10 years to one to 20 years. While the national Public Lands Council (PLC) and thus the National Beef Cattlemen’s Association (NCBA) staff continues to dispute this fact by citing their “intentions”, two of the West’s renowned federal lands attorneys interpret the language (never mind what the intent was) as doing just this. Connie Brooks, Denver, and Karen Budd-Falen, Cheyenne, have both advised their clients that some may never get a 10-year permit again if this bill passes.

The amended S 258 also codifies National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis. Under current law NEPA is required at the discretion of a department secretary. NEPA will be mandated by Congress if this bill passes.

Again, paid staff disagrees. However New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association (NMCGA) leadership has been waiting since December 19, 2013 for a rationale for that disagreement. It would be great to have accessed the bill incorrectly. Unfortunately that simply isn’t the issue.

The national groups’ plan of attack is to let this bill pass the Senate and meet up with a House bill that isn’t quite so flawed then hash it out in conference. Anyone who has spent much time dealing with legislation knows that is a self-defeating plan.

Lobbyists don’t get to participate in the final deals in most conference committees. There is certainly no guarantee that ANYONE has the power over a conference committee, including senators and representatives who sit on them. I certainly don’t believe that it is the best interests of NMCGA members (from all 33 of the state’s counties and some 19 other states) to leave the fate of the ability to continue our 400 year tradition of ranching in the hands of folks in Washington, D.C.

Those who think they can control a conference committee might take a lesson from the recently passed Farm Bill.  A prime issue for NCBA was country of origin labeling (COOL), an issue that NMCGA has disagreed with the national group on for years. NCBA didn’t prevail in the U.S House of Representatives on that issue in the Farm Bill.

It is with deep regret that we realize that one of New Mexico’s own U.S. senators has attempted to deal this demise of grazing to his own constituents. While his staff on this particular issue has not been very responsive on the bill, we will continue to try and break through and work on that front.

It is abundantly clear that radical environmental groups had a huge hand in the bill. The WildEarth Guardians (WEG) have already advertised for a new employee for the orderly retirement of grazing allotments in the Gila. Independent sources have confirmed that they worked closely with a senator on the bill.

The American Sheep Industry Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation have already expressed their concerns on the bill and other national groups are lining up to help the ranching community. NMCGA President José Varela López will take the fight to the NCBA annual convention in early February.

Those concerned about this issue are encouraged to contact their members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to ask for help.

I won’t even go into the whole “I have a pen and a phone” versus following the U.S. Constitution discussion in terms of beltway driven decision making.

More Positively…

Let’s take time to thank the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service for  the great work they are doing around the state with roundtables, symposiums and meetings to provide information to ranchers and their families about bringing the cows home. Ranging from range conditions to nutrition to finances to raising or buying heifers there is a world of education available from the county and specialist staff.

Please let them know that you are noticing their work and appreciate it.

The Utah Model

With the New Mexico Legislature in Session, Representative Yvette Herrell, Alamogordo, continues to work toward economic sovereignty for New Mexico. With some 60 percent of the state controlled by the federal government, no matter what happens in the state economic development is a struggle.

Couple that with the mismanagement of that land resulting in catastrophic wildfires, watershed devastation, loss of wildlife as well as homes and businesses, and it is clear that there must be a better way.

A few years ago a measure was passed in Utah that would start the path to return management of federal lands over to the state. Since its passage there has been lots of information and misinformation about the intentions and impacts of the measure.

Representative Herrell’s bill in 2014 takes the measured approach of creating a task force so that all New Mexicans can learn what might be involved, including the potential benefits and drawbacks, in some federal lands coming back under the control of New Mexico.

Returning control of land management to New Mexicans does not mean that there will be a takeover of military installations, tribal lands and other federal facilities that are lawfully, and in some cases constitutionally, designated. Nor does it mean that lands now currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) would necessarily go to private hands.

There are entities like the State Land Office that already manages a portion of lands in the state for the benefit of schools and hospitals. What if counties were charged with the management AND the income from these lands?

Now counties receive Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) payments from the federal government based on the amount of federal lands. But the payments have never been fully funded and remain on the chopping block annually as the nation continues struggle economically. There is also Secure Rural Schools funding that was designed to help rural counties where there is vast amounts of federal lands. That too takes a constant fight to be able to educate youth in those counties.

Just imagine that instead of the 800,000 acres of char and devastation now in New Mexico there was instead well managed forests providing multiple opportunities of timber production, grazing, hunting, fishing, trapping, and other natural resource activities building wealth for New Mexicans. What happens to the cost of affordable housing if we use lumber from the state’s trees… not a foreign country? The possibilities are endless.

Let’s figure out how to manage healthy lands in New Mexico for  New Mexico. Let’s stop letting Washington, D.C. sentence us to poverty and devastation.

BIG AG? Where?

New Mexico agriculture’s priority in the 2014 Legislature is amending the Right to Farm Act to prevent the temporary nuisance lawsuits that are plaguing the state’s dairy industry at this time. The current way the law reads lawyers, thus far from out of state, coming into neighborhoods that have moved out toward dairies and assisting them in filing temporary lawsuits for things like flies, dust, noise and other so-called nuisances, many of them seasonal. The dairy’s activities are supposedly depriving these neighbors of peaceful enjoyment of their private property.

It is worth noting that no agriculturist in their right mind would develop a costly operation near a neighborhood. If for no other reason than the cost of the land would prohibit such a move.

In reality it is these neighborhoods that are depriving the dairy owner from peaceful enjoyment and economic prosperity. Apparently there is no law against that.

The changes being sought in the Act are not monumental and certainly would allow anyone to do anything that doesn’t meet regulations and follow the letter of the law. They are intended to take the gray areas out of the statute.

HB 51, another measure being carried by Representative Herrell, only removes the word “improperly” from the law. “Improperly” is not a legal term and opens the door wide open for frivolous litigation.

And, unfortunately this change in law if passed won’t do anything to aide the dairy families that are currently being sued. It will keep these suits from  being filed against additional dairies and other agricultural businesses, the vast majority of them are small family businesses, some with huge capital investment.

The Facebook postings and email messages opposing this minimal change would be laughable if the issue weren’t so important to ranchers and farmers, rural communities and anyone who eats. It is BIG AG who is pushing HB 51 and they must be stopped is the mantra. Please take a moment and call your legislator and explain to them how litigation is stranggling agriculture and rural New Mexico. Get your banker, your feed store, and everyone else you spend with your ag-earned dollars to do the same.

Some counties and the Association of Counties have adopted resolutions in support of agriculture.

To further address the BIG AG myth, it is the federal government’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS) who have required family businesses to become corporations. All corporations are not BIG. About 98 percent of ranchers and farmers in the U.S. are family operations. In New Mexico the number is probably higher.

The rest of those BIG ranches and farms may be owned by a larger entity but the people who live on the land and work their every day are families.

100th

This is a monumental year in New Mexico for the Cooperative Extension Service… and the NMCGA. Both are celebrating their 100th year in supporting New Mexicans, rural communities and the nation and a whole by supporting and producing life sustaining food and fiber growth.

You can show your support for NMCGA in many ways.  There are two 100 year brand quilts that you can purchase an opportunity to own. Contact your NMCGA member of the Board of Directors for more information. Each quilt contains more than 50 brands of New Mexico ranchers and are one of a kind. They will support both the NMCGA and the Cattlegrowers’ Foundation.

There are also centennial jackets, vests, brand ties and scarves. Contact the NMCGA office to order.