Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Case of the Butterfield Trail and Dona Ana County

The Tyranny of Government
The Case of the Butterfield Trail and Dona Ana County
Does the Chase End?
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

 The vote was 6-0 in favor of a resolution supporting designation of 600,000 acres of national monument in Dona Ana County, New Mexico. The City Council of Las Cruces concluded its part in the groundwork to establish the southeastern most cornerstone of the Rewilding Project of the Grand Cordilleran channel of wildlife corridors. Those are the wildlife corridors where all things civilized must be reduced to islands within the land mass or, in some writings, eliminated completely. It is where the Mexican gray wolf, the Chihuahuan grizzly bear, and the jaguar are expected to be ushered back in numbers to form to form the indicator predators that suggest a healthy ecosystem.  
Those assembled at the council meeting were reminded of the courage and diligence it took for them to come to this point in history. Mayor Ken Miyagashima told the group they had seen democracy in action.
            The vote was Miguel Silva, yea; Greg Smith, yea, Olga Pedroza, yea; Nathan Small, recused due to direct employment with the wilderness organization promoting the action; Greg Sorg, yea, Sharon Thomas, yea; and Mayor Ken Miyagashima, yea.
            The proponents of the monument were given time to present a professional power point presentation claimed by Councilor Thomas and a high gloss video presented by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. The opponents (individuals who actually have duties, responsibilities and investments on the lands in question) expecting to have ample time in the normal procedure of speaking up to seven minutes without a special notice, were given one minute to speak.
            There stood folks like rancher, Jim Hyatt, whose family had been on the lands impacted by the national monument since the 1890s. Mr. Hyatt attempted to find adequate words to compress into one minute … to justify his existence. His son, Seth, representing next generation’s stewards whose numbers equate to just 17% of all existing ranchers, deferred his time to someone else when he saw the futility of trying to speak.
            It was a stunning debacle. It was a humiliating spectacle.
            Setting the Stage
            Dona Ana County is the southern gateway of the historical El Paso del Norte, the pass of the north, on the route of the ancient King’s Highway from Mexico City to Santa Fe. The Spanish and figures like Don Juan Onate used the pass as the point to cross the Rio Grande River in the long journey north.
            The name eventually became attached to the modern American city, El Paso, which actually forms the spot on the map that designates the junction of two countries, three states, three county equivalents, and a crossroads that spans more than just physical and social worlds.
            From the funnel of El Paso the next crossroads north along the river is Las Cruces, New Mexico and Dona Ana County. The name Las Cruces (the crosses) actually refers to crosses on graves that could be seen from the trail north in early times, but the name more correctly could be used to describe the intersection of many things. Las Cruces is the junction of east-west-south-north interstate highway systems. Similar junctions of rail lines and energy transmission lines exist. In short, the topography forces all access to and from the area through the El Paso/ Las Cruces corridor.
            For decades the same physical features was a depository of political antagonism. Those first modern conflicts occurred when the Texans came riding into the country with their cattle in the 1880s. Prior to that time, the settlement was largely confined to the narrow Rio Grande Valley, but the Texans knew what they were seeing in the grasslands away from the valley.
They came from the east but they spread east, north, and west from Las Cruces. Their access route was the Butterfield Trail which was used as one of the foundational issues of the monument proposal. The trail was used briefly before the Civil War as a mail route from St. Louis to San Francisco. Although the trail today is most known for that brief tenure of the Butterfield Stage Company, the dominant use of the trail was for the route of settlers and cattle. Many, many Hollywood westerns were shot against a suggested backdrop of the Butterfield Trail. The most famous was probably the John Ford-John Wayne classic, Stage Coach.
In the 1940’s, the first of the better documented, modern land grabs occurred when hundreds of ranch families were evicted from the Tularosa Basin to the east for national defense purposes. In their place, the names of Ft. Bliss, McGregor Range, White Sands Missile Range, White Sands National Monument, Holloman Air Force Base, San Andres National Wildlife Refuge, the Jornada Range, and the New Mexico State University Ranch exist today. That land, 4.7 million acres, either disallows access or greatly limits access. It is generally off limits to those of us who pay the bills, the taxpayers.
