Sunday, November 28, 2010

Innocence Lost

By Stephen L. Wilmeth

     The movement found its creator in 1922.  It was then that Aldo Leopold sat horseback on the ridgeline of Black Mountain and looked south into New Mexico’s Gila River drainage.  To the west were Mogollon Baldy and the headwaters of the west fork of the Gila.  To the south and immediately in front of Mr. Leopold was the Middle Fork and to the east were the Black Range and the headwaters of the East Fork.  Leopold would be awed by that view and its memory would remain with him until he died. 
     In 1924, the regional forester approved the draft of plans to create the management concept that Leopold envisioned.  Wilderness was transmuted from a generalized reference of wild lands to a land management designation.  Still fresh from the impression Leopold felt that day, the upper Gila drainage became America’s first wilderness area.  It would be some time before Congress would be involved, but the model was set out and the process began.
     Without Congressional oversight, the management of wilderness by the Forest Service began to take shape.  In 1944, the first legitimate American stakeholder was evicted from wilderness.  It was that year that the Peter McKindree Shelley estate and Mr. Shelley’s successor, Thomas J. Shelley, were served notice that their grazing permit would not be renewed.
      The blow to that family was crushing.  They had been on those lands since 1884, some 15 years before there was even any designation of a “Forest Reserve”.  Still on the heels of the Great Depression and the settlement of the Shelly estate, the family had no ability to defend themselves from the action and less idea they even had any rights to do so. 
     That forest supervisor, L.R. Lessel, who so matter-of-factly orchestrated the nation’s first destocking of cattle from wilderness, was heard discussing among forest officials in 1948 that all ranchers must eventually be removed from Forest lands.  Although the word environmentalist had not yet been invented, the individuals who would eventually fill that niche existed and their influence would spread.
     Finally, in 1964, New Mexico’s Clinton P. Anderson (D-NM) drove the Wilderness Act through Congress and the Forest Service policy initiated in 1924 was officialized.  The Gila Wilderness was designated.  Within the bill was the allowance that grazing could continue where it existed at the time of the bill’s signing. 
     Lessel had cleared the way for not having to deal with any evictions from the heart of the Gila Wilderness in a public exposé, but he had created such an outrage among those who knew what was going on that wording was added to the bill.  The wording was the tradeoff, but, to those who would find themselves in the sights of the Forest Service and the growing environmental  groups, those words would have little comfort.
     The wilderness wrecking ball would gain such momentum that by the end of the ‘60s the Colorado Wilderness Act would demand of the Forest Service to rewrite its own grazing guidelines.  Congress warned that grazing would not be eliminated by any interpretation of the Wilderness Act. 
     Fast forward into the ‘70s and the Arizona Wilderness Act would again stress the fact that wilderness would not be used for the destocking of lands so designated.  In 2002, a subtle hint of the federal land agencies’ regard for Congress’ mandate surfaced in a study done by the Park Service at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  The study dealt with the destruction of natural resources in that Monument emanating from Human and Drug Smuggling activities.  The study clearly stated that the agency had overcome cattle grazing and it would overcome the affects of the United States Border Patrol in their actions to curtail the human and drug smugglers!  Cattle grazing had been eliminated on that wilderness so what does such a conclusion suggest to the American people?  Was the ultimate goal to eliminate the Border Patrol as well?
     The underlying antagonism has, in fact, suggested that very thing.  The obstacles thrown at the Border Patrol parallels the intent and the actions of federal land management agencies against other legitimate stakeholders on federal lands.  This time, such idealism and agency fiefdom expansion has put every American at risk.   
     The expansion of designated wilderness on America’s southern border is tied directly to the environmental groups and their influence on the minds and actions of Congressional leadership.  It isn’t hard to understand that the outgrowth of wilderness idealism has expanded into the idea of Rewilding with its introduction of wildlife corridors north/south, east/west, intracontinental, and intercontinental. 
     The problem is, though, the idealism of the whole scheme has erupted into real world crisis on America’s southern border.  It is there that environmentalism with its favorite charity, designated Wilderness, finds itself in a weird alliance with Drug Cartels, and worse yet, with groups that seek to do harm to America.  They all love the safe havens on the border that disallow legitimate mechanical entry.
     Innocence has come of age!
