Monday, October 22, 2012

Managed Environmental Bias

Managed Environmental Bias
Coordination Eminence
Anderson Family and the Lower Gila Box ACEC
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            Mitchell and Ellice (Thomson) Robertson had four daughters. They homesteaded southwest of Cliff, New Mexico on Sycamore Creek. The four girls Nila, Helen, Jewell, and Ruth were around animals as a matter of existence. Little Helen was maybe more horse crazy than her siblings to the point her dad had to make her stay away from a mare he didn’t trust.
            Mitchell came in one afternoon and Helen was there wanting to be with dad and the horse. She asked to hold the horse while he unsaddled and fed. He told her she could but to be careful. Helen’s interpretation of being careful was to do a good job, and she wrapped the reins around her little hand.
            As her dad made his way back from the corn crib, the mare spooked and ran off … dragging and kicking at Helen as she ran. Mitchell, in a panic, called for her to turn loose, but the wrapped reins held her suspended until the horse finally kicked her free.
            Having no car and miles from any neighbors, Mr. Robertson caught the mare and headed for help. By the time they got a car and on the way to a doctor in Silver City, the little horse crazy Robertson girl, Helen …died.
            Eighty Years later History continues
            Down the river at Redrock, the son of Helen’s sister Ruth, Walt Anderson, lives at the same family ranch his grandparents moved to in 1929. He is the unbroken link of Andersons to call the place home.
            Every morning he walks from his house and the same view his grandfather, Fred, admired stands in stark relief. The barns, the saddle shed, and the corrals are within sight. To the northwest he can see Black Mountain. To the northeast, Elephant Back and Clark’s Peak form the horizon. The Gila River lies just beyond the field where hay and pasture is grown. This is home to Walt in more ways than just existence.
            In 2011, Mr. Anderson, his fellow board members of the Hidalgo Soil and Water Conservation District (HSWCD), and the Hidalgo County Commission (HCC) learned the BLM intended to expand a local Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) by 65,000 acres. As the impact of the plan unfolded, Walt learned that his 2250 acres of private land would be swept into the plan. His neighbors would have another 8½ sections of deeded land impacted, similarly. Fifteen sections of New Mexico State trust land were also involved. The remainder of the land would be federal holdings including the Anderson allotment.
            Inquiries by HSWCD resulted in a BLM response that the plan set the foundation to ‘save’ the Lower Gila Box. The HCC and HSWCD were astounded at the arrogance of the action.
            Meetings were requested and the scope of the plan was revealed. For starters, there were at least three endangered species that would benefit from expanding the agency’s management of the area. There was an issue with the Clean Water Act and there was an issue of brush control within the plan’s footprint.
Further prompting indicated cultural surveys revealed the need for expanded federal controls. The BLM was worried about potential energy corridor construction, off basin surface water storage (tied to an Arizona/ New Mexico water settlement), water temperatures in the Gila, and feral animal intrusions.
 The area would be “managed for the public” by the elimination of the state and private ownership. Furthermore, the area could be closed to the sale and or lease of minerals, closed to vehicle use, and the river channel could be closed to cattle grazing.
Promises made don’t mean Promises kept
HCC and HSWCD were furious.
First, it is not the BLM’s role to determine local economic issues without input. Second, there is the organic legislation that gained western support from the constitutional assurance of managing public lands for the matter of disposal … to managing federal lands for the matter of retention.
In getting the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) passed, Congress promised local government they would be part of any planning process that impacted their communities. Congress intended and clearly specified that local planning would be considered early … not after a plan is finalized.
Congress promised that federal agencies would keep apprised of local plans.
Congress assured that consideration would be given to all local plans.
Congress assured that agencies would objectively assist in resolving differences in local and federal land planning.
Congress assured that meaningful involvement would always occur including public notices.
Lastly, Congress assured that federal planning would be consistent with local planning.
Local government across the West has long realized the pillars of FLPMA are kept only as long as the environmental agenda is in phase with the local governing philosophies. That has become a fact that is no longer even veiled.
In order to protect citizenry against the rampage, local governments have sought protections within the Act to forge defenses against federal land schemes. The issue of Coordination has become the focus.
Playing off the two foundational pillars, prior notice and the necessity of seeking consistency with local planning, coordination is the action of putting local government at the planning table. It doesn’t mean the Feds would comply with all local planning, but it does imply that local governments have a line of defense in dealing with federal actions.
It is worthy to note the implications of coordination. First is the legal definition which includes ‘harmonize’ and ‘synchronize’. The second sets forth ‘equal’ and ‘not subordinate’. Local governments are not subservient.
It is important to recognize that implication to local government. Constitutionally impaired legislators have no idea what sovereign individuality means. As such, Americans are saddled with the disadvantage of being sacrificed to bureaucratic actions, but local governments have the opportunity to elevate sovereign individual rights.
 ‘Any local unit of government’ has the conditional right to enter into coordination with the Feds. That unit of government, however, must have a land plan in order to inaugurate the relationship.
The Dust Up
Hidalgo County prevailed in a temporary removal of the Lower Gila Box ACEC from discussion. They also learned a number of things that must be used in future defenses.
They must strengthen their land use plans. A good argument can be made that FLPMA offers promises, but local government must not allow those promises to become meaningless without active participation.
In discussions since the ACEC issue was tabled by the BLM, a Council of Border Conservation Districts (Council) has come together in southwestern New Mexico for mutual support. HSWCD is a founding member.
In debating the dilemma of the ongoing discovery of learning of federal plans only after they appear in the Federal Register or the headlines of local newspapers, a fundamental need arose. The Council agreed their prominence or eminence at the planning table was not nor had it ever been held inviolate by the actions of the land agency. Therefore, if local government was going to experience the promises clearly intended by Congress, they would have to commit their own efforts through policy and intent to form an aggressive, primary voice at all planning tables.
Their insistence for their expected coordination eminence had come to mean something very profound to the Council. It is fundamentally crucial. They adopted the concept as the founding principle in their approach to future relationships with the agencies.
The Lesson honored
Walt Anderson’s mother remembers her childhood when she and sister, Jewell, herded turkeys to support the family’s existence. In the fall, black walnuts from the native trees in Sycamore would be gathered and cracked. The big pieces went into the jar for cooking and the little pieces were fed to the turkeys.
Those people and their neighbors weren’t footnotes in the history of southwestern New Mexico. They are the history. They struggled, they bled, they endured …
The prominence or eminence of impact to the individuals whose very existence is threatened by federal actions is profound. If the history they represent endures similarly, it will not be accomplished by unfulfilled narrative from FLPMA or any other law. It must come from a dedicated body of participants whose existence is predicated on similar values and beliefs. It is that simple, and … it is that serious.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Walt’s mother and my father grew up just miles apart on Sycamore Creek. Years ago, we stopped at the site of the Robertson homestead and my dad told me the story of Helen Robertson …he struggled.”

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