Sunday, May 19, 2013

Resource Management Plan

`Outside looking in
Resource Management Plan
Wolves in the hen house
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            Remember the Constitution?
            In the powers granted to Congress, lands purchased by the United States will be limited to “… Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings …” Furthermore, those lands so acquired would be “… purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be …”
            The Framers’ intent was to limit federal government dominion. The Founders staked their lives on the overthrow of tyranny by King George. They knew the oppressive consequences of the withholding of private property rights.
            They envisioned the importance of land differently than American elitists view it today. Lands were to be distributed to the states for specific purposes. The lands were to be used for the reduction of debt and the acceleration of the economy.
    Their intent wasn’t predicated on how much the federal government could squeeze from any sale. Rather, their intent was aimed at what price point it would take to distribute the lands to the American people. That was made clearer in the demand that unsold or unclaimed lands would become the states’ problem.
    Land was key to the economic success of the young nation, but it could it also become a burden to the fledgling government. What a difference 235 years makes.
Regional Management Plan
    The proxy for a Constitutional amendment altering the government’s land ownership authority was signed into law in 1976. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) reversed the management of public lands from a matter of disposal to a matter of retention.
    In the congressional debate, the Western States were promised equal standing with states east of the 100th Meridian on the basis of land planning. The feds would own the land but local government would drive land use issues. Implicit in those issues would be the uniqueness of local economies, heritage, customs and culture.
    In April, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with a consulting group, URS Corporation, revealed the draft of the Resource Management Plan/ Environmental Impact Statement (RMP) for the counties of Dona Ana, Otero, and Sierra in New Mexico. The document is not driven by local planning.
            Its shear volume and presentation of management alternatives makes it overwhelmingly suggestive of evolving and expanding authority never intended by legislation.
            A review should start with private land holdings. In the decision area, the land Americans can live on, create permanent wealth, and build future generation successes is 16% of the land mass. Government owns 84% of the land.
            That factor has been debilitating on the area’s agricultural base and, particularly, irrigated farmland. Most of the private land exists in a narrow corridor within the Rio Grande Valley. In a sea of federal holdings, residential growth has been forced within that narrow band.
The RMP is blind to the consequences.
            In the current plan, 120,371 federal acres were targeted and slated for sale. A reasonable portion could have relieved farmland pressure. In 18 years, 759 acres were sold.
    Two major issues have resulted. The first is residential development has become highest cost. When residential development is forced to grow within a flood plain, in watersheds that require expensive infrastructure installment, costs are higher. This includes the matter of reclamation dams intended and designed for the protection of farmland. Those dams have become the only existing protective infrastructure for down stream development. Since most are not compliant for human welfare and public safety standards, any upgrade is hugely expensive. 
    The second manifestation is the loss of irreplaceable farmland. Without any help in moderating the impact on farmland values, farmland loss in the same period is at least 11,500 acres. That loss equates to farmland that arguably produces the best chile and pecans grown in the world.
Moreover, farmland loss equates to the critical reduction in the ability to recruit next generation stewards. In Dona Ana County, that recruitment level is known. It stands at 17%. Less than one in five operations has a steward to continue the unique heritage of this isolated agricultural universe.
If asked why young stewards cannot be recruited, the answers will be consistent. Land prices, driven by residential growth, preclude the entry of new generation operators. The ranching community will add that they are unable to create parallel enterprises, they cannot commit to long term planning, and mortgage lenders have continued to take an increasingly dim view of federal land operations. The future is simply too tentative to put capital at risk.
The RMP doubles down on the dilemma. It is centrally focused on environmental matters.  Fully, 78% of the RMP is dedicated to environmental issues.
The same overt undertone is witnessed in the authorship. Among state reviewers and the consulting firm, 56% of the names explicitly reference environmental credentials. There was a single range management expert, but not a single Ag economist who would have devoted at least some effort attempting to quantify the socioeconomic impact to the heritage industries.
As for ranching, the alternatives for future livestock management consideration consist of holding the line in production, reducing production, or eliminating production. Any and all improvements that are derived by ranching and or partnership investments will not be allowed to accrue to the livestock financing the work. It will be reserved entirely for wildlife.
A question must be asked. What industry in America is subject to a guiding document that declares any investment made by the business cannot be accrued to the business?
Likewise, repeated plans are revealed to lump livestock grazing into watershed management units. Although, there are only 3.64 miles of federal lands that encompass wild and scenic river eligible streams within the 9,391,960 acres of planning area, livestock runs the risk of being lumped into some degree of wild and scenic river or at least watershed management.
It is here the document foundation starts to be fully revealed. The elevation of conservation partnerships into public view has taken place. Those partnerships, authorized by secretarial order, are intended to unite nongovernmental organizations (NGO) with land agencies. Findings predicated on global warming are intended to be funneled into the agencies for implementation.
One of those NGOs is revealed through wording in one of the livestock grazing alternatives in the RMP. The wording, referencing forced retirement of grazing allotments through surrenders, comes directly from the National Public Land Grazing Campaign. That NGO behind that campaign is the WildEarth Guardians. That organization has pledged to remove all grazing from federal lands.
Customs and Culture
Agriculture is only one component of local governance that is absent. The folks who shoot need to know that the plan calls for the elimination of all firearm discharges on 44,770 acres of land. Producers of power must be prepared to deal with 10 mile wide transmission line moratoriums along largely invisible historic trail corridors. Off road vehicle enthusiasts are being told their outdoor recreation fulfillment will be reduced by 1,598,000 acres.
In fact, every covenant for land use planning through multiple use and sustained yield principles set forth in FLPMA and other applicable law is downgraded, diminished, or dismissed. Matters that have fueled local customs and cultures are being eliminated.
Wilderness devotees, though, are fully represented. Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) acreage is on the verge of increasing 340% from 89,723 to 304,042 acres. FLPMA does give the BLM authority to designate ACEC, but such identification doesn’t change or prevent change of current management. It certainly doesn’t give the land agency authority to manage the area as wilderness or wilderness study area.
The representation made by the authors that BLM is obligated under Section 201 to maintain and inventory of lands for wilderness characteristics is blatantly false (3-5). There is no such wilderness authority, and, yet, that is exactly what the entire document is being built around.
True local input is absent. Local government simply wouldn’t come to the table with the scope and magnitude of this ‘document of added restrictions’. It wouldn’t come to the table encouraging the government to buy more private lands to eliminate state and private holdings within the new, expanded ACEC designations. The State of New Mexico should be horrified and indignant.
This is not a management plan. This is a freedom curtailment of catastrophic proportions.
The real world actually exists. From now until 2050, research reveals that mankind will have to produce as much food as it has produced in the past 4,000 years. What kind of government would sanction the elimination of the ability to produce goods and services with that looming?
FLPMA has become a tool of destruction for the Western States … this document is the proof.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “FLPMA declares that any management decision that eliminates one or more of the principal uses on tracts more than 100,000 acres must be reported to the House of Representatives and the Senate. Congressman Pearce, I so declare that issue within this RMP on multiple fronts.”

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