A community advocacy newspaper for northern New Mexico
Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, NM 87521
Acequia Parciantes Turn Out to Protect Their Water By Kay Matthews
Editorial: "Bombplex" 2030 By Mark Schiller
Book Review: Understories: The Political Life of Forests in Northern New Mexico By Jake Kosek Reviewed by Kay Matthews and Mark Schiller (Part Two)
By Kay Matthews
There's nothing that brings out a crowd to an acequia meeting like a perceived threat to the integrity of our community water. The parciantes of the Acequia de la Cañada Ancha in Chimayó turned out in force on January 7, along with land grant activists, members of the New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA), the district county commissioner, and county and water law attorneys. The occasion was a special meeting called to vote on a new draft of the acequia's bylaws, including the incorporation of the water transfer and water banking amendments that were approved by the state legislature several years ago.
What guaranteed the size of the crowd was an inflammatory flier mailed to Chimayó residents by Belinda Bowling and Jerry Powers (she is the owner of a bed & breakfast with water rights on the acequia) and he is a former officer of the Private Property Rights Coalition) claiming "Your water and property rights are in DANGER!!! If the new bylaws are adopted, it will have huge negative consequences for you! The new bylaws will devalue your water rights from the current value of approximately $50,000 per irrigated acre to almost nothing!"
The flier was responding to the new water transfer bylaw, which gives acequia commissions the authority to approve or deny a water transfer request by a parciante on the acequia. Over 100 acequias have amended their bylaws to include this added layer of protection. The bylaw provides for notification and hearing, and if the commission denies the application to transfer the water right, the parciante has the right to appeal that decision to district court. If the commission approves the transfer request, the parciante must still get the approval from the Office of the State Engineer (OSE), and anyone in the community who may be potentially impacted can file a protest of the transfer application.
The New Mexico Acequia Association has been working with acequias all over the state to upgrade their bylaws, and its community organizer, Janice Varela, went over the changes to the bylaws of the Cañada Ancha ditch at the meeting. She emphasized that all the changes are in compliance with state law but also reflect the desires and traditions of the acequia. For example, the bylaws state that in times of water shortage, the commission will employ water sharing, which has historically been done for several hundred years. The voting rights will remain the same based on water rights ownership. Incorporated along with the new transfer bylaw is a water banking bylaw, which allows a parciante who is unable to use his or her water right protection against loss due to nonuse by assigning it to the commission to allocate within the system.
When the floor was opened to discussion of the changes to the bylaws, Jerry Powers, who is not a parciante (he was filming the meeting), spoke for Bowling: "You're being provided with misinformation. You are being asked to give up your property rights." He claimed that there was no danger of water rights from northern New Mexico being moved to urban areas down south because "they can't be moved across Otowi Gage." This is a policy that has been followed by the OSE in order to be in compliance with the Rio Grande Compact, but will be challenged as water markets looks to the acequias for future water supplies. Bill Turner, one of the most prominent water brokers in the state, is on record saying that within 40 years acequia water rights will be extinct.
Other speakers at the meeting made it clear to Powers and Bowling that their concern is keeping acequia water in its area of origin to maintain the integrity of the acequia, both hydrologically and culturally. One elder stood up and said, "My grandfather passed down his water rights to me and I will pass them down to my children. This is our herencia!" The only parciante who expressed reservations about the water transfer bylaw said he was doing so because "I never get the water." The Cañada Ancha is a very long ditch, with over 500 acres to irrigate and the commission promised to try to do a better job of equitably distributing the water. As expected, the new bylaws were approved by an overwhelming vote.
The Taos Land Trust recently announced the protection of 1,029 acres through conservation easements in the Taos area. This brings the total to over 23,000 acres the trust has helped protect, including the Taos Valley Overlook and Ute Mountain. The new acres placed under the conservation easements include land near Eagle Nest and Rio Ojo Caliente (Black Mesa). According to Taos Land Trust director Ernie Atencio, the trust is hoping to work with neighboring land owners to eventually piece together other properties into contiguous protected areas that will total around 2,000 acres each. For more information on the benefits of conservation easements, including income tax benefits, contact the trust at 776-5513.
