A community advocacy newspaper for northern New Mexico
Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, NM 87521
Anti-SLAPP Bill Legislation Targeted for January By Patti Elliot
Editorial By Kay Matthews
Grassbank Conference By Mark Schiller
San Miguel del Vado Land Grant: The Loss of the Commons By Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews
By Kay Matthews
Parciante representatives of regional acequia associations and community acequias came together in Santa Cruz to celebrate another year's work of the New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA), which advocates for the protection of acequias all over New Mexico. Several new regional associations joined the NMAA, officers for 2001 were elected, individual acequia advocates were recognized with awards, and legislative resolutions were developed and approved.
In the morning session Palemon Martinez, president of the Taos Valley Acequia Association, and Wilfred Gutierrez of the New Mexico Acequia Commission, two longtime acequia advocates, addressed the parciantes about critical issues facing the acequia community. Martinez spoke about the lawsuit that led to the release of San Juan/Chama waters this summer to maintain silvery minnow habitat in the middle Rio Grande near Socorro. While the federal court stipulated that this settlement to the suit (filed by a coalition of environmental groups under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act) was only temporary, Martinez voiced the concerns of the acequia community: Once the northern reservoirs are depleted of their San/Juan Chama waters, and drought conditions continue, will the federal government and the courts o after native water, "our water", as Martinez called it. He characterized the fight for control of New Mexico water as a battle between the federal government, in the form of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation, and the state. Consequently, he said, it is imperative that water stakeholders get involved in the process: The Taos Valley Acequia Association and the Rio Chama Acequia Association have petitioned to be intervenors in the silvery minnow lawsuit, along with the city of Albuquerque and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. Acequia parciantes also need to get involved in the regional water planning process to talk about issues of sovereignty, growth and development, and water conservation.
Wilfred Gutierrez, of the New Mexico Acequia Commission, which is a state-appointed commission, told the parciantes that the biggest single threat to the viability of our acequias is unlimited growth and development. As a member of the Governor's Blue Ribbon Task Force on Water he has requested a comprehensive study of new demands on our already over-appropriated water resources. He stated that we need to call into question the "dedicated rights" of cities like Rio Rancho that lack legitimate water rights but continue to look for new sources of water. Joe Herrera, a Tecolote Land Grant heir, suggested that perhaps land grants should declare water rights through the Office of the State Engineer (OSE) to protect community water rights. Gutierrez agreed that prior to the imposition of American law water rights were community rights and we need to honor these use rights under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Gutierrez also announced that the Acequia Commission has submitted a Joint Memorial to the legislature calling for a prohibition on the transfer of water rights across Otowi Gauge, and has introduced a bill to the Water and Natural Resources interim committee requiring that all water rights transfers have to be signed by the acequia commissioners of the "transfer from" acequia.
Hilario Rubio, Acequia Liaison of the Office of the State Engineer, was at the meeting and said that the OSE supports the Otowi Gauge resolution and also supports a notice of transfer to acequia commissions. He also stated that his office will supply a list of water transfer applications to the NMAA as well as the Acequia Commission. Alfredo Montoya, Rio Arriba County Commissioner, suggested that any transfer notification bill should include language that the acequia commission has first right of refusal or such a bill has no teeth. He said his acequia is going to change its bylaws to require commission approval of all transfers.
Paula Garcia, executive director of the NMAA, explained to the parciantes that the NMAA has also drafted a transfer notification bill that the organization will submit to the legislature. The NMAA bill goes further in its requirements: that the party proposing a water transfer be required to notify all political subdivisions (this would include acequias as well as county governments) within the stream system of the proposed transfer. The NMAA last year submitted a resolution calling for the prohibition of water transfers across Otowi Gauge. Palemon Martinez suggested the the NMAA, the Acequia Commission, and the liaison to the OSE should meet on a regular basis and work together in support of these resolutions and bills.