It is interesting to note the words that depicted the military expansion of the basin and the subsequent waves of evictions of those ranching families on the land … “such a tremendous, violent, and sudden expansion could not be accomplished without some dislocation … They (the families) were few in number, but they had got there first and they were notoriously hard to uproot.”
In 1948 in yet another wave of evictions that impacted an additional 40 families, the ranchers once again tried to halt the federal onslaught. They pushed back. A public meeting was held in Las Cruces in order for the federal brass to defuse the public uprising. The feds reminded the gathered folks that, for the greater good, the ranchers had to go. Ten ranchers stepped forward to attempt to compress their words into meaningful messages that justified their existence.
“The government might as well cut my throat as to take away my ranch.” John Harliss of Bingham said “Ranching is all I know.”
E.G. Hill of Carthage was offered the chance to stay on his ranch if he would agree to be there only on Saturdays and Sundays. He stood there with tears running down his cheeks trying to make sense with words why you couldn’t run a ranch only on Saturdays and Sundays.
Charley Madrid rose and said, “… (these men) are not money lovers … We are treating (them) worse than foreigners in the same position.”
Their ineffective attempt to put reasonable words into an allotted period of time failed. The Feds took their land. They were summarily evicted.
The modern land grab
The private sector of Dona Ana County exists today in the backdrop of federal restricted lands on 25% of the combined landscape. Before the turn of the 21st century, New Mexico Congressman Joe Skeen attempted to designate the iconic Organ Mountains a National Conservation Area (NCA). The Congressman’s plan was to include existing Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) and the Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) on the Organs to form a 58,012 acre unit. His plan did not get traction.
The WSAs existed in several areas of the county as a result of the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) that was signed into law in 1976. The law, which has become less of a federal tool to manage the America West ‘Commons’ as it is a tool for use by the environmental movement, required that the Bureau of Land Management embark on a study to define lands that had wilderness characteristics.
What were lands with wilderness characteristics?
Using the premise set forth by the Father of American Wilderness, Aldo Leopold, they should be lands whereby an American could take a two week pack trip and not encounter another human being. Of course, that definition no longer remotely resembles the idea that Leopold borrowed from the Shelley family of the Gila in 1922, forty two years before the Wilderness Act was signed into law in 1964.
In 1991, then Secretary of Interior, New Mexican Manuel Lujan, signed a Record of Decision setting forth lands in New Mexico with modern characteristics and sent it to the President. The President didn’t act nor did his successor … nor has any president up to this time. The WSA debacle had continued to be an open sore on this and other local western communities ever since.
Following the Skeen plan, then Senator Pete Domenici was approached with much fanfare from the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance to include about 217,500 acres of Dona Ana County as designated Wilderness. Senator Domenici, known as the conservative wilderness senator, signaled he would consider the bill if local stakeholders would agree. The Senator was assured that was already done, but he quickly realized that wasn’t the case at all. He pushed back and told the group he wanted a more comprehensive process to reveal the true nature of support in the county.
The first of a steady and reoccurring theme grew from the process. Every citizen who had duties, responsibilities, and or investments on those lands was not included in the conceptual process. They learned about the process either in the local press when an announcement was made or they learned about it in the Federal Register. That was and is wrong and it is wrong on a number of fronts.
FLPMA, the act passed in 1976 that coerced Western states to allow the federal government to manage western lands on the basis of retention rather than what the constitution promised  … disposal of all those lands … made several promises. One of the most significant was the promise of coordination. What you need to understand about coordination is that it was the promise to local governments they would not just be kept in the loop on federal land planning measures that affected their community. They would be at the table in the initial discussions.
What has happened with FLPMA is that the Environmental Movement has commandeered the spot promised to local government and the inherent rights for steering priorities of local federal land issues … and seized that leadership.
The displacement is multiple. It is comprised of influences and direct agendas of Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) as well as federal land agency employees who adhere to the same concepts. The plans and the progress of plans are concocted remotely from local controls and set in motion. The only way locals get wind of the process is to watch the Federal Register diligently. The problem is those of us with duties, responsibilities, and investments on the lands affected don’t have staff, time, or inclination to read the Federal Register every day.