Don't forget the New Mexico Organic Farming Conference that will be held in Albuquerque on Friday and Saturday, February 16-17, 2007, 7:30 am to 5:00 pm. The conference will be held at the Marriott Albuquerque Pyramid North, located at 5151 San Francisco Road NE off Interstate 25 in the Journal Center Business Complex. Registration for both days is $100 and $65 for either Friday or Saturday. For more information contact Le Adams at 505 473-1004 or Joanie Quinn at 505 841-9067 or send your registration to Farm to Table, 3900 Paseo del Sol, Santa Fe, NM 87507.
Below: Digging out from the New Year's snowstorm in Placitas &endash; Lynn Montgomery's dog and house
By Mark Schiller
Amidst all the horror the United States federal government is perpetrating at home and abroad, it now tells us that it wants to "provide a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future" by "consolidating and updating" its nuclear weapons facilities. The government, of course, doesn't offer to explain how an arsenal of nuclear warheads that can blow the Earth up ten times over and whose production is causing unmitigatable air, water, and ground pollution can be made "safe, secure and reliable," but it has informed us that some of the prime sites being considered for this consolidation are Los Alamos National Lab (LANL), Sandia National Lab (SNL), and the White Sands Missle Range (WSMR).
While the government has named this project "Complex 2030" to denote the year in which it would become fully operational, nuclear safety watchdog groups have more appropriately dubbed it "Bombplex 2030." According to one of those groups, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), "Bombplex 2030 essentially seeks to replace old nukes with new more usable nukes. They are proposing to consolidate and renovate nuclear weapons facilities that are located all around the country. The plans will lessen the number of nukes currently on hand. However, it will give the U.S. the power to build new nukes at an astonishing rate."
The most important component of Complex 2030 is the "Consolidated Plutonium Center" (CPC). An information sheet issued by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the division of the Department of Energy (DOE) that is responsible for the Complex 2030 project, states that "A CPC would process plutonium feedstock, manufacture plutonium components, and assemble complete pits for installation into weapons . . . The CPC proposal addresses a critical gap in the credibility of the long-term nuclear deterrent of the United States, namely the lack of capability and associated capacity to manufacture plutonium pits to support the stockpile gap that resulted from shutdown of the Rocky Flats Plant in 1989." The fact that NNSA has already made the decision to invest approximately two billion dollars to expand facilities and production of plutonium pits at LANL certainly makes it the odds on favorite to become the site of the CPC, which will have a capacity to construct 125 new pits per year and be fully operational by the year 2022.
Ironically, even if you accept the government's absurd argument that posits the need for "nuclear deterrents" in order to maintain our "safety and security," its claim that it needs new plutonium pit production in order to upgrade a deteriorating nuclear weapons stockpile has been repudiated by a study conducted by its own Sandia National Lab. That study concluded that "nuclear weapons do not wear out; they last as long as the nuclear weapons community desires." (That statement, of course, begs the question: What exactly is a "nuclear weapons community" and what exactly does it "desire"?) Moreover, NNSA's claim that the thousands of existing plutonium pits have a lifetime of between 45-60 years and therefore must be replaced, has also been challenged by a group of eminent scientists, including Nobel prize winners and former Manhattan Project members, that asserts plutonium pits have a minimal lifetime in excess of 100 years. Thus new pit production is completely unnecessary for what NNSA calls "responsive nuclear infrastructure."