After lunch and a keynote speech by Acequias Norteñas representative Manuel Trujillo, the NMAA presented awards to three people who have worked hard to help maintain acequia culture. Wilfred Rael of Questa was awarded the Acequia Grassroots Organizing Award for his work in helping communities through the adjudication process; Peter White, a water rights attorney in Santa Fe, was awarded the Legal Advocacy Award for his pro bono representation of acequias and parciantes in important water transfer protest cases; and Representative Ben Lujan won the Legislative Achievement Award for his support of acequias in sponsoring important policy and financial legislation.
Peter White, Legal Advocacy
Wilfred Rael, Acequia Grassroots Organizing
The existing officers of the NMAA's Acequia Congreso were re-elected by acclimation. They include: Antonio Medina, president; Harold Trujillo, vice-president; Kay Matthews, secretary; and Geoff Bryce, treasurer. Two regional acequia associations joined the Congreso: the Gallina-Capulín Association and the Questa-Cerro Association. The Embudo Valley Acequia Association, which recently became a Congreso member, announced the election of its officers: Estevan Arellano, president; Eric Evenson, vice-president; and Mary Campbell, secretary/treasurer. Embudo Valley Acequia Association member Alfredo Martinez of Dixon told parciantes at the meeting that it behooves the upper watershed communities in the Peñasco area to organize an association, which can later join with the lower Embudo area communities to represent the entire watershed.
The NMAA then approved a long list of resolutions and position papers that included: requiring notification of "move from" and "move to" points in transfer of water rights; that water banking needs to take place at the regional level, not the state level; that private design engineers should be approved to design acequia rehabilitation projects because the NRCS has been unable to complete design work in a timely fashion; that irrigation districts such as Santa Cruz be recognized as historic acequias and be approved for rehabilitation grant monies through the OSE; that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo protects acequia water rights; that any instream flow rulings allow for the existence and maintenance of acequias' water use system in the Rio Grande and all its tributaries, as protected by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; that the Endangered Species Act be amended to include indigenous people as an endangered species; that a definition of public welfare be based on the protection of social and cultural values; that monies continue to be appropriated to support the Attorney General's study of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; and that the OSE needs to improve its security system with regard to protecting water rights declarations.
By Patti Elliot
Just a few weeks ago a resolution was unanimously passed by the Santa Fe City Council urging the NM legislature to pass an Anti-SLAPP bill. Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation are civil complaints or counter claims against either an individual or an organization in which the alleged injury was the result of petitioning or free speech activities protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.The petition clause is essential for the proper function of government. SLAPPs are an infringement of the right to petition (The right to petition is "A basic freedom in a participatory government . . . that cannot be abridged if a government is to continue to reflect the desires of the people". Thomas v Collins .)
Most SLAPPs are multi-million dollar lawsuits, typically camouflaged by trumped-up charges. The primary purpose of SLAPPs is not to resolve the allegations but to punish or retaliate against citizens who have spoken out and to intimidate those who might want to speak out in the future. SLAPPs continue to show their unlawful heads in the state courts and lower federal courts and, unidentified as such, persist in suppressing the voice of the people, especially in "petitioning the government for redress of grievances" - the foundation of democracy - "of, by, and for the people."
Currently, efforts in Santa Fe and Albuquerque have targeted January 2001 to introduce an Anti-SLAPP bill at the capitol Round House.This is for all New Mexicans.What can you do? Contact your legislators. Let them know how you feel. It has been two years since the then NM Attorney General, Tom Udall, filed an amicus brief in support of the Motion to Dismiss filed by SLAPP defendants the Greater Callecita Neighborhood Association and two named officers of the Santa Fe Neighborhood Association. Sixteen states have Anti-SLAPP laws now. NM does not have one! If even one person gets hit with a SLAPP that is one person too many. To find your legislator's phone number and address you can call the NM legislative council service at 505-986-4600 or look them up on the web at www.state.nm.us.
