Friday, January 27, 2017

Federal judge considers NM ranchers' discrimination case

An attorney representing Hispanic ranchers told a federal judge Thursday that the U.S. Forest Service violated the law when deciding to limit grazing on historic land grants despite recognition decades ago by the government that the descendants of Spanish colonists have a unique relationship with the land that is integral to their heritage and traditional values. Simeon Herskovitz argued that the agency failed to consider the social, economic and cultural effects that would result from limiting grazing in a region where poverty is high and the fragile existence of the rural communities there depends on access to surrounding lands. He accused forest managers of making "naked assumptions" without collecting or reviewing any data to support their position. Herskovitz laid out his arguments during a daylong hearing before U.S. District Judge James Browning in case that has been stewing for years. Browning expects to issue a ruling next month. The ranchers filed their lawsuit in 2012. It chronicles a history in which they claim the property rights of Hispanics have been ignored and an institutional bias has been allowed to continue. Efforts to get the Obama administration to address discrimination and civil rights violations repeatedly went unanswered in recent years, and many of the plaintiffs see the court case as a way to validate their concerns. "The demographics of the area and the poverty have been recognized, but the Forest Service didn't consider any of that. They ignored all those factors," said Dave Sanchez, a New Mexico rancher and member of the Northern New Mexico Stockmen's Association. In motions filed over the years, the ranchers point to a 1972 policy that emerged following the raid of the Tierra Amarilla Courthouse in 1967 over unresolved land grant issues. That policy noted the relationship Hispanic residents of northern New Mexico had with the land and declared their culture a resource that must be recognized when setting agency objectives and policies. Carlos Salazar with the stockmen's association said that policy and a more recent report highlighting civil rights violations against Latino ranchers in New Mexico and Colorado show the agency isn't following through with its own directives. "If the Forest Service was such a good neighbor, we wouldn't be standing here," he said outside the courtroom...more

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