Bear in mind also that the Rocky Flats facility was closed down because of extensive federal safety standards violations and subsequently became a "Superfund" clean-up site because of its legacy of toxic pollutants. LANL, which also has an abysmal record of safety violations, has already identified over 1,400 hazardous waste sites within its approximately 27,000-acre site and is currently being fined by the state for not complying with an agreement it signed with the NM Environment Department to implement a clean-up program. With a capacity to create 125 new plutonium pits per year, the potential risk of increased safety and environmental violations at LANL will rise exponentially. Test wells demonstrate that water quality in Los Alamos and White Rock has already been affected by the lab's toxic waste. That waste is migrating towards the Rio Grande, which is soon to be the main source of drinking water for the cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
More importantly, the political implications of constructing the CPC, wherever it's located, are terrifying and in direct violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the United States signed over thirty-five years ago but obviously never intended to comply with. Clearly, the imperialist agenda of the federal government, which seeks to monopolize the world's resources and exploit its people (as it's doing in Iraq and Afghanistan to name just two obvious examples), has created the so called "security threats" to which its policy of "nuclear deterrents" supposedly responds. We've created a world in which diplomacy is predicated upon nuclear arms capability, yet we scream "foul" when countries like Iran and North Korea become nuclear threats. Complex 2030 simply perpetuates this ridiculous game.
In the meantime, NNSA is going through the charade of scoping public comment for Complex 2030, and if the December 6 meeting in Santa Fe is an indication of public concern, then things are pretty dire. I fully expected hundreds of outspoken activists to challenge the government's environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project, which doesn't even consider a disarmament alternative, and make strong presentations denouncing its failure to live up to the standards of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. What I found, however, was about 125 people, at least 75% of whom were over the age of 50, clapping politely when the Mayor of Carlsbad made a pitch to bring the "Consolidated Plutonium Center" to Carlsbad (he cited the location of the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in Carlsbad as a safety asset that would eliminate the need to transport radioactive waste generated by the project over long distances) rather than Los Alamos. To be fair, there were a few good presentations, but by and large it was dismal showing and the absence of more young people, who are most directly going to be impacted by the project, was shocking.
Moreover, this lack of public concern will unquestionably translate into continued lack of oversight from members of the New Mexico congressional delegation, who have traditionally advanced their political careers by delivering pork barrel money to LANL and other defense related contractors while turning a blind eye to the problems they create. LANL and SNL combined budgets, after all, are as big as the entire New Mexico state budget, and the lab is northern New Mexico's single biggest employer. Apparently, the congressional delegation believes that the enormous pay and social disparity between the largely Anglo science community and the middle and lower echelon technical support, maintenance, and security staff that is drawn from the surrounding communities in the Española and Pojoaque Valleys is irrelevant. As long as a trickle of money flows down into those valleys form the "City on the Hill" (along with the toxic waste) nobody with any clout is going to question them too closely about the fact that Los Alamos County is the richest county in the country with the highest percentage of National Merit Scholars coming out its high school, while neighboring Rio Arriba County is one of the poorest in the country with one of the highest high school drop-out rates in the country. Because of all the defense spending, New Mexico gets more federal dollars per capita than any other state in the country, yet Education Week, which rated all 50 states on how well they give their young people an opportunity to succeed in later life ranked New Mexico last in the nation on a new "Chance of Success" index. Clearly this money perpetuates, rather than alleviates, the vicious cycle of poverty and the racial and class disparities that have plagued northern New Mexico since the lab's inception.
New Mexicans should be outspoken in their denunciation of this proposal and the other abominations promulgated at LANL and SNL, which negatively impact our health and welfare and exploit and dehumanize people throughout the world.
By Kay Matthews
After almost 13 months the New Mexico Supreme Court finally issued an opinion on the water transfer protest of Lynn Montgomery, Robert Wessely, and Catherine Harris against Placitas developer Lomos Altos (Bob Poling). The case has been remanded back to district court to review the issues of impairment, conservation, and public welfare. The opinion is a partial victory for the protestants and has important implications for all water users.
The protestants originally filed their protest of the 1997 and 1999 applications to transfer 15.05 acre feet per year (afy) of surface water from locations on the Rio Grande in Valencia County to wells that supply the Overlook subdivision in Placitas. The protestants live in areas near the subdivision, where they irrigate from springs near Las Huertas Creek. Their protest claimed that their water rights would be impaired by the groundwater pumping. They also raised the other two statutory objections that the transfer would be contrary to conservation and detrimental to the public welfare.