Local activists with the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee are urging New Mexicans to call the White House comment line to ask President Clinton to pardon American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier or commute his sentence to time served. In several previous issues La Jicarita News documented the miscarriage of justice in Peltier's conviction. They believe there is a good chance Clinton will take action: In a November interview on Democracy Now radio Clinton told program host Amy Goodman that the case was on his desk and he was considering action. The White House comment line is: 202-456-1111.
By Kay Matthews
The Pueblo of Sandia's claim to 9,480 acres of land on the west face of the Sandia Mountains has unfortunately revealed how reluctant the Republican members of our congressional delegation, Bernalillo County representatives, and Albuquerque area environmental groups are to recognize the sovereignty of indigenous people. The land claim would rectify an inaccurate 1859 survey that deleted the acreage from the Pueblo's original Spanish land grant.
The claim was first filed in 1983 and languished in the Department of the Interior until 1988 when the Department denied the claim. The Pueblo then filed a lawsuit in federal court in 1994, and in 1998 the court ruled that the Department of Interior had improperly rejected the Pueblo's claim. Bernalillo County and a coalition of homeowners who live in the subdivisions on the west side of the Sandias (private lands the Pueblo has stated are exempt from the claim) appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals. These two parties, along with the city of Albuquerque, Sandia Peak Tramway, and the Forest Service entered mediation, and in April of 2000 the Forest Service, the Pueblo, and the tram company (the other parties had dropped out of the mediation talks) announced a settlement agreement that includes: guaranteed Pueblo access rights - not sovereignty rights - to practice their religion in the mountains; assurances that the mountains will not be further developed; the retention of private property owners' clear title; and civil jurisdiction of county, state, and federal laws.
Many of us who support the Pueblo's claim feel this agreement is an enormous compromise on the part of the Pueblo and a courageous decision on the part of Regional Forester Eleanor Towns. Because of its special relationship with the Sandias, the Pueblo has long been an ally - spiritually as well as financially - to those of us who have fought to protect these mountains from various threats over the last 20 years. Yet Senator Pete Domenici, Representative Heather Wilson, Bernalillo County, Albuquerque Mayor Jim Baca, the landowners, and environmental groups (some of whom have actively opposed the land claim since the 1980s) all vehemently criticized the agreement as "irrelevant," "bad faith," and "a back-room deal." What a sour-grapes response considering they had all been kept informed of the progress of the negotiations, had been solicited for their input, and that any agreement must be approved by Congress.
Then, to add insult to injury, when the U.S. Court of Appeals last month affirmed the lower court's deci-sion that the land should be "resurveyed with all ambiguity settled in favor of the pueblo" these same critics suddenly expressed their support that the claim should be sent back to the Department of Interior "where it belongs." Never mind that they've all been oppsed to the claim since its inception.
To its credit, the Pueblo has stated that it would still be willing to pursue a settlement, despite the recent court ruling in its favor. Pueblo Governor Stuwart Paisano stated the Pueblo's reasoning behind its pursuit of a settlement: "Our main concern was to make sure the mountain was protected forever from development - for everybody - and to allow our people to go to the area for traditional and cultural purposes as we always have without having to ask permission." To our friends at the Pueblo, while I think you may indeed have given up too much, thank you for your dedication to the Sandia Mountains, which have always figured large in our cosmology as well.
By Mark Schiller
Courtney White, executive director of the Quivira Coalition, describes The Conservation Fund's Grassbank as "a 36,000-acre grazing allotment within the Santa Fe National Forest that is made available on a short-term basis to ranchers and their cattle so that the home range can be restored ecologically." The Rowe Mesa Grassbank is one of several grassbanks that are now in operation throughout the west. On November 17 and 18 ranchers, conservationists, scientists, politicians, public lands managers, and philanthropic foundations got together to learn more about the way this concept has been applied and discuss how it can be extended to keep ranching sustainable and economically viable.
