Wednesday, August 09, 2017

DuBois column

Here is the inside scoop on a just- concluded meeting with Secretary Zinke.

In the Zinke Zone

Ever since President Trump signed an executive order requiring Interior Secretary Zinke to review certain monuments many have been wondering, “Would he come to New Mexico?” And I personally wondered if he came would it be a superficial, photo-op type thing so he could say he had been here? Or would he take the time to listen to the many problems associated with the huge Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico?

Three months and one day later we got our answer. Here is the inside scoop.

We didn’t know for sure the Secretary was coming but we had to be prepared if it happened. For more than a month we had been having weekly meetings at my house. Jerry Schickedanz, President of our local group, Western Heritage Alliance, chaired those meetings which included ranchers and other stakeholders who had a dog in this fight. We also had Fred Huff, an instructor at the NMSU branch who had spent months researching the Antiquities Act, traveling the monument and documenting the validity of the objects that were supposed to be protected. Huff eventually submitted a 75-page document which thoroughly illustrated the many flaws, inaccuracies and distortions in Obama’s Proclamation creating the monument. Schickedanz also conducted research and had submitted comments on behalf of the Linebery Policy Center at NMSU.

Still, we didn’t know if he was coming, and if he did whether he would meet with us, and if so for how long. Our sole point of contact was Congressman Pearce’s staff, with Steve Pearce himself attending one of our Thursday meetings. He told us to be prepared to have as little as five minutes to make our points. Boil Huff’s seventy-five pages into five minutes! That would be a problem.

We continued to work with Pearce’s staff, who told us Secretary Zinke was coming and that we would get an hour with him. I pushed for and got another half hour. Finally, on July 21, we were contacted by a Department of Interior official and told the Secretary would be in Las Cruces on the 27th. We had a final run-through of our presentations on Tuesday at my place, and met with the Secretary on Friday.

As moderator of the program, I was asked to introduce the Secretary when he arrived. That didn’t happen. Zinke shook a few hands, sat down at the conference table and began talking. He gave us his interpretation of Trump’s executive order, briefly discussed his visits to other states and explained why he was here.

At that point I took over, welcomed him to New Mexico and began calling on the presenters. We had representatives from the Governor’s office, State Land Office, two county commissioners and a former Sheriff. However, we kicked it off with Dr. Schickedanz, who said:

“The Antiquities Act was not accurately followed in the naming of the objects and describing the smallest area for protection.  It is very clear that the proponents used the boundaries of several failed legislative attempts for the monument boundary and then tried to fill in with objects of interest.  If protection of objects was indeed the primary objective of declaring the area a monument, the proclamation would not have so many errors and discrepancies, such as naming  objects located on state land and on private land and not even in the boundary of the monument.” 

“The act requires that the objects to be protected be named first, and then land is reserved for protection of the object. They got the cart before the horse on this one.”

Gary Esslinger, manager of the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, explained the “higher reaches of many the watersheds are included in the monument, and off-road access by motorized and non-motorized vehicles is either prohibited or severely limited, preventing valuable restoration work to reduce flooding before it hits the valley floor.” Esslinger also said, “Some of the lands within the monument are high quality prospects for geothermal energy exploration and use, along with brackish water desalination development. The monument proclamation ignores the environmental and economic importance to the region of these valuable water resources.” I would add that it not only ignores them, it prevents future access to them.

The Dona Ana Soil & Water District asked their former Chairman, Joe Delk, to represent their interest. Delk explained the “restriction-laden, limited-use monument proclamation” will prevent ranchers from having “an economically viable ranching operation”, and that the “onerous conditions laid out in the proclamation” would place “natural resource conservation projects to improve watershed health” in jeopardy.

Three ranchers spoke to the Secretary: Jim Hyatt, Mark Cox and Wes Eaton.  Hyatt said he was a “fifth-generation rancher, with the sixth and seventh generations also living on our family owned and operated ranch”, and that he was “very concerned the proclamation creating this monument has the most restrictive grazing provision of any monument managed by the BLM.” Mark Cox gave an emotional statement on his family’s history of settling and ranching in the Organ Mountains, their history of military service, and the sad things the government had already done to their ranching operation. Wes Eaton said the monument as it exists now “limits the use for residents, hinders border officials, and harms our ranching families”

Other folks spoke their concerns. The Secretary engaged many of the presenters and asked pertinent questions

I closed the presentations by saying the ranchers had been in a ten-year war on the use of these lands and they had won one legislative battle after another, defeating five different bills in Congress.  Then along came Obama and with a stroke of a pen brought victory to the lefty enviro movement.

I told the Secretary I was in the process of reading his book, American Commander, which detailed his life as a navy seal and rising to the level of Commander. “I was struck by the amount of effort and emphasis you placed, as a Commander, in making sure your front line, the people in the field, had all the training, equipment and tools they needed to successfully and safely carry out their mission,” I said. And then I told him, “Mr. Secretary, you are now the Commander of these lands and the folks in this room are also part of your front line. I hope that in August, you and President Trump will give them back the tools they need to be successful.”

And now we wait.

Until next time, be a nuisance to the devil and don’t forget to check that cinch.

Frank DuBois was the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003, is the author of a blog: The Westerner ( and is the founder of The DuBois Rodeo Scholarship and The DuBois Western Heritage Foundation

 This column originally appeared in the August editions of New Mexico Stockman and the Livestock Market Digest. 

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