The Office of the State Engineer (OSE) hearing officer denied the protest in 2001 and the protestants appealed this decision in district court. In their request for summary judgement the protestants claimed their water rights would be impaired because in a fully-appropriated Rio Grande stream system any new surface depletion is "per se" impairment. The applicants filed a cross-motion for summary judgement, claiming any depletions caused by their wells would be "de minimus" (negligible). District court granted the applicants cross motion and the protestants appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the district court decision. The protestants then appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.
On December 5 the Supreme Court issued its opinion. The Court denied that the transfer request should be considered a new groundwater appropriation and that surface depletions at the move-to location should be considered per se impairment. It agreed with the protestants that the OSE should not have tried to determine the validity of non-party declarants (other owners of water rights in the area) water rights. It also determined that district court erred in granting summary judgement because there was an unresolved dispute regarding the extent of depletion at the move-to site and that the summary judgement notice failed to provide the protestants notice that the issues of water conservation and public welfare were subject to summary judgment.
The Court sent the case back to district court to determine: 1) the measure of existing water rights and the extent of depletion at the move-to location; 2) whether this depletion constitutes impairment of existing water rights, and 3) whether the applications are contrary to water conservation or detrimental to the public welfare of the sate. In other words, the protest, after lingering for six years, will be heard all over again in district court.
Protestant Lynn Montgomery told La Jicarita News that the Lomos Altos attorney filed a motion to re-hear issues they lost but it was a day late. "We hope the Supreme Court will reject this," Montgomery said. "If not, we will ask the issues we lost be reheard, too. I see this as a blink on their [the applicants] part, and that they are terrified of a real trial where they will have to make a case beyond 'it's good for the economy and our private property rights.'" Taos attorney Mary Humphrey will continue to represent the protestants and Peter White, who represented the Amici Curiae 1000 Friends of New Mexico, the New Mexico Acequia Association, and Amigos Bravos in the original protest, will assist. The protestants plan to present arguments that address all three issues of impairment, conservation, and public welfare. Water judge William Sanchez will try the case.
Reviewed by Kay Matthews and Mark Schiller (Part Two)
In this second part of our review of UNM Professor Jake Kosek's book, Understories: The Political Life of Forests in Northern New Mexico, we continue our discussion of the four linked stories that form the core of Kosek's critique: 1) the forest's role in forming passionate attachments to place, community, and land; 2) the environmental movement's legacy of purity based on exclusion, nation, and race; 3) the ways in which the Forest Service's paternalistic role of "caring for the land and serving the people" institutionalizes its position and rule; and 4) the colonial and irradiating connection between Los Alamos National Laboratory, the forests, and the communities of el norte.
Kosek expands upon his thesis that the environmental movement is infused by notions of racial purity and moral superiority in Chapter Five, which explores the American icon Smokey Bear. Employing a statement by Truchas land grant activist Jerry Fuentes, the chapter is titled "Smokey Bear is a White Racist Pig." As forest worker Salomon Martinez explains it, "He [Smokey] is a constant reminder that the woods are no longer ours; he watches over them like a prison guard . . . he is not here to help people, he is here to keep us [Chicanos] out."
By tracing the history of the bear Kosek demonstrates how Smokey was the product of World War II advertising propaganda "and was created as means of assuaging nationalistic fears of the perceived threat of an Asian 'enemy within.'" He was actually created by the National Advertising Council seven years before the famous burned bear cub was found in southern New Mexico that helped "naturalize" the bear image and "infused the bear and the forest with exclusionary formations of U.S. nationalism." Exploiting the 1942 bombing of Los Padres National Forest by a Japanese submarine, the Advertising Council convinced the Forest Service that "the real threat of forest fires came from within, from those potential saboteurs, be they Japanese Americans or Communist sympathizers, who were working for the enemy." Smokey soon became linked to threatening images of fire, which in turn were linked to the health of American society through nationalist patriotic commitment and racial purity.
