A community newspaper for the Jicarita watershed, including the
Rio Mora, Rio Santa Barbara, Rio de las Trampas, Rio Pueblo, and Rio Embudo
By Mark Schiller
Santa Barbara Rehabilitation Project Completes Prescribed Burn By Mark Schiller
Editorial: Whose Water is it Anyway? By Kay Matthews
Cañada Maria Piñon/Juniper Restoration Project By Max Córdova, Jr. and Nova Romero of the Truchas Montaña Youth Team
The Camino Real Ranger District is proposing to close existing spur roads off Forest Road 722 in the Picacho area of the Carson National Forest to improve watershed conditions. The road were used to access the Picacho Timber Sale and fuelwood areas, but have deteriorated due to unauthorized use, causing erosion and degraded water quality. The proposal calls for closing 12.5 miles of terminal roads by obliteration, ripping, tank traps and/or the use of earthen water tanks. The roads would then be seeded with native plant species. Please contact Steven Miranda or Cecilia Seesholtz at the Camino Real by May 31 if you have comments or concerns: 587-2255 or P. O. Box 68, Peñasco, NM 87553.
The Quivira Coalition is sponsoring a free workshop by Kirk Gadzia on the question of resting land from cattle grazing: does this play a role in both restoring AND degrading rangeland? The workshop will be held on Saturday, June 3, 9 am-4 pm, at the Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge north of Socorro. A short classroom session will attempt to get broad agreement from the group on what indicates rangeland health, and the rest of the day will be spent at the refuge, touring rangeland that has been excluded from grazing and that is currently grazed. The class is limited to 40 people. If you are interested in attending please call Courtney White at 820-2544 for more information or to RSVP.
La Jicarita News has a new web site, thanks to a grant from the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Basin Coalition and the technical expertise and generosity of Robin Collier of Art Support in Taos. The latest issue of the paper will be posted immediately upon publication, and our archive currently consists of the 2000 and 1999 issues: 1996 to 1998 issues will be archived as soon as we find the time to list them. In addition to the archive you may access a page on environmental justice, support from environmentalists, specific information about who we are and how we began, and links to other organizations.
Our address is: www.lajicarita.org
There is also a page that allows you to subscribe electronically or via the post office, and there is a place to send us your comments as well. So please check it out when you get a chance, and let us know if you or your organization would like to be added to our links.
Every year various community acequias begin the long and arduous process of applying for grants and loans to rehabilitate and repair their ditches, compuertas, and presas, which have survived hundreds of years' use. While several federal and state programs have provided monies to the acequias for a number of years, recent changes in the law and an overtaxed system have made it increasingly difficult for many acequias to acquire financial help and complete rehabilitation projects in a timely fashion. Following is a list of the various funding sources available for acequia rehabilitation: changes in the process or problems that acequias are experiencing with these programs are noted in each description.
Funding from the state legislature can be procured by project specific bills which designate a specific amount of money for planning, design, and construction of acequia projects. These "pork barrel" bills face the same obstacles as all such requests: competition from other legislators' "pork barrel" requests and the loose veto pen of Governor Gary Johnson. Unfortunately, in this year's State Engineer's Office (OSE) budget there is language that prohibits legislative funding from being used to pay for an acequia's percentage of rehabilitation costs from state-funded programs (see the following OSE grants and US Corps grants). New language also sets a $250,000 cap on monies for a single acequia project.
These are funds allocated from the Irrigation Works Construction Fund for acequia renovation projects, which is usually between $150,000 and $300,000 per year. Grants cannot exceed $60,000 or 80% of the total construction cost. The acequia's 20% share of the costs can be acquired from Interstate Stream Commission loans, at 2.5% interest, but can no longer be met by monies from the legislature, as discussed in the previous section. The Catch 22 in this grant is that the OSE wants a completed design for the proposed project before it will allot grant money, but the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), which is supposed to provide the design, planning, and construction inspection work for these projects free of charge, is hopelessly behind schedule in many areas of the state. Therefore, many acequias are having to obtain the design work from certified (by the OSE) engineers who want payment up front, before the OSE approves grant money for the projects. Several acequias in the La Jicarita News area have raised this issue with the OSE and are asking the office to include payment for these certified engineers to begin project work.
Corps Max Program
These are usually large projects exceeding $150,000 in construction cost. The planning, design, construction inspection, and construction costs are shared by the Corps of Engineers (COE), 75%, the OSE, 17.5%, and the acequia, 7.5%. The acequia may acquire a loan from the Interstate Stream Commission at 2.5%. Several years ago an acequia rehabilitation in the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo watershed was funded by the Corps, and acequia members were very unhappy with the impacts to the river corridor that occurred because of the heavy machinery used in the project.
