Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Matter of Hope

Under the White Hats
The Matter of Hope
Gathering Clouds
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            A good trivia question would be to identify the Civil War general who said, “Hope … is God’s gift to the young.”
            Think about the implication. Each of us can remember how often in our youth we were buoyed by the implications of that suggestion. In the heart of every young land steward, there are markers. One of them is the freedom of dreaming about permanence and connection to the land. I will wager that every farmer or rancher alive will admit such anticipation many times in his or her past …before any bridge was built to solidify such a permanent relationship.
The Fight at our Front
At this point in the week, the email receipts have included a steady flow of pending threats. They came from federal actions as well the agency proxies in the form of NGOs who too often rule our daily planners.
The majority of the exchanges, though, were drafts and data relating to the attack on local customs and culture to alter designation of over half of our county’s remaining multiple use managed land to national monument status.
Last Tuesday, we spent the day at the Commission chambers battling our County Commission who voted unanimously in a previous meeting to endorse the proposal. We reminded them that if there had been substantive public scoping the domestic water supply of Hatch wouldn’t be within the boundaries of the proposal nor would the headquarters of the historic Corralitos ranch.
Members of the Commission seemed incredulous when we pointed out the horror we experienced when the proposal they endorsed announced that the BLM will acquire our deeded lands along with the State Trust land that would be landlocked. Commissioner Scott Krahling joisted with our group when he queried us about his suspicion that none of us would be satisfied with any federal expansion of rules governing our lives. He also chastised us that we had plenty of notification and he was dismayed that we would come before his ruling body after their unanimous vote.
The fact was one of our group just happened to read about the schedule in the newspaper at 7:00 AM of the morning of the Commission vote. Three people walked in scratching notes on pieces of paper. They were matched with more than a dozen advocates for the proposal complete with power point presentations and prepared speeches.
They were rolled in the feeding frenzy. The Commission announced to all it was time to save the land! 
Thirty eight of the 64 ranchers in the county will be impacted by the grand plan. Those 38 ranchers are responsible for nearly 70% of the cattle in the county. Not a single one of them had any forewarning that the plan was going to be introduced. Not a soul with duties, responsibilities, or investments on the lands was offered the privilege of discussing a single aspect of the proposal.   
Forgive me if all of this is continuing old news. Yes, this is simply a reworked, newest version of a process that has now gone on for over six years, but this one is different. It announced to the community that the president is finally going to act and save the land for the children. This will be an Executive Order. Congress doesn’t even have to get involved!
The Campaign
Why there must be expanded access restrictions on this land where regular Americans are already barred from 75% of the total should make any objective person scratch his head. Dona Ana County residents are already disallowed full and unencumbered entry into 4.7 million acres of land that includes Ft. Bliss, McGregor Range, White Sands Missile Range, White Sands National Monument, San Andres National Wildlife Refuge, the Jornada Range, the New Mexico State University Ranch, and the current Wilderness Study areas of the county. Adding another 600,000 acres would extend the no entry signs to 86% of the landscape. At the same time, the community is forced to live on just five percent of that shared landscape and that includes precious farmland. The government ownership of the greater landscape is overwhelming.
It is stifling, and … it is an outright threat to everybody.
Everyone must learn about the Rewilding project. The project, which continues to evolve from one name to another depending on the subtlety of the attention that it is gathering, is the plan to expand the dominion of nature across the face of the land. Supporting the plan, literature has run the gamut from suggesting civilization must be reduced to the ultimate extreme that all things civilized must go.
Argument can be made there have been six different attempts to expand the toehold in Dona Ana County. The first started with former Congressman Skeen’s proposal for 58,000 acres of protection in the iconic Organ Mountains. That never got legs.
The successive plans grew to 214,000 acres, to 325,000 acres, to 400,000 acres, and, now, to the gargantuan 600,000 acres. At each juncture, the plans have been abandoned or lost traction because of community push back. The latest Executive Order approach is an attempt to get the most expansive wish list approved without Congress.
The question must be asked. Why is it so important to get Dona Ana County?
The geographic location of the county is strategically important. It abuts the large federal holdings noted hereinabove and it forms the cornerstone for expansion of the Rewilding project into New Mexico’s Bootheel and northward.
It also happens to be within a county where dominating local progressive governing bodies automatically run to hard line support for anything environmental. If Dona Ana County can be brought into the rewilding scheme, future expansion can be designed and implemented, similarly. It is a key battleground.
The Loss
This past weekend joint meetings of New Mexico’s Farm Bureau and Cattle Growers Association took place in Ruidoso. Admittedly, those meetings may not be a friendly place to an outside world that shares no ties to that tight knit community. What those meetings represent, though, is an unbroken lineage of stewards who are fully exposed to federal land dynamics that pose real and constant threats to their way of life.
Under the domination of summer straw hats seen in the halls of that gathering, was a glimpse of the greater dilemma Dona Ana and other counties face in this epic land battle. There is a frightening scarcity of youth.
In our county, we can compute the pending tragedy. Only 17% of the current operations have a young steward coming behind the present title holder. Less than one in five have a young adult coming that can seize upon hope that comes variously when he or she is exposed to private moments of insight and imprinting.  
The hope we are losing in the defense of our investments isn’t just affecting us. It is affecting a most important feature of our way of life and that is the attraction and the recruitment of our future generation stewards.
That dearth of hope implicit in that scarcity is a real and growing problem. It is made worse by the resources being expended on the fight itself … the fight to protect ourselves from our government.
For 100 years the Federal West has endured the creation of successive layers of constraints that are now resulting in our 17% recruitment patterns. What should it be called?
Is it selective environmental holocaust, or …is it just old fashion tyranny?  Whatever it is it needs our focus and it must be soon.
I believe it is also a matter of law. The suggestion that ‘historic’ use has merit was set forth in the intent and purpose of the Taylor Grazing Act (TGA). It was there Congress recognized their mismanagement of the commons confounded local communities and elevated conflict. There was a pressing need to avert such conflict and the protection of the ranching industry was clearly important. ‘History’ implied the protection of local customs and cultures. Because of its presence on the lands prompting the Act, ranching was a more central in emphasis of those customs and culture than the general store, school districts, or transportation corridors!
Gathering Clouds
This was not a good week. Those of us reading the Westerner today feel like we’ve been in a fist fight. Our skirmishes will ebb and flow, but the greater picture is truly transformational.
Even our language is no longer true to intent and form. If ‘Hope’ was indeed a gift from God … ‘hope and change’ is a cruel act of larceny against our existence. 

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “I knew when John Roberts voted against Arizona, he would vote against us all.”

No comments: