Thursday, April 15, 2004


The Associated Press
April 14, 2004

USDA has no comment on request for probe of Forest Service

A U.S. Department of Agriculture official had no comment Wednesday on a request by U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce for a federal investigation into U.S. Forest Service actions during a roundup of cattle grazing illegally on an allotment in the Gila National Forest.

Pearce, R-N.M., wrote Department of Agriculture Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong on March 31, saying there had been allegations of misconduct and harassment by the Forest Service and the private contractor rounding up the cattle belonging to rancher Kit Laney and his ex-wife, Sherry Farr.

"We don't comment on potential or ongoing investigations," said Mark Rey, the department's undersecretary for natural resources and environment in Washington, D.C. He said, however, "we will cooperate fully with any investigation if one is initiated."

He said he has not been contacted by the inspector general's office about Pearce's letter.

Pearce said allegations included harassment of ranchers, questionable or illegal road closures and requirement of permits for people to enter private property....

USFS releases 10 horses owned by Farr and Laney

Compiled By The Daily Press

The Forest Service announced Tuesday afternoon it has rounded up and sold 414 head of cattle from the Diamond Bar grazing allotment, netting $211,000 at an Oklahoma auction barn.

Meanwhile, 14 horses the agency said were found March 26 on federal land "near the entrance to Aspen Canyon, four or five miles from private land," have been released to their owners.

Ten of the horses, belonging to Diamond Bar ranchers Kit Laney and Sherry Farr, were released to Farr on Tuesday.

The other four including a horse owned by Catron County Sheriff Cliff Snyder, two belonging to John or Marie Lee, and one owned by Beverly and Marie Lee Farr were released to their owners April 5, according to the Forest Service.

"The return of the horses is in good faith that the owners will control their horses and not allow them to graze on national forest lands without authorization," Annette Chavez, Wilderness District ranger, said.

The Associated Press reported that U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., has weighed in on the issue.

He asked Department of Agriculture Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong to investigate an allegation that the Forest Service contractor, AFT Ranch and Trucking, rounded up the horses from private land that the wranglers did not have permission to enter.

Gila National Forest officials did not reveal where the AFT Ranch is based.

The Forest Service announced the capture of the horses last month. Gila National Forest spokeswoman Andrea Martinez repeated Tuesday that the horses were found on forest property, and said they had been there for some time.

Farr recently told the Daily Press that someone possibly one of the contract cowboys left a gate open, allowing the horses to leave deeded land. She said the trespass was unintentional.

The Forest Service on Tuesday revealed for the first time that the cattle were sold at an auction barn in Guymon, Okla.

The agency said it received $211,000 for the livestock ($121,000 for 252 cattle shipped March 24, and $90,000 for 162 animals transported April 6).

Forest Service officials have said they will use the proceeds to help pay the cost of the roundup.

Twenty to 40 head of cattle remain on the allotment, and will be impounded "within the next few months," according to the agency.

Pearce, in a March 31 letter to Fong, said there had been allegations of misconduct and harassment by the Forest Service and its contractor.

There have been numerous other complaints, including harassment of Laney relatives and other ranchers, questionable or illegal road closures, and requirement of permits for people to enter private property," Pearce wrote.

"(This) adds to the perception that a concerted effort is being made to drive law-abiding New Mexicans from their homes and livelihoods, he added.

Pearce also requested a complete accounting of the cost of the impoundment and the necessity of every item charged to the roundup.

He suggested the inspector general talk not only with Forest Service personnel, but also with Catron County commissioners, area law enforcement personnel, ranchers and business owners....

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