Corps Light Program
This program has not yet been initiated but targets smaller projects than the Corps Max program. It would allow the OSE and acequias to work with agencies other than the COE for planning, design, and construction of acequia renovation projects. As envisioned, the OSE will contract with the NRCS to provide those services. Here again, because of the inability of the NRCS to provide these services, acequias in some areas will run into the same problems as described in the New Mexico State Engineer Grant section.
There are other issues involving funding for acequia rehabilitation that have yet to be resolved. As reported at the end of the legislative session, the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) drafted changes to regulations regarding loans to acequias for rehabilitation projects that acequias see as burdensome and a threat to the autonomy of commissioners who already have full statutory authority to sign for loans and work out payment options within their community acequias. Within the parameters of the new regulations some acequias may be required to pledge real property for security, or have the commission sign a promissory note accepting personal responsibility. These changes are proposed despite the fact that acequias have a default record of only one-half of one percent of the total monies loaned since 1972. The New Mexico Acequia Association has submitted comments to the ISC noting these concerns.
By Mark Schiller
As the Cerro Grande fire continues to burn, the debate over thinning and prescribed burning on public lands is also heating up. In less than a week there have been numerous editorials, letters to the editor and comments in articles about the fire. On one hand you have Sam Hitt of Forest Guardians saying that fire is inevitable and we should continue to use prescribed burns but should not do any thinning because it will provide an opportunity for the corporate timber industry to regain a foothold in our national forests under the cloak of "restoration". On the other hand you have Hazel Shuck of People for the USA saying we need to allow people in to thin and profit from timber extraction but shouldn't be using fire because we can't control it. Regardless of which side of the debate you are on one thing seems clear: the forests of northern New Mexico are densely overstocked because of 100 years of fire suppression and questionable timber management practices. This makes them susceptible to the kind of catastrophic fire we are witnessing in the Los Alamos area. While politicians and insurance companies are trying to access blame, the real focus of inquiry should be on finding ways to prevent fires like this by restoring the health of our forests and watersheds.
Of course there is a great deal of controversy over what constitutes a healthy forest, but I think most people would agree that the desired condition would be a mosaic that includes an overstory of well-spaced trees of varying age and an understory with a wide variety of grasses and forbes interspersed with grassland openings. So how do we achieve this "desired condition"? There's the rub. I think the answer to that question is we don't really know yet. Forest restoration practice is in its infancy and while we have had some notable successes and failures, we can't say authoritatively how we should treat the thousands of acres in northern New Mexico which desperately need attention. Certainly people like Sam and Hazel who are clearly trying to capitalize on this tragic fire to promote their own conflicting agendas (the "zero cut" agenda of Forest Guardians and the unsustainable resource extraction agenda of People for the USA) are only contributing to the confusion.
The answer, I think, lies in experiments like the Santa Barbara Rehabilitation Project and the Entrañas Pilot Project which are employing a combination of thinning and burning with a monitoring component to gauge the long range effectiveness of these strategies. While the Cerro Grande fire vividly demonstrates that we need to be more strict in following the guidelines for prescribed burns, we cannot reject it as a tool for restoration. Fire is an essential element of forest ecology. There have been numerous successful burns such as the recently completed Bear Mountain burn above Peñasco (for a complete report on this burn see page 5) where guidelines were carefully followed and all goals were met. Remember, it was the degraded condition of the forest which made for the catastrophic nature of the fire. A fire of this magnitude could just as easily have been caused by lightning. Likewise, we must not reject thinning as a tool simply because it could provide an avenue for multi-national timber companies to get into the restoration business. The Camino Real Ranger District has demonstrated that small, well designed sales that are directed towards local needs and small local operators are a practical way to implement a thinning program and contribute to the local economy without involving the corporate timber industry.
Finally, I would suggest that if we're going to be able to mount a truly effective restoration campaign Congress is going to have to put its money where its mouth is. It has mandated public lands management agencies to emphasize eco-system health and sustainability over resource extraction. At the same time they have gutted the budgets of those agencies, preventing them from implementing effective restoration programs. Tax dollars that were once underwriting the corporate rape of our forests must now be made available to restore them. Tax dollars that were allocated to underwrite weapons development at our national labs during the cold war must now be redirected towards cleaning up the toxic mess they have left in their wake. New Mexico is facing a long hot summer: let's be sure we learn something from it.
By Mark Schiller
The fire crew at the Camino Real Ranger District was scrupulous in following prescribed burn guidelines and successfully burned approximately 100 acres on Santa Barbara's Bear Mountain. Fire Management Officer Manuel Romero told La Jicarita that his crew waited for a good window of opportunity and carefully prepared the area before the burn, which took place April 27.
