Sunday, July 10, 2011
Promises Made...Promises Ignored
The Corruption of Values
Promises Made . . . Values Differentiated . . . Promises Ignored
National Security . . . the Cardinal Value
During a wilderness hearing years ago, a lone rancher approached the podium at the Fine Arts Center on the campus of Western New Mexico University. It was apparent he was not a public speaker. He spoke of the pitfalls of the designation. As he spoke, the fledgling environmental crowd jeered and ridiculed his manner of speech and his message. One of the professors of that institution’s biology department ran out the front door calling the crowd to come in and “listen to this fool!”
As a student in that department, I listened along with the others who were now hooting and hollering. After a few moments, I turned and walked out. I left that speaker in the grasp of that disrespectful mob while he attempted to offer some logic of the fallacy of such a restrictive land management designation.
Two historic events took place after that meeting. The Aldo Leopold Wilderness was designated and the environmental movement blossomed. The voice of reason was symbolized by that lone rancher. The voices of idealism were symbolized by that progressive mob. Today, some 40 years later, there remain isolated, but no longer lone voices in the midst of even greater mobs.
The passion pitch for restrictive land designations was always predicated on idealistic fervor of an undefined goal. If there was a corollary, it was the image we had of ourselves as students finishing college at Western New Mexico University without a comprehensive educational skill to do anything except continue going to school. We were engrained with an elevated sense of self importance that had no basis for immediate real world application.
The Nazi Germans actually had a word for our predicament. “Selbstgleichschaltung” or “self-coordination” was the approach prewar German leadership used to bring academia, government ministries, the youth, and cultural institutions in line with their nationalistic beliefs. German leaders were amazed how effective such “coordination” was. It has been equally effective in the environmental movement.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 was the organic progenitor of the great passion laws. It was the defining legislation that gave rise to the “Gleichschaltung” – coordination – of the environmental laws and the methodology of getting them passed.
There were two exceptions conceded for those hallowed lands “untrammeled by man” as envisioned in the Wilderness Act. One was for the President to have certain authorities in the event of war. The second was to allow grazing to continue where it existed at the time of the signing.
The grazing issue was a compromise. The conservation advocates of the bill never wanted cattle grazing. Grazing was allowed only through compromise emanating from lingering anger over an event that occurred in the Gila National Forest.
It was in there that the ‘First Family of Wilderness’, was evicted from their historic range. That land had caught the fancy of several influential administrators including Aldo Leopold. It became the nation’s first wilderness. The designation was without Congressional approval. Rather, it was an administrative action taken by a Regional Office in 1924. It set the stage for things to come.
In 1944, the Shelley family was evicted without recourse from what is now a large part of the Gila Wilderness. They had been forced to destock that portion of their ranch because of several catastrophic events not the least of which was the Great Depression. When the suggestion of restocking was imminent during World War II, the Forest Service notified the family that “the (Wilderness) has been eliminated from the Mogollon Creek Allotment.” The Forest Service was not going to alter what the Depression had accomplished regardless of needs of the nation.
The Shelley travesty was known among certain participants in the hearings prior to 1964, and it was an issue. In order to assure passage, a compromise was struck. Grazing would be allowed where it was in place “at the time of the signing”, but, as for the egregious, undefended Gila taking . . . leave that sleeping dog alone!
By the time the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) came along in 1976, the environmental influences were expansive. Conflicting missions, interagency jealousies, the confusion of laws, and the escalating environmental influences were all part of the driving forces behind FLPMA. The pacifying words were the purported “values” for which the federal lands would be managed. Those promised quality values were scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resources, and archeological. Everybody agreed and the bill was signed by the President October 21, 1976 and became Public Law 94-579, 90 Stat. 2743.
The Corruption of Values
In the years since 1976, any objective observer is hard pressed to identify any substantive values management except ecological and environmental in federal actions. Those values have been elevated above all others in the management of existing federal lands and the acquisition of new holdings. The federal lands along the Arizona border are the best examples.
Between 1978 and the early ‘90s, over a million acres of designated federal Wilderness was established on the Mexican border in Arizona. In the management of those areas, it is obvious there was a differentiated attitude about FLPMA values. The literature is full of references to sensitivity of habitat, plans for expansion of restrictive land designations and even mitigation of Border Patrol activities.
Acquisitions of the Slaughter and Buenos Aires ranches immediately adjacent to the border added to the federal presence. Both ranches were acquired for endemic wildlife habitat preservation and restoration. They became part of the dominion of federal lands that included the Coronado National Forest, the Coronado National Monument, Tohono O’odon Reservation, the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Preserve, and expansive BLM administered lands that include National Conservation Area designations.
It is nearly impossible to find examples of support for other values promised in FLPMA, and, particularly, the historical value. A most bizarre example was when Organ Pipe’s resource staff indicated in a study they had prevailed against cattle grazing in the monument and they would also prevail against the Border Patrol!
Indeed, the Park Service had succeeded in removing the ranching Gray family who had been on the border for years, established domiciles on what is now monument land, and created water infrastructure that supported not only their cattle herd but wildlife populations.
The Park Service worked diligently in their stated intention to overcome the Border Patrol. If there is a metric to gauge their success, their managed lands are now ground zero within the most dangerous drug smuggling corridors where half of all illegal traffic enters the United States.
Values Intervention and the Future
The values “bundle” that was set forth in FLPMA remains intact. Federal agency disregard for the sanctity of the historic value and the elevation of the environmental and ecological values is unacceptable. It is also dangerous and it has put the entire nation at risk.
Data suggests that if the federal agencies had administered the promised values without bias and prejudice, the United States would be a much safer place. For example, where the ranching industry has been removed from the border, illegal trespass has not increased in a linear fashion . . . the increase is exponential.
The illegal trespass impact on the border must be seen to be believed. If the federal agencies charged with management of the natural resources in those areas were private companies, their services would not only be terminated . . . they would be sued for breach of contract and dereliction of duty. Their performance in differentiating management for only the environmental value is a national disgrace.
Congress must start making amends to the eleven Western states that agreed to allow the management of their lands to be altered from a matter of disposal to a matter of retention on the basis of upholding the eight guiding values. The citizens of those states have been deceived, mislead, and under-represented.
Congress must also add to the values bundle the single defining value that has been missing from the onset. The cardinal value . . . national security is missing. It must be added to a refined FLPMA or the American people must accelerate their search for leaders who represent the American society for whom all values were intended . . . and promised.
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “In the last 20 years, 550 federal lands ranchers in New Mexico have been lost. That represents 550 individual family tragedies. Complicit in that reduction is the overt disregard for the historic value. The silent annihilation of this historic segment of our society is no longer an acceptable goal of the environmental movement. It must be stopped.”