Following the Domenici retirement in 2009, the new senior Senator from New Mexico, Jeff Bingaman, came loping into town with the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance in tow and announced his S.1689. That was a 259,000 acre behemoth with designated wilderness and NCA buffers. The word out of the press was that everybody was on board with the plan and the moons were all aligned for action. If you will remember that was a time when the Democrats controlled the Whitehouse, the Senate, the House, every natural resource committee, the governorship of New Mexico, and every local governing body in Dona Ana County. The bill died at the end of that congressional session.
The bill failed because the same citizens who had duties, responsibilities, and investments on those lands went to work and sought not impassioned pleas for their continuation on the lands impacting the bill …but objective rationale of what the community faced with passage of the bill. They had learned a lesson from the Tularosa Basin evictions and the pleas of those old time ranchers.
For example, the proximity to the Mexican border became and remains a huge issue. Our ranching community knew very well the issues of the border that the rest of the nation was not being told. We knew that the entire east half of the Bootheel of New Mexico was void of electronic monitoring when the BLM forced the Border Patrol to remove the vital transmitter on Big Hatchet Mountain. The Border Patrol was told the transmitter was affecting the breeding of the desert bighorn sheep on the mountain.
I was horseback in our lazy E pasture when I got the call that our friend and colleague, Rob Krentz, had been killed on his ranch on the New Mexico-Arizona border in the Bootheel. We heard firsthand about the frustration Warner Glenn faced when he was disallowed to immediately follow the tracks of Rob’s killer back to the border.
I had also done the story on the Mexican rancher, Alejandro Garza, when he took a stand, defended his ranch, and faced the Mexican cartels. He was killed, but he got four of them before they got him.
We had also done a piece on the murder of Border Patrolman, Brian Terry and his Peck Canyon murder long before the details of the DOJ were known. We knew all about tons of trash, mules, stashes, and rape trees. We talked about it, but nobody listened.
The smuggling corridors, though, were of high interest to us. We embarked on the study to determine what made the Arizona Smuggling Corridors so dangerous. It wasn’t congressional staffs, it wasn’t Department of Homeland Security help … it was private citizens simply not giving in to government condescension and we found out what we suspected.
We defined and arrayed the characteristics of those most dangerous corridors. Those characteristics are:
  1. They have east /west highway access north and south of the corridors.
  2. They have rugged and complex north/south mountain and drainage orientation which provides channels of movement.
  3. They are almost entirely or heavily dominated by federal land agency management.
  4. The concentration of American private property rights at risk is limited as is the presence of resident American habitation.
  5. All corridors have high, strategically located points of observation.

And, low and behold, the sixth characteristic of each and every one of them is they have designated Wilderness or areas of de facto wilderness safe havens. The bad guys are there and control the areas … the Border Patrol is there only on conditional entry. Americans are disallowed full and unencumbered access!
How bad are these Arizona corridors? A stretch of just 90 miles of Arizona border consistently yields half of all the human apprehensions and a similar ratio of total drug interdiction on ALL American borders. It is also exactly where a GAO report conditionally revealed those stations that complained that federal land access restrictions impacted their ability to adequately protect the border.
The local findings also revealed what the future would bring if upslope reaches of the Dona Ana watershed was closed to access. Modern approaches to matters of watershed management are predicated on least cost methods. The ability to remedy ‘at risk watersheds’ is taken away with Wilderness. Remember, the Act disallows motorized access.
In addition, the local Elephant Butte Irrigation District won the rights to all floodwaters front the foot of Elephant Butte Reservoir to the Texas state line. The requirement remains to capture that water and reroute it before it impacts the river channel. The Bingaman bill allowed for access within a 300’ buffer between Las Cruces and Hatch … and 1000’ of similar buffer between Las Cruces and El Paso. What that did was to assure the most cost alternative … large dams … to capture and reroute waters.