For almost 60 years Smokey's appearance has gone through numerous manifestations, from a small, gender-indeterminate dog-like bear, to a cartoon-like figure, and finally, to a humanized forest ranger. While his success as a national icon is unprecedented, it's not hard to see why he's viewed by the norteño population as a "despotic land thief" rather than a benevolent protector. According to former Camino Real District Ranger Crockett Dumas, "Posters of Smokey have more bullet holes in them than any sign we post around here." When Smokey was introduced onto the scene in the late 1940s he was immediately met with skepticism; ranchers traditionally burned their fields in the spring and resented the notion that this somehow made them an aide of the enemy. The Forest Service made it clear that these federally-owned lands were to be managed for the benefit of the entire American public, not the local communities that had used them communally for generations: "Smokey was both a mechanism for creation of this notion of the public and a reflection of a broader set of Forest Service policies." The height of the animosity took place in the 1960s and early 70s when the Alianza Federal de las Mercedes and La Raza Unida directly confronted the Forest Service (Kosek tells the story of the Echo Creek Campground takeover in Chapter One) and El Grito del Norte, the radical norteño newspaper, ran anti-Smokey images and cartoons. According to Moises Morales, La Raza leader and former Rio Arriba County Commissioner, Smokey is "a symbol of U.S. colonialism. . . . Smokey wants to keep the forest green not for us or our animals or our fuelwood but for Duke City [Lumber Company] and the fucking tourists."
Interwoven with this discussion of the links between nature and race, Kosek explores the ways in which the Forest Service institutionalizes its position and rule. He begins Chapter Two, "Sovereign Natures," with a quote from former regional forester for the Southwest Region William Hurst: "No area of the country has had so long a tradition of sustained programs for the benefit of the local people than Northern New Mexico-ironically, no forest in the country has had a more contentious history between the Forest Service and the local population." Kosek contends that the Forest Service's "protection, management, and care of Hispanos and Native American subjects and forest landscapes serve as the means through which the state has come to have its present and enduring legitimacy. At stake is a larger context of understanding of the current debates over forest health and the welfare of Hispano and Native American communities and how it evokes seemingly contradictory responses, from deep resentment and expressions of violence to pleas for greater Forest Service intervention and increased institutional budgets. At stake for northern New Mexico are the future role and authority of the Forest Service and the fate of millions of acres of federally contested land."
Kosek uses Michel Foucault's theories on governance &endash; the exercise of power and its relation to subjects and territories &endash; to explain this duality as he narrates the history of Forest Service management on Borrego Mesa, near Truchas. He sets out one day with Max Córdova, fellow Trucheño Alfredo Padilla, both board members of La Montaña de Truchas Woodlot, and several Forest Service employees (including the Santa Fe Forest Supervisor), to visit a contested management area on the mesa, which the Truchas Land Grant claims in actually within its boundaries. This area has been devastated by Forest Service clear-cuts that have never regenerated, controlled burns that had turned into runaway fires, and DDT spraying programs that decimated wildlife populations. Cordova's assessment of all of this is, "Over the last hundred years it seems the more they [Forest Service] do for us the worse off we end up."
The philosophies of two pivotal men were central to the management history of Borrego Mesa: George Perkins Marsh, considered to be "the fountainhead of the conservation movement"; and Gifford Pinchot, head of the Forest Reserves, later to become the Forest Service. Marsh was the first to "define explicitly the relationship between 'men and nature,' to see nature, on a broad scale, as vulnerable to irreparable harm by humanity, and to suggest that humanity had a responsibility to protect, care for, and improve nature. At the same time, he believed that only mastery over nature &endash; primarily through science &endash; could free man 'from the restraints which physical necessity now impose' on humanity."
Pinchot extended Marsh's thinking to the concepts of production, management, and improvement and for the "use of the earth for the good of man." He was instrumental in convincing congress that the nation's forests could be both protected from what he termed "timber famine", and harvested for sustained yield. The proper way to do that, he suggested, was with the formation of the federally designated Forest Reserves, managed by scientifically trained foresters. This policy eventually led to "its [Forest Service] charge of maintaining the health and welfare of both the population and the forest" to "rationalize the state's [government's] growth in the region."
