A community newspaper for the Jicarita watershed, including the
Rio Mora, Rio Santa Barbara, Rio de las Trampas, Rio Pueblo, & Rio Embudo
Peñasco Water Rights Fair a Success By Kay Matthews
Land Use Issues in Southeastern Taos County By Mark Schiller
By Kay Matthews
Over a hundred people came to the Peñasco Water Rights Fair on April 27 to listen to the series of water specialists address the issues of water rights, water adjudication, organizing acequia and domestic water associations, and water conservation.
Hilario Romero, a water rights expert from Northern New Mexico Community College set the tone of the afternoon, singing and playing traditional Hispano music with Cipriano Vigil, famed northern New Mexico musician and craftsman. The Peñasco High School Mariachi Band and Stage Band also provided entertainment.
David Benevides, legal counsel with Northern New Mexico Legal Services, explained that many adjudications in New Mexico were begun because the San Juan/ Chama Diversion Project, begun in the 1960s, forced the Office of the State Engineer to try to determine the amount of local waters. While no one is sure when the adjudication process will begin in the Peñasco area, Benevides encouraged people to educate themselves and prepare for that eventuality.
He handed out sample copies of the "Offer of Judgement," the document the Office of the State Engineer sends to parciantes during the water adjudication process. The paper offers a written description of the priority date of the individual's water right, the source of water, the point of diversion, the place of use, the acreage, and the amount of water. Each parciante can accept or reject this offer. Objections can then be resolved through further investigation by the State Engineer or a court hearing. Benevides explained that there is also a hydrological map of the area being adjudicated that parciantes should request from the State Engineer to check for errors in land boundaries. For example, in Taos, the state engineer's map left off a piece of land next to the river that was still under irrigation but was separated from the parciante's main parcel of land by a fence.
While acknowledging that we are currently in a drought year and should be careful to conserve our water, Benevides stressed that we make sure our irrigable land is utilized and irrigated over the next few years as the state engineer begins mapping the area. He also urged everyone to support their neighbor's right to irrigate: "We're all in this together."
Benevides also explained the two ways a parciante can lose his or her water rights, called Forfeiture and Abandonment. Forfeiture is the failure of a parciante to make beneficial use of water for a period of four years. This results in a reversion of water to the public, provided the failure persists for three years after notice and declaration of nonuse by the state engineer. To date, this statute has not resulted in a forfeiture because the state engineer has never sent out any notices and declarations of nonuse. (Before 1965, however, four years of nonuse resulted in forfeiture without any requirement of notice or judicial procedure.) Abandonment is not as easy to define, but is essentially nonuse, or lack of irrigation, on a piece of land for an unreasonable period of time (the period of time of non-use has not been established). Benevides pointed out that abandonment can mean lands that were formerly under irrigation but now have houses or roads or other buildings on them. For further information, Benevides can be reached at 1-800-373-9881.
The next speaker was Carlos Miera, director of development in Taos County. He explained the nature of the county's Regional Water Plan. Under the auspices of the plan, the county is studying water quality in this watershed and trying to determine sources of pollution. They will then start looking at a system of water treatment plants that can be funded with money from the New Mexico Rural Water Association. He also encouraged communities to conserve water, conduct historical research to establish priority dates of water rights, and for domestic and acequia association to determine their water rights.
William Turner, a water rights expert from the University of New Mexico, gave a brief history of the derivation of our water rights law (from the Moors in Spain) and demonstrated his expertise by fielding numerous questions from the public concerning the transfer of water rights and buying of water rights. When asked about protecting rights from being sold out of the community he stated, "I feel that acequias are under attack because the state engineer recognizes the sale of water away from rivers. I personally don't believe water rights should ever be severed from the land." He then offered an example of a community obtaining better control of its water. The town of Estancia formed the Estancia Basin Water Board, the first of its kind, which has been recognized by its county commission as a legal entity to determine where its water will go.
Geoff Bryce of the Taos Valley Acequia Association, a coalition of 63 acequias formed in 1986 to help in the adjudication process of the Taos Valley, spoke on water conservation, or banking. In 1991 the state forfeiture statute was amended to allow parciantes to donate or lease their water rights to an acequia association rather than forfeit them. Because this amendment was broadly written, the TVAA has been designing this conservation program to avoid the necessity of legal transfers of rights. The parciantes can simply declare they want to participate in a banking program, and then sign a contract with the acequia association allowing the association to manage that water for a designated period of time. The TVAA hopes to have a program set up for each of its member acequia associations in two years. The associations need to think about what they will do with the water, such as irrigating a community project or leasing the rights as an economic asset.