The bill died at the end of 2010,and the community found itself in a lull between green sieges. S.1689 was gone and nothing yet was on the horizon. That didn’t last long.
The Senator came back along with the new junior Senator from New Mexico, Tom Udall, with a new iteration of the old bill. S.1024 arrived with the first known implications of the bill filling the front pages of the local paper. Absolutely no coordination with the now alert Dona Ana Soil and Water Conservation District took place.
The necessity for the local conservation to get involved was felt in the earlier attempts to pound the agenda on the county. Since there was zero indication the City Council or the County Commission would do anything but endorse the bill and pose for pictures with the NGO and congressional proponents, some degree of protection for land stewards was critical. The District, authorized by the New Mexico Soil and Water Conservation Act was a body of elected members. The District has a primary right to coordinate matters of federal land designation, and with new leadership it has embarked on that mission. That district now believes if customs and cultures are to be protected in southern New Mexico conservation districts must be aggressive.
That local conservation district brought the fight to a new realization. The impact of the newest Bingaman iteration, some nearly 400,000 acres that took every point of higher elevation in the entire county not already under federal restrictive access, exposed the real problem with farmland attrition in the Rio Grande Valley. Implicit in the bill was the stealth removal of part of the BLM’s regional management plan to liquidate 65,000 acres of federal lands. Those lands put there through public scoping processes, were the only mechanism to take development pressure off that precious farmland.
If you saw a map of Dona Ana County, private lands exist largely along the narrow river channel. Without the allowance to grow out into mesquite or creosote lands owned by the federal government, development had to impact farmland. What was realized in a modern sense, the federal government has underwritten the disappearance of this farmland and farmland in similar circumstances across the West because those private lands are the only lands available for expansion. Furthermore, precedence shows the expansion of designated wilderness and NCA buffers would elevate green antagonism to any suggestion of disposing of lands adjacent to those restrictive lands. The community is in a deep catch 22 predicament.
By the end of 2011, the nature of the Congressional Republican controlled House was suggesting the Bingaman S.1024 was in trouble. There was no way Congressman Steve Pearce, who represented the District and didn’t support the bill, was going to let the bill get approved in the House. The Bingaman legacy bill … because that was what it now represented with the announcement that the senator was going to retire … was in deeper trouble …or was it?
Bigger is … bigger
On March 9 of this year, the local BLM office was notified that another land plan was about to be rolled out. They were not part of the process … nor was the Dona Ana Soil and Water Conservation District … nor was the forgotten Americans … those individuals who have duties, responsibilities, and investments on the lands.
The headlines of the local Las Cruces newspaper, the SunNews, local radio spots, and El Paso TV stations signaled the grand announcement. A 600,000 acre national monument behemoth was going to blissfully settle upon the county simultaneously with the golden rays of a promised sunrise breaking over the Organ Mountains in some near distant morning!
Folks, what that proposal intends to do is to eclipse an epic six year battle between undefended Americans and government and to run the proposal to the president for his signature in an Executive Order authorized by the Antiquities Act of 1906.
What would this mean to Dona Ana County? For starters, it would disallow full and unencumbered access to common taxpayers to yet more land, 86% of the landscape! Implicit in that is a private ownership base of just five percent of the land!
It would also triple the national monument acreage in New Mexico. Two separate segments of the proposal would, by themselves, be the largest national monuments in the state, but what about the impact to customs and cultures?
The monument would:
-          Land lock between 60 and 75 private land parcels
-          Land lock 80+ sections of State Trust lands dedicated solely to school revenues
-          Land lock the domestic water system for the village of Hatch
-          Force Hatch to grow into farmland, the very land that has created the world famous image of Hatch chile
-          Disallow full and unencumbered access to the watershed around Hatch that resulted in devastating floods in 2006
-          Disallow the South central Coalition of Stormwater Management free and unencumbered access to over 100 reclamation dams (that were designed to protect farmland but now serve as human protective infrastructure because residential development has been forced into valley floor locations)
-          Disallow expansive upslope infrastructure construction for modern watershed management
-          Force the growth of Anthony, New Mexico into farmland or into Texas
-           Overlay 38 of the county’s 64 ranches or 70% of the county’s cattle.