Steward Udall, former Secretary of the Interior, got the meeting started by discussing his own ranching background and the history of grazing regulations since the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. He suggested that this conference should be an occasion for updating those regulations by forming new partnerships and applying new innovations.
Bill deBuys, who also served as master of ceremonies, followed Udall with a presentation addressing the question: Can the grassbank model be exported? He suggested that based on his experience and that of the Malpai Borderlands Group, who originated the idea, that it could. DeBuys told the audience of approximately 200 that the partnerships the grassbank fosters (grazers, conservationists, public lands managers, and scientists) had the power to "cross the usual divisions" that often act as stumbling blocks. He also said that the northern New Mexico tradition of communal land use helped make the Rowe Mesa Grassbank workable and made him optimistic about the possibility of other grassbanks in the area. He singled out the federal government's newly acquired Baca Ranch in the Jemez Mountains as a potentially workable site.
A series of four panels followed. The first panel addressed the questions: What are the background conditions - environmental, economic, political, and social - that suggest a grassbank as a tool to improve the health and productivity of range and forest land? How do you design a grassbank to respond to these conditions? Presentations were made by Craig Allen of the U.S. Geological Service; Bill Miller, rancher and founding member of the Malpai Borderlands group; Bruce Runnels, regional director of the Nature Conservancy, and Ann Bartuska, national director of Forest and Range Management for the Forest Service. The second morning panel addressed the questions: How do you organize a grassbank? How have effective partnerships been formed among ranchers, agency personnel, donors, and conservationists? What are the essentials of land, agreements, money, people, laws, and public participation, and how do they fit together as a whole? Presentations were made by Gerald Chacon of NMSU Cooperative Extension Service; Palemon Martinez of Northern NM Stockmen's Association; Bart McGuire, manager of the A-7 Ranch owned by the city of Tucson; and Owen Lopez, director of the McCune Charitable Foundation.
After lunch, during which many of the participants networked among themselves, two more panels followed. The first addressed the questions: How do grassbanks meet multiple-use objectives? What regulatory and institutional obstacles hamper their creation and operation? How can these obstacles be overcome? What new opportunities for public/private partnerships lie ahead? Presentations were made by Virgil Trujillo, range manager of Ghost Ranch; Leonard Atencio, Santa Fe National Forest Supervisor; Tim Herfel, EPA Region Six; and Bob Alexander, range management specialist of the BLM.
The final panel addressed the questions: How do we maintain and measure grassbank success - economically, ecologically, scientifically, and socially? Where are we headed from here? Presentations were made by Ellie Towns, SW Regional Forester, Will Barnes, monitoring specialist of The Conservation Fund; and Kris Havstad, USDA supervisory scientist of the Jornada Experimental Range.
Many panelists looked to the Farm Bill, which will be on the Congressional agenda in 2002, as an opportunity to pass legislation and allocate funding that could underwrite and extend the use of grassbanks.
Readers seeking more information about grassbanks and other innovations in ranching can contact the Quivira Coalition at 820-2544.
By Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews
The villages of El Ancon, Ribera, San Miguel, El Pueblo, Sena, Vadito de Piedra, and Villanueva stretch along the Pecos River in its descent from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the eastern New Mexico plains. Fields of alfalfa extend from the acequia to the river, as they have for hundreds of years, to feed the cattle of San Miguel del Vado Land Grant heirs who remain tied to the agrarian economy established by original grant members in 1794.
Unfortunately, it has become increasingly difficult for these families to remain on the land. The explanation must begin with a look at the history of this once huge land grant&emdash;315,300 acres&emdash;that was reduced to 5,000 in a precedent-setting decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In May of 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was ratified by the governments of Mexico and the United States, settling the Mexican-American War. Under the terms of the settlement the United States acquired all Mexican land north of an irregular line of the Rio Grande and Gila River, across Colorado, and west to the Pacific Ocean. By signing this treaty the United States government agreed to recognize the legitimacy of Spanish and Mexican land grants in this territory and the rights of the grantees and their heirs to clear title.