So what did this mean for Borrego Mesa? The primary issue, of course, is that over 2,000 acres of these lands, due to the government's refusal to acknowledge the extent of their communal use, ended up in the hands of the Forest Service rather than the local land grants. The ensuing management of the mesa exacerbated the animosity of the community towards the agency. Forester Salomon Martinez claims the Forest Service has two management approaches, one being "we know what is best for the mesa, so don't touch it or we will fine you"; and the other being, as he sarcastically described it, "to work together in the management of the area for 'your benefit'." Martinez calls them the "dual forks of the snake's tongue."
After an extensive "timber reconnaissance" of national forest lands, including Borrego Mesa, from 1908 to 1912 (ironically, the head of the survey team for this region was Aldo Leopold, who environmentalist Bryan Bird evoked in his presentation at the Santa Fe Public Library, quoted in Part One of this book review), the Forest Service began limiting the community's access to range resources, forcing many small-time grazers to either sell their permits to or become "partidarios" (shareholders) with the wealthy sheep dealer and merchant Frank Bond. Others, unable to make a sustainable living off the land, left to become migratory laborers.
In the 1950s the agency began a push towards the industrialization of forestry to meet the "timber needs of the nation," and the local people were further marginalized as large timber companies were granted access to the mesa: In the 1950s and 70s two timber companies effectively destroyed two large areas of the mesa, which have never regenerated. During this same period, the Forest Service heavily sprayed DDT to "treat" spruce budworm. Kosek again quotes Salomon Martinez: " . . . they told us we did not have to worry about the spray, that it was not dangerous, and that it was good for the wildlife. But I knew it wasn't when things [fish and turkey] just started disappearing, and for what? The budworm is still there. The only thing that grew stronger was 'La Floresta'."
In the 1970s and 80s both environmentalists and the local communities began challenging Forest Service policy (Kosek documents much of this activity in Chapter Three). The Forest Service tried to improve its image in the communities and responded to the takeover at Echo Creek Campground by issuing the Region Three Policy statement to redress grievances, and later tried to align itself with the communities with the formation of the Collaborative Stewardship program. All of this, Kosek suggests, was an effort to maintain its legitimacy based on its caring for the well-being of both the forest and the surrounding communities. He ends the chapter with this statement: " . . . the governing of the relationship between Hispanos and the forest by the Forest Service has become less and less about controlling or limiting Hispanos' capacity to act and more about taking advantage of their actions, with the most sincere intents, in ways that directly or indirectly create the conditions of possibility for the Forest Service's authority."
In Chapter Six, "Nuclear Natures: In the Shadows of the City on the Hill," Kosek details the startling contrasts between Los Alamos and the rest of northern New Mexico, which in some ways mirrors the dysfunctional relationship between the Forest Service and the communities. He travels down the high road from the traditional northern New Mexico community of Truchas with Lab worker Paula Montoya, who compares LANL to a "bad boyfriend-you enter into [a relationship with] it seeing all the possibilities, but then it doesn't live up to your expectations and even though you know it's bad, it gives you something, you can't get out, you can't see another way. . . . You think it's better than nothing and maybe it is. . . . What's worse is that he can never tell the truth and he always has an excuse, he's never wrong, never responsible, sometimes cute, ultimately painful."
As we note in the Bomplex 2030 article on page 3, the disparities between the "City on the Hill" and the communities of el norte are stark: according to Kosek, "Los Alamos sits on a hill with a population that is over 90 percent white, in [one of the] wealthiest count[ies] in the country (surrounded by four counties that are over 70 percent non-white), with a population that is almost fully insured, and with almost no violent crime. . . . Only 15 percent of neighboring Rio Arriba County residents over twenty-five have bachelors' degrees or higher, and the drop-out rate is almost 12 percent for those who start high school. In contrast, Los Alamos has the highest number of Ph.D.s per capita of any city in the world and the best-funded school system in the state: almost 90 percent who graduate from high school there go on to a four-year college; the dropout rate in Los Alamos is well under 1 percent. . . . The per capita income in Rio Arriba . . . is just a little over $16,000 annually; in Los Alamos, the average salary of someone working at the Lab is over $86,000. Rio Arriba has an unemployment level of almost 26 percent, while Los Alamos has an unemployment rate of 2 percent. . . ."