Bryce also talked about the work the TVAA has done to try and avoid the conflicts of priority between Taos Pueblo and the Hispanic acequia associations. The TVAA is working to negotiate a settlement with Taos Pueblo that can be presented to the state engineer. He suggested that our community think seriously about forming an association similar to the TVAA to not only handle the legal defense of adjudication, but negotiate with Picuris Pueblo, which, like Taos Pueblo, will also be adjudicated. There is money available through the Acequia and Ditch Fund to underwrite the efforts of an association that represents at least 51% of the area's acequias. If you are interested in helping these efforts, you may contact Ben Gurule at 587-2528 any time after the end of May.
La Jicarita: What does Forest Trust do and where does your funding come from?
Jansens: The mission of the Forest Trust is to protect forests and the integrity of forest ecosystems, and support the livlihoods of forest dependent communities and peoples. We focus on northern New Mexico, but in policy development and networking we cover the entire country. We work on both private and public land issues, focusing on better decision making and communication with the Forest Service. We try to make sure that all the parties impacted by a particular issue are able to get a seat at the table for the discussion of those issues. We focus particularly on loggers and grassroots environmental groups. On the private land side, we do a lot with small land owners here in northern New Mexico, providing conservation easements, for instance, forest management planning, and inventory assistance. We manage a few big land holdings up in Colorado, on the border of northern New Mexico, and in Hawaii. We provide ad hoc forest management services to big land holders throughout the nation if they request us to do so; this is to prove that it is possible to manage large acreage of forest lands in a way that on the one side you can protect it, and the other side make it economically viable.
La Jicarita: Does Forest Trust help underwrite some of the costs of establishing conservation easements?
Jansens: There is no annual fee for establishing an easement, and the one-time fee is put in an endowment for Forest Trust for the long term monitoring and conservation of their easement area. They don't have to put their entire property into the easement, only those areas that they want to include. It depends upon the size of the easement and the affluence of the owner as to what the charges are. This is not my project, but as I understand it the fee is based upon a sliding scale.
Getting back to your original question, I'd like to point out that we do a lot of networking. We think that's it's very important to work on the ground and to provide services to people, but if you cannot back it up with higher level coalition building, and outreach to politicians and public lands agencies, then it's not enough.
Over time, we have received grants to build up all sorts of networks. First we got a grant to build a coalition of grassroots environmental groups throughout the Rocky Mountain region, for which we have published a newsletter for a couple of years and have developed workshops. About five years ago we got a considerable grant from the Ford Foundation to do national networking among what we call forest based rural development practitioners. Out of that grew the National Network of Forest Practitioners, which is basically a network of about 50 to 100 rural development groups that all have the primary focus on forest conservation and economic development for the communities in these forests. We have tried to bring them all together through annual national meetings and through subcommittees which further research and discuss these issues. We then try to bring this information to the attention of the Forest Service, on all different levels, and to Congress.
La Jicarita: What projects are you involved in now?
Jansens: We have five programs: community forestry, which is mostly funded by the Ford Foundation, out of which grew the practitioners' network and the policy work. Then we have the national forest program, which focuses on decision making, grassroots activist support, and education. This program is primarily funded by the Pugh Charitable Trust and the Hewlitt Foundation. Then we have a forest stewardship program, which is a hundred per cent customer based. Our income there is fee for service. Next we have the land trust program, which we talked about before. The fifth program is the progressive foresters initiative, largely funded by private grants from the Mariah Fund. We are also funded by many smaller regional foundations and community grants.
La Jicarita: What does the community forestry program do?
Jansens: With this program Forest Trust tries to intervene and participate in the marketplace to stimulate other businesses and create our own businesses. The first business we created was a wood products brokerage, which is now in existence for its sixth year, and has thus far brokered $600,000 worth of wood products. We work with half a dozen loggers each year, for whom we set up links between the builders and contractors in the Santa Fe area or wherever we get a client. The second program is our landscaping business, which initially was a training project, year round, to give young people from the Mora area the opportunity to acquire some of the skills they formerly would have learned from their grandparents. We try to help them obtain that knowledge by employing local people to teach them these skills. Since 1990, we've also had a professional crew who helps train and provides on-the-job opportunities for students who want to pursue this kind of work. We've worked on the Atalaya Trail near Santa Fe, and trails in the Santa Fe and Carson national forests including the Winsor Trail and Agua Piedra Trail. This crew is currently working primarily on private lands that Forest Trust manages under our conservation easement program.
The women involved in this training program asked us to work with them to provide training for jobs that would allow them to work closer to home. We started a nursery and plant production program because a previous government funded project in the Mora area had provided greenhouse additions to people's houses, so the infrastructure was already there. After much trial and error, we found that the best way to help manage this program was to concentrate on individual women and families, and we therefore created a plant products brokerage in the fall of last year to sell drought tolerant plants for landscaping markets in Albuquerque and Santa Fe and forestry plants for state and national forests.