-          A major radar site will be surrounded by national monument as will a major optic fiber/ microwave site
-          The only corridor to route rail lines out of city and valley center will be closed
-          One of the three definitive sites for renewable energy in New Mexico will be impacted as will be the alternate routes for energy transmission
-          Mining, fluid extraction, and disposal would all be disallowed
And, on and on …and on including the placement of rancher Brian Foster’s historical house within the footprint of this nightmarish scheme.
      The sleeping giant
      In the testimony on the floor of the City Council Chambers this week, a gentleman approached the lectern with notes in his hand. He had been ceded two minutes from this speaker so his message could be extended to ears that need to know. These notes I hold in my hand were intended to be his testimony. You could notice the scratch marks as he attempted to elevate the most important points to be stated in the ridiculous shortened time allowance. I’ll paraphrase what Retired Border Patrol Sector Chief Victor Manjarrez attempted to say.
      If restricted access lands are designated on Dona Ana County’s border with Mexico, the final condition that separates its border from the characteristics in Arizona will be installed. If that is done, human arrests and drug interdiction will soar a minimum of 12.5 times. Furthermore, the removal of full and unencumbered access within the 25 mile buffer along the border in the Potrillo Mountain section will serve as a magnet and the resulting chaos will invite more activity. Those total apprehension success will equate to about a 20% of all illegals crossing. Ladies and Gentlemen, understand what that means. An amount equating to 80% will be expected to enter the United States successfully!
      Earlier that day, Mr. Manjarrez and his former colleague and retired Chief of Flight Operations, Border Patrol, Richard Hays talked on a local radio program. The two of them concluded that the Potrillos Mountains not only pose a huge national security risk, it could become the most dangerous corridor in the United States.
      Because of the proximity to major highways, proximity to the ultramodern interstate rail line that forms part of the monument boundary … and the unlimited federally controlled land north from the Portillos … all the way to the Colorado border.
      How did the Council react?  Councilor Pedroza told the assemblage that the mere suggestion of the entry of terrorists being a collateral development as a result of the national monument should not be tolerated in that chamber again!
      The lull before the great storm
      Each and every confrontation by ranchers in the community with the federal (and maybe now the local) government has no good ending. Their historical structures are coveted for inclusion in the grand plan. The suggestion that their water systems that make up 99.52% of all water sources outside of the valley is met with passive expressions and yawns.  They are accused of lying when they attempt to explain that precedence clearly shows that each and every example of ranching on higher restricted lands leads to failure. They were reminded of the words on a document that clearly sets forth the fact that cattle grazing is allowed to continue.
      The vision of Jim Hyatt, standing there with his tan line showing on his forehead with his hat removed trying to assemble words to condense into a minute time frame that illustrated his worth on lands his great-great parents toiled, will have a lasting impact on me. How dare any government agent treat his honest intent with such condescension!
      When my great grandfather Lee Rice and his black cowboy friend Boze Ikard came riding out of Texas with a little jag of cattle that was given to them by Charles Goodnight for pay earned in 1888, they came on the Butterfield Trail. Their struggle was mighty before they crossed those PIT branded cattle in the Gila River at Ft. West near Cliff, New Mexico. If they were told that someday the very trail they came on would in some unknown way become one of the factors for land preservation where the living steward is minimized and his history is conditionally elevated …what would they have thought?
They wouldn’t understand, and the fact is, we don’t either …we are in trouble, and, this time, we can’t get out hands around it.
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “There was not a single point, a single statement, a moment of epiphany, or a concern of individual threat that would have swayed the Ken Miyagashima led Las Cruces City Council. Their world exists on a parallel track to ours …”

Mr. Wilmeth's column this week is actually a speech he gave on July 20 to attendees of Faye Hardin's InsightUSA gathering in Lubbock, Texas.

Also speaking that day was Marita Noon, who has written a column for based on Wilmeth's speech and that is receiving quite a reaction.

1 comment:

Guy Floyd said...

Great post Frank. - Guy Floyd