Sunday, May 28, 2017
Open Letter to Secretary Zinke regarding the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument
The Honorable Ryan Zinke
Secretary of Interior
MS-1530, U.S. Department of Interior
1849 C. Street, NW
RE: Open Letter to Secretary Zinke regarding the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument (OMDPNM) review
Dear Secretary Zinke:
In the greater scope of your monument review process, my letter may not materially impact readership, but I live face-to-face with this monument. The designation of the OMDPNM impacts my life every day and I have come to feel helpless in the preservation of my life’s investment and the continuity it represents since before my great grandfather trailed cattle across our ranch on the Butterfield Trail in 1888.
He watered at our headquarters at a spring then known as Neire Springs. It was one of only a few natural waters in the big dry stretch of country from Picacho Peak to Ft. Cummins. Arguably, it was the most dangerous stretch of the trail from St. Louis to San Francisco.
We have reason to now believe his partner was Boze Ikard, the enduring character the world now knows as Deets in the made for television series, Lonesome Dove. Both had ridden for Charles Goodnight in Texas. Ikard was with Goodnight and Loving in the horrendously difficult first trips up the Goodnight-Loving Trail while my grandfather came later and trailed JA and PAT cattle north on the Palo Duro- Kansas railhead routes.
Their partnership was the unheralded but hugely difficult task of driving “mixed” herds (cows, calves, and bulls as opposed to mature steers) with the intention of establishing permanent ranching operations as opposed to driving cattle to markets. In that process, they assumed the responsibility of not just the stewardship of those cattle, but the creation of infrastructure that allowed them to exist. Today, there is diminishing understanding of the implications of that undertaking.
They joined what my friend, Myles Culbertson, refers to as the “economic and cultural phenomena of a grazing society” that remains uninterrupted since the era of settlement following the Spanish exploration. It is a society that provides 99.7% of every drop of water that is available to livestock and wildlife alike in the OMDPNM footprint. It is also a fragile society. Within the agriculture community in Dona Ana County, the county most impacted by the designation, recruitment of next generation stewards is 17%. That means that only 17% of the farming, ranching, and dairy segments has a young steward standing in the wings. We can’t offer assurances or robust opportunities because of the uncertainties emanating from federal land use dominion. Please remember that all this “iconic” monument land is simply reshuffled within a framework of government owned land that already consumes 94.5% of the entire county!
Our private land, therefore, is ever dearer in order to create infrastructure that makes our operations more productive and secure. This raises the two points of this letter. The first deals with the proclamation setting forth the creation of the monument and the disposition of private lands landlocked within the footprint. This concern arises from the NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARRACK OBAMA vested authority clause which states that Lands and interests in land within the monument’s boundaries not owned or controlled by the United States shall be reserved as part of the monument upon acquisition of ownership or control by the United States.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand the implication. The United States intends to control our lands. It can be further determined from the maps wherein our private ranch properties are not excluded by boundary demarcations (unlike the upper end imbedded residential developments along the Organ Mountain face).
Certainly, we are subjects of existing rights, but, when the allowances of the Antiquities Act are considered, only two protected objects are allowed. Those are scientific and historic. That doesn’t include “iconic landscapes, ecological diversity, general and widespread southwestern fauna and flora, or prehistoric matters that may or may not be “ripe for discovery” without qualification. Likewise, they are not authorizations to pick winners or losers. You mirrored our fears when you said, “Monuments should never be put in a position to prevent rather than protect.”
There are 90 families directly impacted by this monument that exist only because of the land on which they fill the role of steward. If they wrote you a comment, they would represent three tenths of one percent of the number of public comments you received the first week of the comment period. Like mine, their letters may not “materially impact readership”, but they also live face-to-face with this monument and feel totally exposed and unprotected.
What they represent is historic in every sense of that word, and has been recognized as so by the local conservation district as well as the seven-member Council of Border Conservation Districts.
This, my second point, elevates the requirement of federal law to observe and deal with local governance in land use planning. When you offer your recommendations to President Trump, you must recognize this designation treats the matter of historic in antagonistic juxtaposition to valid local land use planning. Your task of resolution is not just proper and fitting. It is required by law.
I look forward to meeting you and discussing this. My colleagues, this local cadre of a greater organized society, do as well. We take our stewardship very seriously. In this unbroken four century historic relationship, future generations should be elevated into the consideration of purpose of land designations rather than a conditional use.
It is that simple, and it is that important.
Stephen L. Wilmeth
OMDP Monument Rancher
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “There is a big storm brewing over the status of these monuments that was under estimated. The size of these designations are simply too monstrous. The outcome is likely going to be greater political tit for tat over which only deeper resentment and distrust will result. We have all been put into a terrible situation.”