As a result of the treaty Congress, in 1854, established the office of Surveyor General of New Mexico to survey the territory and confirm land grant boundaries. The San Miguel del Vado Grant was surveyed in 1879 and the surveyor general recommended confirming the entire 315,300 acres included within that survey. The grant was, in fact, confirmed, but that decision was soon overturned by the Supreme Court in 1897. Arguing that the common lands, which made up the majority of Spanish and Mexican land grants were actually owned by the Spanish and Mexican governments rather than the communities to whom the land grants were made, the United States Attorney claimed that under the treaty these lands now should become the property of the United States government rather than the heirs. This action reduced the grant to only those lands immediately adjacent to residences which amounted to a little more than 5,000 acres. While this infamous decision (the Sandoval decision) did not retroactively effect other grants which had already been adjudicated, it set a precedent for all adjudications which followed. The government summarily stripped grants of their common lands leaving only a small fraction of the original grants.
In order to understand how this occurred, it is necessary to understand the concept of common lands and how that concept conflicted with the movement supporting privatization of public lands embodied in the Homestead Act of 1862. Common land was an Old World concept which established communally owned and managed property surrounding agrarian communities' private residences and irrigated gardens and pastures. This land could be utilized by all members of the community for grazing and other resource extraction needs. It was an idea that was well suited to the land grant communities of the arid southwest, where the isolation and the complex system of acequias necessitated interdependence of neighbors for construction, maintenance, and governance. The Homestead Act, on the other hand, privatized public lands by giving people 160 acres if they would establish a residence and work the land for a period of five years. This grew out of the capitalist myth that individuals motivated by the desire for personal gain provided the best goods, services, and stewardship. Private ownership promoted the idea of the rugged individual rather than the community, while the market place economy promoted competition rather than cooperation and barter. These were concepts totally alien to the Indo-Hispanio communities which were essentially disinherited and disenfranchised by a voracious culture rationalizing its greed with the notion of "manifest destiny."
Much of the original grant was subsequently placed under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the state of New Mexico. Land grant heirs were often denied access and traditional resource extraction was by permit only.While a few land grant families that had been acculturated and knew how to manipulate the system were able to reacquire tracts of land within the San Miguel del Vado Grant by employing the Homestead Act, this served to further divide the community and partition the grant.
Tomás Romero, an heir to the grant, lives in the tiny village of Vadito de Piedra, in a beautiful house he built with his family after he returned to the village from work at the Questa mine. His parents live next door and his in-laws across the road. This is how it has always been, since his ancestors settled the grant over 200 years ago. Today, however, trailers have sprung up in former alfalfa fields, and Romero may have to leave the village once again because it is so difficult to find employment in the area. No one is able to live solely off their land anymore: None of the land grant heirs retained grazing permits in the former grant lands that became Santa Fe National Forest, and few people grow enough chicos or any kind of cash crop to support a family farm.
Romero joined the Land Grant Forum, a statewide organization that advocates for the preservation and possible restitution of land grants when he returned to Vadito de Piedra. He knows the tragic history of the loss of San Miguel del Vado grant lands, but remains hopeful that the General Accounting Office study to document federal misappropriation of land grants will ultimately end in the restitution of the San Miguel Grant.
In the meantime, however, he's worried that if people continue to leave the villages to find work (80% of the original population has left) there won't be a community of heirs for repatriation. What there will be is a community of housing developments and "ranchettes", bought up by wealthy newcomers taking advantage of the area's still inexpensive land prices and proximity to Santa Fe. The new landowners immediately start drilling wells and building fences, which Romero calls their "frontier" mentality, a desire to claim these lands as their own and separate them from the existing communities. What this does, of course, is further deny access to the land and resources previously owned by the land grant heirs, who continue to fish the rivers and cut their firewood on state and federal lands.