     Innocence has come of age with 8000 miles of illegal roads at Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge that cannot be accessed by the American public but can by Mexican drug cartels.  Innocence has come of age with 254 illegal foot trails in any given square kilometer in Organ Pipe wilderness.  Innocence has come of age in the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector where murders and drug smuggling will hit historic highs against a backdrop of diminished human smuggling. 
     Innocence has also come of age in the de facto wilderness management schemes that Supervisor Lessel foretold of 62 years ago when he suggested to fellow fledgling environmental workers that all cattle must be removed from federal lands he oversaw regardless of designation. 
     At Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, the US Fish and Wildlife admits that its mission of destocking that land for the purposes of renewing the integrity of the grasslands at that refuge will never happen.  That agency’s management resulted in a devastated infrastructure and areas that are so dangerous that legal entry is not allowed. 
     Similarly, it was at the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge where more examples of the “Lesselized” management schemes allowed the entry and escape of rancher Rob Krentz’ murderer.  With all cattle gone at San Bernardino, the Border Patrol is only allowed mechanical access in the event of a human life endangerment. 
     Yes, innocence has come of age and it loads on the back of Americans the fallout from ill conceived, dangerous and idealistic pursuits and decisions. 
     Former Border Patrol Officer Zack Taylor’s much used comment harkens truer every day.  He reminded us last year that, “nature abhors a vacuum.  In the case of wilderness on the border, when you lock out or prohibit ordinary law enforcement activities in an area you invite illegal activity and create a safe haven for the criminal to operate.” 
     What we are also learning in wilderness, and other federal lands managed with de facto wilderness intentions, is that when human populations reach certain levels, any legal void will eventually be filled by illegal activities.
     Peter Shelley holds the distinction of being the first American rancher evicted from federal Wilderness.  His lifelong pursuit became a focus by those who had not walked in his shoes nor understood the abject terror he felt at times dealing with the obstacles of his labors.  The immensity of his accomplishments relative to his means will never be properly understood nor credited, but Mr. Shelley, if he were still alive, might be interested in a developing fact.  That is the degree of danger relative to current illegal activities, those associated with Human and Drug Smuggling activities on the American border, is an inverse relationship with the cattle numbers on that border.  The greater the number of cattle, the less obtrusive and dangerous the border is.  Likewise, the fewer the cattle the more dangerous the border becomes.
     A more understandable explanation is that where there are engaged American private property rights in place, there is less likelihood that illicit activities will occur.  That is not the case where federal land agencies are present and legitimate American stakeholders have been eliminated. 
     As the 2010 midterms showed, Congressional leadership which adheres to this debilitating and dangerous agenda will be taken to task . . . the truth of environmental innocence has been discovered and America has been placed in a position of extreme peril.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “If all federal land agency presence on the border was removed and the Border Patrol was ordered to adhere to its mission, the Constitutional mandate to secure the border would occur.  Additionally, if honest American pursuits were applauded and encouraged rather than condemned and destroyed, natural resource degradation would be halted and reversed.  The southern border is America’s Achilles heel.  Leaders better recognize it.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: According to Greek mythology Achilles was killed by Paris with a poisoned arrow to the heel.  Our wounds, however, are self-inflicted.


S.Wilmeth said...

The story of the Shelley family is interesting. When they arrived on Mogollon Creek in 1884, they tied their horses to trees and started building. There was nothing there . . . nothing. When they were evicted they lost over five townships of country that remains the core of the Gila Wilderness. McKenna Park, Mogollon Baldy, Miller Springs, and on and on. The letter that Lessel wrote describes how they had failed to make improvements. Name a single ranch during the Depression years that had! Suicides and family tragedy became rampant . . . a terrible, terrible federal action against a single family.

Anonymous said...

fanspiIt will be very difficult to impossible to ever change the land agencies. They are what this says, fiefdoms, that are now in the hands of career minded men. The only way to change them is to either go bankrupt or the federal government must be squeezed down enough that just the biggest fiefdoms are allowed and all the little ones are weaned away. This is the condition we find ourselves in . . . the troughs have been too full of goodies.