Friday, October 02, 2015
Federal ruling invalidates New Mexico statute authorizing tree removal on national forest land
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A judge has struck down a state law that gave New Mexico counties the authority to clear overgrown areas on national forest land without having to get approval from the federal government. Chief U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo issued a ruling this week invalidating the statute, saying it was unconstitutional. Her ruling came in the case of an Otero County resolution that was based on the 2001 state law. The county passed its resolution in May 2011 and announced plans to thin more than 100 square miles on the Lincoln National Forest to reduce the threat of wildfire. The U.S. Forest Service sued, saying federal law pre-empted the statute and the resolution. Armijo ruled Congress — not the state or the county — has sole authority to control federal lands. AP
The Dept. of Justice issued a statement:
The lawsuit sought an order declaring that the New Mexico statute and Otero County resolution were preempted by federal law and thus were unconstitutional. The court held that Congress possesses the sole authority to control federal lands under the U.S. Constitution’s Property Clause. The court went on to find that the Otero County resolution and New Mexico statute are in “direct conflict” with federal law, including Forest Service regulations prohibiting the cutting and removal of trees on National Forest lands without Forest Service authorization. It also held that the resolution and statute were inconsistent with several federal statutes by which Congress has delegated the authority to manage National Forests to the Forest Service – not the State or the County.
The following is language from the decision:
The Court thereafter considers the substantive two-part dispute between the United States and Otero County raised by their cross-motions for summary judgment. The first aspect of this dispute requires the Court to examine the line be tween the powers delegated to the United States by the Property Clause of the Constitution and those police powers reserved to the states under the Tenth Amendment. The Court concludes that the Property Clause grants the federal government plenary power over federal lands, and consequently that the Tenth Amendment does not reserve an exclusive sovereign right to New Mexico to regulate federal lands in contravention of federal law. With respect to the second aspect of the dispute, the Court concludes that the New Mexico statute and Otero County Resolution conflict with federal law and therefore are invalid pursuant to the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.
You can read the decision here.