La Jicarita: Is there a reason why so many of these programs are focused on Mora?
Jansens: Yes, the reason is that Henry Carey, the director of Forest Trust, did his master's degree research in the Mora area and was familiar with the problems and resources in the area. But actually, in the last three or four years, for very practical reasons, we've gotten more in touch with other people throughout northern New Mexico, so for instance, a lot of our producers for the wood products brokerage are concentrated around Taos. That brings our attention to the other issues in these communities. And the same now for the plant products brokerage&emdash;most of the people involved with that are in the Taos area.
La Jicarita: Would you tell us about the summer youth training program that you sponsor?
Jansens: After sponsoring youth programs in the 1980s, our funding dried up, but last year I was able to find a new source of funding, the New Mexico Youth Conservation Corps. This program offers training to youths between the ages of 15 and 25 in New Mexico. They can do all sorts of construction, rehabilitation, and restoration on public lands. So we are offering nine positions this year, eight crew members and one crew leader. We hope that within a few years we can have at least two nine-member crews. The crews get one week of training in Mora on several issues like team work, safety on the job, forest and environmental ethics, forest conservation techniques. Gradually we work into how you build a trail, how to mend a fence, how do you conserve a watershed. Then we partner with a vocational institute to give them career counseling, continuing education units, or non-academic credits that will help them on their resumes. We also help them to look beyond the region, and if they're interested in forestry school opportunities we can provide that information. We have lined up three weeks of work, starting in Santa Fe, with restoring some trails, and maybe working on the restoration of the Santa Fe River. We've also lined up work in the Policarpia watershed, just beyond Holman Hill where they will do watershed restoration and trail maintenance. They get a well rounded education in practical and theoretical forest management techniques. Team work issues are crucial.
La Jicarita: Do you have anything you want to say about the restrictions imposed in the Santa Fe and Carson forests because of the Mexico spotted owl injunction?
Jansens: I think we have to be very careful about what we say about this, but we can say we regret that the injunction took place as it took place. We support most of the objectives of the environmental groups, and we also think that the Forest Service has not done its homework. However, a blanket ruling like this prevents local businesses from being heard, and the fact that there was no support system in place is a policy that we do not support. If governmental decisions are made which damage the local business sector, then you should have mechanisms for decision making and business support in place.
La Jicarita: Given the present climate, do you think that small, local loggers can be viable without the presence of Duke City Lumber?
Jansens: I hear from some loggers that they are concerned with the possibility of Duke City leaving because they do business with them. They also see that there is a need to get some timber out of New Mexico. But they also see that the size of Duke City, and the way the Forest Service responds to Duke City, provides indirect competition with a lot of local operators. It's not that Duke City bids against a mom and pop operation from Española, but the the Forest Service is more or less happy with the presence of Duke City because they want to move a lot of timber, for silvicultural reasons and fire suppression or whatever, and it's a cheap way for the Forest Service to move millions of board feet. I personally think there needs to be more emphasis, in both the Santa Fe and Carson forests, to provide smaller sales so that local communities and businesses get more of the share of timber. That is what my job with Forest Trust is all about.
Editor's note: For further information, Forest Trust can be reached at P. O. Box 519, Santa Fe, NM 87504, 505-983-8992
La Jicarita will publish a combined issue for the months of June and July so that its staff can attend to family business. Look for that issue the second week of July.
There are several work days planned this summer to eradicate the tamarisk along the Rio Grande at Orvilla Verde Recreation area (near Pilar). Under the direction of the Taos BLM office, volunteers will be cutting off shoots of already downed trees. Workers need to bring gloves and lunch; the BLM will provide tools, and local restaurants will serve complimentary deserts. Workdays are Saturday, June 22; Saturday, July 27; and Sat-urday, August 24. Meet at the Orvilla Verde Recreation area at 9 a. m. (1.5 miles from Pilar on NM 570).
By Mark Schiller
Emotions ran high at the April 23 Peñasco Area Communities Association (PACA) meeting. The meeting was called to discuss an April 15th memorandum from Taos County Planners proposing new regulations for lot splits and family transfer lot splits. Lloyd Bolander, president of PACA, read the memorandum, and then Gabriel Romero, the county commissioner who represents the Peñasco area, solicited the comments of Peñasco area residents regarding the proposal.