This has created the dysfunctional relationship that Paula references, a relationship that has negatively impacted so much of life in northern New Mexico, including socioeconomics (class, race, and gender), health, and environment. It is clearly a colonialist relationship, particularly with regard to race. Kosek cites Frantz Fanon, noted psychiatrist and Algerian social commentator: " . . . for Fanon racism endowed colonialism with cohesion, attributing poverty and lack of education to a natural state rather than to injustice, thus enabling the colonialist to espouse Western ideas of civilization and democracy while violently exploiting native workers. For Fanon, colonialism was inseparable from production and internalization of racial inferiority, which were justified and reproduced by dehumanizing economic conditions that served as a pretext for continued exploitation."
Kosek then goes on to use the bizarre phenomenon of the cattle mutilations that have occurred throughout northern New Mexico to explore how LANL, as part of the nuclear-industrial complex, has "transformed the ways in which people understand nature and how that in turn has made its way into debates about the nature of forests, subjects, and community in northern New Mexico." Citing colleague Joe Masco, Kosek terms the mutilations "mutant ecologies, . . . in which the nuclear-industrial complex produces not only new, but mutated forms of nature." In a section titled "Biopolitical Bodies" Kosek traces the history of Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) experiments on human subjects. Fearing "a cancer epidemic among its high-level physicists at Los Alamos, the [AEC] experimented on unsuspecting individuals, injecting them with doses of plutonium to investigate its effects on their bodies." Not surprisingly, many norteños agree with Paula when she speculates that LANL may be responsible for the cattle mutilations: "Los Alamos is always testing animals. They have been doing it for a long time. As a matter of fact, not only animals but people-who knows what goes on in the top secret areas? What we do know is that they have been doing tests on people and animals since the bomb."
"Like mutilated cows, irradiated wood has changed the meaning of the forest." With this statement Kosek segues to the way norteños view the impacts of LANL's pollution of the forests. He again quotes Salomon Martinez: "The forest is our territory; they have the hill, but the woods are ours. They know about the atom, but we know the forest. You can know everything about the biology of the forest and not know it at all. . . . We already got the Forest Service and the environmentalists telling us what to do with the forest-the last thing we need are weapons scientists."
Unfortunately, after the Cerro Grande fire, the work of the weapons scientists indeed irradiated the norteño woods. Forty-seven thousand acres of forest were burned along with 239 homes. Irradiated ash fell on thousands of acres of northern New Mexico, layering gardens, fields, and houses with a gray covering of grit. Kosek quotes Max Córdova: " . . . I know I swallowed a lot of smoke from the fire. I ask myself do I feel bad from a cold or from the fire? Should I no longer eat meat from this area because it might be contaminated? How about piñon nuts from the mesa, chiles from Chimayó, the wild turkey [that he shot the day before], the elk from the Baca [near Los Alamos]? Am I going to be sick in the future from the fire?"
Summarizing, Kosek has this to say: " . . . the sticky and barbed, yet crucial, questions regarding race, poverty, and governmentality become inseparable from the sticky and barbed, yet crucial, questions of endangered species, forest health, and piñon mortality." In Understories, he has done a brilliant job of trying to answer these questions, through a "synthesis of theory and passion" (according to author and cultural critic Mike Davis), that helps us understand the "political economy and cultural politics" that have produced the unique social conditions of el norte. It is an eminently readable book that belongs not only in the classroom but on the shelf of every activist who wants to better understand the complexities of social injustice.
Copyright 1996-2006 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.