Sunday, April 30, 2017

Promoting Rural Prosperity in America

An Election Looms
Promoting Rural Prosperity in America
Views of “Conservation”
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            If you haven’t experienced New Mexico spring winds, plan a trip down here next year.
            For the past two days, afternoon winds have howled, everything is dusty, and the grit in your teeth mixes well only with tooth paste. Yesterday was a day to spray African Rue. BJ and I were at our Howard pens trying to spray the nasty stuff before the wind kicked up. By noon, it was too strong to continue. We packed up and headed off to other duties. When I left the ranch, cows were lying down and little heads of baby calves peaking out above the grass dotted the landscape. The wisdom of a cow never ceases to amaze me. She’ll take what she gets and never complains. She’ll find a protected place and ride the big blows out chewing her cud in contentment.
            All of us would do well by mimicking her patience.
            Views of “Conservation”
             Not a land steward in our area had any responsibility for the arrival of African Rue. Supposedly, it came in on military aircraft returning from North Africa during the war first gaining a foothold at the old military airfield at Deming. Now, it is expanding everywhere and we are worried that 2017 is a watershed year in the control of the stinking, succulent plant. If we can’t get a reasonable control this year, future control is going to be tough.
            So, we spray.
            Our abundant winter moisture kick started its growth and the plant is probably a month ahead of normal. The clock we face is to get chemical on the plant while it is still tender and growing. As soon as it starts drying back with summer heat, it does no good to spray. Our current program is very important.
            I have grown to hate the smell of the plant and the material we use, but we are the only line of defense. Although the plant takes over disturbed areas regardless of land ownership, we spray. We spray on federal land, we spray on state trust land, and we spray on our private lands. Since there is more federal land than any other ownership, there is more of the weed on those lands.
            The credit for acquiring the material to spray comes from local conservation districts, key BLM employees, and the land stewards involved. The Deming Soil and Water Conservation District has been very aggressive in tackling the problem, and it is their example that other local conservation districts, including Dona Ana Soil and Water Conservation District, are trying to emulate.
            It was, therefore, eye blinking to read last week that the local progressive junta declared the Dona Ana board was a board without conservation minded members.
            An Election Looms
            Of course, the editorial setting forth the accusation was part of the progressive effort to place two of its chosen members on the board which holds elections this coming Tuesday. The fact that those candidates have no experience in the Soil and Water Conservation Act setting forth the duties and responsibilities of board members doesn’t matter. The fact that the law requires the protection of the local tax base by instituting programs that support agriculture doesn’t matter, either. Like all progressive politics, the real goal is to displace local influences and replace them with a brand of conservation that elevates sights and sounds over generational ties and promotes central planning over the toil of the caretakers who have made this area an agricultural universe distinct from the rest of the state.
            Poll 1000 visitors and I’ll wager the gist of their impressions would run in parallel responses. The proximity of the urban settings against a backdrop of farms would be a dominate feature. The impact of Dona Ana grown chile would be forever embedded into their senses. The stark contrast of the desert against the green valley and its pecan orchards and water distribution systems would invariably be elevated. The Organs, looming on the horizon, especially with their westward exposure and light playing off them as the day extends, would be locked in memory.
            Those things would be the common impressions. There is nothing in them that would suggest partisan politics, environmental elitism, or urban, secular no growth policies are warranted. Those things don’t add to the charm and the ambiance of the Mesilla Valley. On the contrary, they pose outright challenges to its continuation.
            The greatest risk to the sensory impressions relates to the blind policies that march toward the inevitable loss of the irrigated farmland base. We must remember that 87% the ownership of Dona Ana County is government in one form or the other. Nearly nine of every ten acres is controlled by government. The loss of viable farmland because of the necessity to grow into the valley has had profound impact on the agriculture community. Residential growth long ago should have been directed to the mesquite and creosote mesa tops to the west rather than the valley or the slopes to the Organs. Federal ownership disallowed it.
            Alternatives were necessitated.
            Minimum acre lot sizes and subdivisions have isolated water distribution systems, left parcels without dedicated well service, and made scattered acreage unprofitable to farm. Values have driven the acceleration of toward alternative land use planning, and, with that, the diminishment of opportunities for young steward recruitment. This county has a 17% young farm manager recruitment rate. The barriers to entry are huge and the reality of the continuation of the small farm/urban mix is tentative at best. It can’t go on.
            The expansion and the locks on government lands in this county have devastating impacts on the generational foundations of this community. It is forcing growth onto flood plains and irreplaceable farmland with all the dangers and the cost that are consequential when development must take place under reclamation dams that were not designed to protect homes and human safety. Esoterical debates on the definition of conservation notwithstanding, progressive politics has had profound and devastating effects on the very things that make this area so unique and appealing.
Managing water and soil resources from ivory towers is ludicrous.
            Promoting Rural Prosperity in America
            It is in the national interest to promote American agriculture and protect the rural communities where food, fiber, forestry, and many of our renewable fuels are cultivated.
            Those are not my words although I fully agree with them. Those are words from the president’s Executive Order, “Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America”, signed April 25. The purpose and function of the order is various, but several key points are at issue. One is to remove barriers to economic prosperity and quality of life in rural America. Next would be implementing rural economic development with programs tailored to relevant regional circumstances.  And, finally, the idea of respecting the unique circumstances of small businesses that  constitute the foundation of our rural community is so welcome that it gives pause to those of us who have to spray African Rue because we know we are the only line of defense.
            Beware of the banners of progressive politics. Those folks don’t understand your world nor do they care. In the case of Dona Ana County conservation board, you need to vote for the candidates that actually understand the requirement to protect and expand the tax base. How do you recognize them?
They will be the candidates with the rough hands.

            Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “The sight of pairs lying in tall grass in a big wind storm is comforting and fulfilling. When you have a hand in their creation and wellbeing, you understand the full implications.”

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