The area where the burn occurred was first thinned last summer by community members hauling personal-use firewood and thinning crews from the ranger district and the community. The Forest Service monitored the remaining slash to determine when it was dry enough to carry a fire. Romero and members of his staff then determined a prescription which included a maximum temperature and wind velocity and a minimum relative humidity. In this case they determined they would not burn if the temperature exceeded 80 degrees, the wind exceeded 15 miles per hour, and the relative humidity wasbelow 12%.
About a week before the fire, crew members burned what they call a "black line" around the perimeter of the burn area. The black line, which in this case was approximately 132 feet wide, acts as a buffer to ensure that the fire stays within the prescribed area. With all of this in place, the crew then waited for a weather forecast which met prescription guidelines.
Having determined that April 27 met all guidelines, the 6 member crew and tanker truck got an early start. Romero notified community fire chief Randy Sahd of the burn and continued to monitor weather conditions throughout the morning. At 11:30 a.m., when the temperature reached 78 degrees and the relative humidity dipped to 15%, he shut down the fire and didn't resume until 4:30 that afternoon when conditions improved By 10:00 p.m. the fire was completed.
Romero and Steven Miranda, the Range Management Officer in charge of the Santa Barbara Rehabilitation Project, explained that thinning and prescribed burning not only reduce the threat of catastrophic fire but improve understory and overstory conditions. Timber Management Officer, Carol Holland, explained that there's a real art to managing a successful prescribed burn: "You need a little wind to carrythe fire and make sure it moves fast enough so that the leave trees are not damaged. But you don't want so much that the fire has any chance to jump the prescription boundaries." Everyone at the district office agreed that the consumption of this fire was good. They'll be monitoring the area to see how the leave trees fared and when the rains come will be reseeding the area with a mixture of fescue, brome, mountain mahogany, Kentucky bluegrass, blue gramma, and timothy. The fire crew hopes to burn 200 additional acres which have already been thinned when conditions permit in the fall.
By Kay Matthews
A month ago the Journal North ran opposing opinion pieces on its Op-Ed page talking about the recent injunction filed by a coalition of environmentalists (Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Forest Guardians, Southwest Environmental Center) to force federal agencies to keep water in the Rio Grande from San Acacia down to Elephant Butte. In his piece, Bill Hume, Editorial Page Editor, perceptively analyzed the issue as one that will pit the feds against state agencies that currently administer water rights: If the Endangered Species Act trumps all law governing allocation of water in the Rio Grande Basin, then the priority right system that governs human use is rendered moot. Lettie Belin, attorney for the environmentalists, claims that the lawsuit is a straightforward attempt to achieve what most "New Mexicans want to see in the Rio Grande," i.e. flowing water and a healthy bosque. Would that it were so simple.
Hume was able to see past the typical instream flow rhetoric to the potential legal impacts. This issue is already coming to a head in Colorado, where a water rights holder is threatening to file suit if the White River National Forest Plan (currently in the draft stage) implements a federal water right to maintain instream flow within the forest. As is the situation in New Mexico, all Colorado water is already appropriated, and any federal attempt to provide a right of flow would abrogate state law and constitute a "taking".
But there are other potential impacts that need to be addressed as well. The environmentalists direct their legal actions at the bad boy Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD), but what they continually fail to acknowledge is the connection between the conservancy district and the acequias. (Interestingly enough, they left the Native American Pueblos out of the injunction. Is it politically correct to respect Native American sovereignty but not that of the Indo-Hispano community?) While the acequia community doesn't necessarily see eye to eye with the MRGCD in terms of sustainable water use, it does recognize that they both share many of the same interests in water policy. Acequia advocates have said over and over again in public meetings, in roundtable discussions with these environmentalists, in newspaper articles, and at the state legislature, that defining instream flow as a federal water right or as a beneficial use is directly tied to the commodification of water rights that have been traditionally defined as community rights tied to their lands of origin. Once state water law is subordinated and water becomes a free market commodity sought after by developers, urban areas, or the federal government, the most vulnerable water rights will be acequia water rights.
Parciantes are already being marginalized by not being able to actually use their "appropriative rights". Historically, of course, water was shared as a community resource with less regard to "appropriative" or "priority" rights, concepts that were formalized when New Mexico became a state. But even with the imposition of priority and private property concepts, acequia parciantes have continued to share their village water, particularly in times of drought. Now, as more and more northern New Mexico parciantes become involved in organic and specialty farming, they face the threat of losing these rights to hungry cities and greedy developers.
