On Wednesday, the Otero County Commission held a special meeting at the Flickinger Center in Alamogordo to discuss and send a letter to the Lincoln National Forest (LNF) after it “lowered the number of livestock that the [Sacramento Grazing Association, or SGA] are allowed to graze upon their lawful grazing allotment to a number that will not sustain their livelihood and likely lead to bankruptcy,” according to the letter.
The action by the Commission came after Gary Stone, the President of the Otero County Cattleman’s Association (OCCA), brought the grave issue to their attention in an April 27, 2022 letter.
In the letter, Stone wrote, “The SGA is being discriminated against in that the LNF is using unlawful means and methods in order to reduce livestock numbers. The SGA is teetering on the brink of losing everything that they and their predecessors have worked for all of their lives and most likely bankruptcy will follow. Not only do they lose, the families that they employ, the community as a whole and the county lose as well. The loss of tax monies collected by the county on the SGA’s cattle will be a significant reduction in revenue for the county and ultimately the negative consequences are felt state and nationwide.”
“OCCA believes that LNF representatives are in violation of federal law,” Stone concluded in the letter.
During the special Commission meeting, many concerned over the grazing limits spoke, including Kelly and Spike Goss of Weed, who have been battling the federal government and enviro-Marxists, namely the Center for Biological Diversity, who want to snatch their grazing rights over claims the “New Mexico meadow jumping mouse” lives on land they have their cattle graze. Yet nobody has seen this mouse on their land.
One man, David Rawls, traveled all the way from Florence, Arizona to tell his story about how his family was devastated by the federal government after their sandstone mine was eventually snatched from under them through a similar process, which he dubbed “tyrannical.”
Congresswoman Yvette Herrell (R-NM-02) was in attendance, and she lent her office as a resource for the ranchers to fight the crippling LNF policies. Herrell said, “it’s death by a thousand cuts to any natural resources,” speaking about the federal agencies and leftist environmental groups.
The final letter sent by the Commission to Forest Supervisor for the Lincoln National Forest Travis Moseley read:
The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) of Otero County considers themselves an interested party and stakeholder in this matter. Ranching is an integral part of Otero County’s customs and culture, as well as being a County economic interest. After reviewing the [Annual Operating Instructions], it is clear your team failed to review, consider and identify conflicts between Otero County policies and the AOI process. The Otero County Comprehensive Plan (last updated in 2020), the Otero County Environmental Planning and Review Ordinance, and the Otero County Land Use Ordinance, all set forth the County’s position on many of the issues considered in the AOI process. Nevertheless, the USFS again failed to address these issues or even request a coordination meeting with us to work out potential conflicts.
The BOCC believe that decisions to reduce or suspend grazing should be informed by an appropriate quantitative assessment of long-term and short-term trends in rangeland conditions. If, after consultation with the state and county, the federal agency decides to reduce, suspend, close, or modify an allotment due to documented harmful wildlife impacts, a suitable alternative allotment (if it exists), properly authorized pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), must be made available to the displaced operator prior to adjustment of the original allotment. In order to fully implement this policy, USFS must have alternative allotments properly authorized under relevant planning documents. This ensures that suspensions or modification of grazing permits will not result in a net loss of Animal Unit Months (AUMs) and that appropriate alternative allotments are available.
Federal land management agencies’ decisions to reduce or close allotments should only be based upon a full and complete administrative review and analysis, including a complete review under the provisions of NEPA. The decision process must include opportunities for state, county, livestock grazing permittees, and other stakeholders to provide input. Allotments should not be closed due to a pending NEPA review without allowing authorized use of the allotment pending a final decision, or the use of an equivalent amount of forage at reasonably equivalent cost to compliant operators. The AOIs in this instance does not meet this standard and is scientifically challenged by experts at NMSU.
Federal land management agencies must give interested state agencies and counties an opportunity to fully participate in or provide input to grazing permit actions – prior to their initiation. Among other things, states and counties should be able to participate in: generalized review of livestock operations on federal lands; any assessment of grazing conditions as part of a federal planning process; review of past compliance of the operator with grazing allotment conditions; and individual allotment reviews. Grazing permit decisions should not be finalized until after this opportunity for meaningful consultation with the states, local governments, and the affected permittees.
We respectfully request that the USFS conduct a reevaluation of the SGA GY2022 AOIs based on the concerns raised by the NMSU Range Improvement Task Force. The decisions made by the USFS impact the Otero County economy, businesses, and families. Consequently, we request that you recognize this is bigger than a simple exercise in bureaucracy and red tape.
The Piñon Post wil continue following this story and speaking with stakeholders affected by the LNF’s decisions. If members of the public would like to submit op-eds about this important issue, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and they will be printed.