Romero cites two egregious examples of this recent phenomenon. The Imus Ranch (owned by shock jock Don Imus of New York) sits on the south side of I-25, east of Ribera, and extends for several thousand acres south towards state lands where local people have cut firewood for years. Fences around the Imus property restrict access to these state lands and in effect extend the private property for several thousand more acres. In 1999 Imus' attempt to transfer water from land in San Miguel raised the ire of local parciantes and members of the El Valle Water Users Coalition, who claimed the transfer would impair already existing wells. State Engineer Tom Turney denied the application on the basis that the lands being transferred from did not hold the number of water rights claimed in the proposal. Local water users continue to worry about the possibility of future attempts to transfer water rights, and Romero says that there have already been transfers from village acequias that no one even knew about until the transfers were made.
The latest access battle is being fought with actor Val Kilmer, whose ranch sits on the north side of I-25 near the village of San Jose, just west of Ribera. According to Romero, there have been recent incidents where ranch personnel have denied local people access to the river which runs near grant lands north of Kilmer's property.
Both Imus and Kilmer's properties are part of the former Flying W Ranch, a huge private inholding near the southern boundaries of Santa Fe National Forest that was acquired through the Homestead Act. Romero and others fear that secret, extensive development of the former ranch is creating smaller ranch-ettes and housing developments not even on the county radar screen.
Romero, like many others, feels that the only way to maintain the culture and tradition of the San Miguel del Vado grant lands and prevent the loss of the indigenous population is to establish a more diverse economic base. "People have to be able to make money so they can hang onto their lands as the tax base increases due to all these newcomers buying up land and inflating the value," Romero says. A number of years ago several people moved into the area and began a winery and several organic farms, and since then a few more local people have turned to organic produce as a cash crop. There is also a move to turn the abandoned HUD housing development near the highway into an economic development center which could support cottage industries. A new cafe in Ribera caters to local people and employs local teenagers. "Everyone knows about the downside of relying on tourism to boost your economy," Romero says. "None of this is about money. It's about maintaining our cultural ways and being able to find employment so that we can stay on our land."
The editors wish to thank Malcolm Ebright, whose book Land Grants and Lawsuits in Northern New Mexico (available through Southwest Books, www.southwestbooks.org) was a valuable resource for this article.
Taos Soil and Water Conservation District is a self-governing political subdivision of the state which was established in 1941 to help Taos County residents with their land and water conservation needs.On November 15 the District Board of Supervisors held its annual meeting to report on projects undertaken during the 1999-2000 fiscal year, present awards for outstanding service, report the results of the Board of Supervisors Election, and elect officers.
Peter Vigil, administrative technician, reported that during the past year the district helped fund more than 30 acequia rehabilitation projects, five range improvement projects, numerous rodent control projects, and several education and information projects including school programs and scholarships.
Awards were made to the following people:
Conservation Rancher of the Year: Erasto Rivera of the Rio Costilla Cooperative Livestock Association
Conservation Farmer of the Year: Jack Yaple, a Cerro garlic farmer
Public Lands Stewardship: The Schofield family of Tres Piedras for range improvement
Professional Service Award: Jim Wanstalls of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, Soil and Water Specialist
Outstanding employee: Peter Vigil, administrative technician
Conservation Award: Gilbert Segura
Service Award: Edward Grant for 10-year service
Awards in the form of savings bonds were also given to stewardship poster contest winners from last year's fifth grade classes in the Taos/Peñasco/Questa schools.
Tony Benson, a rancher on Taos mesa, was elected to the Board of Supervisors, and Felix Santistevan of Las Colonius was re-elected to his position. Board officers include: Maureen Johnson of Costilla, Chair; Celestino Romero of Taos, Vice-Chair; and Edward Grant of Ranchos de Taos, Secretary/Treasurer.
Taos County residents seeking financial and/or technical assistance with acequia rehab, streambank stabilization, range improvement, or rodent control can contact Peter Vigil at 751-0584.
Copyright 1996-2000 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.