This, of course, would result in the most damaging cumulative impact of all: the loss of agricultural lands to development. Acequia advocates also have been pointing out to anyone who will listen that the loss of open space is the single biggest threat to wildlife, habitat, water, and culture. Irrigation has created a riparian landscape that dammed and manipulated rivers cannot provide. The human community they support is essential to the culture and economy of the state. (What do tourists come to el norte to experience? McDonald's?) Do the environmentalists really believe their lawsuits are simple answers to complex issues, like Lettie Belin's op-ed piece seems to be saying, or does their vision of el norte exclude the "inhabited wilderness" of traditional rural communities, replaced by "untrammeled wilderness" and unfettered industrial recreation?
Our state engineer, Tom Turney, seems to favor the latter vision. In a recently released statement Turney said that his office plans to take a more active role in management of the Rio Grande, and that one part of his program will be to focus on markets for water, making it easier to transfer water rights from agricultural to municipal use: "We need to be able to move water rights around."
The question of whether keeping water in the Rio Grande between San Acacia and Elephant Butte will save the silvery minnow is debatable, as is the question of how much water the MRGCD diverts from the river and how much is returned. But as the debates rage on, a partnership between the University of New Mexico and the city of Albuquerque is addressing the immediate need to save the minnow with a rescue, spawning, and release program. Bill Hume suggests in his editorial that we need to explore other options for releasing water into the Rio Grande in emergency situations without imposing the Endangered Species Act and opening the door to what would become a battle between the state and feds over control of our community waters. What we really need is some vision that extends beyond immediate needs and simplistic agendas. To apply what historian Richard White says about the Columbia River to the Rio Grande: "If the conversation is not about fish and justice, about . . . ways of life, about production and nature, about beauty as well as efficiency, and about how there things are inseparable in our own tangled lives, then we have not come to terms with our history on this river."
By Max Córdova, Jr. and Nova Romero of the Truchas Montaña Youth Team
The Carson National Forest has several projects planned for this year to meet the needs of the community for fuelwood and at the same time do restoration work.
On April 30, 2000 the Truchas Montaña Youth Team met with Carson National Forest Timber Staff Officer Henry Lopez to discuss and review the Cañada Maria Piñon/Juniper Restoration Project. The project is located near the Chamisal transfer station and recycling center. The Forest Service will set up contract stewardship blocks for the work needed in the unit.
The Truchas Montaña Youth Team will assist the Forest Service in marking the plots and identifying and photographing existing conditions. The youth will document the work being done and will assist in implementation and monitoring.The Forest Service will train the youth in using a compass and the GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) system, and will teach them to lay out the stewardship blocks.
The first task of the youth team is to set photo points on the unit to be used to monitor present and future conditions. La Montaña de Truchas has helped the youth team by purchasing a video camera, a digital camera, and other photographic equipment to document the work the Forest Service and the community are doing.
The youth team will work with the Forest Service for the next few months on monitoring and other needed research on the Cañada Maria Piñon/Juniper Restoration Project. The youth team will also continue to work with the Forest Service to establish more fuelwood areas.
Top to bottom, State Senator Manny Aragon; march organizer Felipe Córdova; Donna Garcia Price, mother of Eric Sanchez
Now in our 5th year of publication, La Jicarita News has been largely dependent upon charitable foundations to underwrite the cost of the paper: McCune Charitable Foundation; New Mexico Community Foundation; Santa Fe Community Foundation; Maki Foundation; and Bread for the Journey, among others. The McCune Charitable Foundation in Santa Fe has been our most loyal supporter, and we want to take this opportunity to thank Owen Lopez, Fran Sowers, and their board of directors for this support. With 2000 monies we will be able to expand the bulk mailing to the communities of Dixon and Embudo (we already send La Jicarita to many individuals in these communities who have subscribed). We will continue to pay contributors to our Puntos de Vista column, highlight individuals and organizations involved in economic development enterprises, and interview ancianos from our communities in our Oral History column. We will also initiate a feature that will explore the histories of land grants in our area.We are asking those of you who are already on our subscription list to please send in your $5.00 (you can't beat that deal) for the year 2000, if you have not already done so (you may now do this via our website at www.lajicarita.org, see page 2). And for those of you who would like to make a larger contribution to the paper, we ask that you make a donor contribution, which is tax deductible, in any amount you can. The paper has purposely declined to run advertisements to raise money, preferring to put our energy and space into covering issues of import to el norte. And because of our very regionalized focus, we will never be able to support our work from subscriptions alone. But with your continued help and the support of foundations, we will be able to partner with those who tirelessly work to maintain and protect el norte's rural communities and resources.
Copyright 1996-2000 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.