Almost everyone who spoke objected to the proposed provisions of the family transfer ordinance. First and foremost, people objected to the county interfering in the way families have traditionally divided their land. Many people were outraged that the county was trying to impose county-wide regulations when the expressed purpose of forming the neighborhood associations was for each association to develop regulatory ordinances of its own based on traditional uses and values. Residents also objected to a provision which requiredthat the exterior boundaries of the family lots be surveyed and recorded with the county. They pointed out that surveying is a very expensive process which many local people cannot afford.
People were opposed to the provision which would restrict family members who used the family lot split from subsequently selling, leasing, or transferring title ofthe land to non-family members for five years. Several speakers pointed out that emergencies could occur during that five-year period that could necessitate the sale, lease, or transfer of these lands.
La Jicarita subsequently spoke with Dave DiCicco, of the Taos County Planning Office, and he told us that the county has now withdrawn the proposal. He explained that the proposal was written only as a temporary mea-sure until state-wide subdivision regulations could be implemented. Taos County planners had thought that state regulations would not be put into effect until July of 1997, and their proposal was intended only as an interim measure to protect county residents until those regulations went into effect. State lawmakers have now cleared the way for those regulations to be implemented later this year. County planners said their office will abide by those regulations which exempt family transfers from subdivision regulations.
The concept of commons lands has a history that dates back hundreds of years in Europe and Asia. The commons are the wild or semi-wild areas immediately surrounding the private residences and cultivated fields of rural agricultural communities. They are called commons because the land is commonly used and managed by all members of the community for resources such as firewood, vigas, stone, clay, herbs, and grazing. These areas are essential to the self-sufficiency and sustainability of these communities. They are also, as many environmentalists have pointed out, necessary for the health of the wilderness, because they add openings necessary for wildlife and balanced ecosystems.
The Hispanic and Native American land grants of northern New Mexico also included commons areas, but the vast majority of these lands have been stolen or otherwise appropriated by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Park Service. La Jicarita feels that the misappropriation of these lands is at the heart of many of the public lands use controversies now raging throughout northern New Mexico. Our rural, agricultural communities must have access to these resources in order to remain economically and culturally sustainable. As Malcolm Ebright argues in his history of New Mexico land grants, Land Grants and Lawsuits in Northern New Mexico, " . . . if the land grants once owned these lands, it follows that the villagers within these grants should, at a base minimum, be the major beneficiaries of current resource management." So the question is, how do we go about regaining access to these resources and how do we then manage them so they are sustainable?
This is not a new issue in New Mexico. The land rights movement of the late 1960s and 70s, led by Reyes Lopez Tijerina, addressed this problem, and other Hispanic and Native American leaders have been trying to regain ownership of their grant lands for decades. Earlier this year, a coalition of groups and individuals met at the Oñate Center in Alcalde to discuss, among other things, what they could do to regain ownership of their grant lands under the terms outlined in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Taos Pueblo, after a lengthy battle, successfully regained ownership of Blue Lake in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and Taos and Sandia pueblos are currently pursuing other land claims through Congress and federal agencies.
Aside from regaining ownership of the grants through the courts or negotiations with federal and state agencies, there is another strategy which has recently had some success in California and Oregon. This strategy is "comanagement," and calls for the agencies which manage these lands to enter into binding agreements with the members of the affected communities to manage these lands jointly, with the expressed purpose of benefitting both the local communities and the ecosystems. One group in Oregon, the Rogue Institute, is also initiating a program to train members of the local community in eco-management and writing skills so that they can contract with the pertinent agencies to write environmental assessments for comanaged lands, and then implement management plans themselves.
Regardless of how we regain access to these resources, it is essential that we educate ourselves about the best methods for keeping these resources sustainable. The future of our villages and cultural heritage depends upon our being receptive to new, ecologically based management strategies which take the health of the entire forest into consideration.
The environmental history of our country, Europe, and Asia, proves that the best stewards of the land have always been the people who know it intimately and are dependent upon its resources. The federal and state agencies which administer these lands must acknowledge this, as must the environmental community which has recently come in conflict with our local communities over sanctions imposed to protect the spotted owl. If these agencies, groups, and individuals are truly interested in protecting the health of our forests, they must begin working to protect our traditional villages as well.
What's Happening in the Rest of New Mexico: Duke City's Vallecitos Lumber Mill Transferred to La Herencia
In the April issue of La Jicarita we reported that Duke City Lumber had recently transferred ownership of the Vallecitos lumber mill to La Herencia del Norteños Unidos, a non-profit coalition based in Rio Arriba County. Once all the paper work has been completed, La Herencia will decide who will actually operate the mill. La Jicarita also reported that one of the members of the La Herencia coalition, Antonio DeVargas of La Compania Ocho, was unhappy that the mill was not transferred to the Vallacitos Association, an organization that he feels better represents the Vallecitos Sustained Yield Unit that by law provides timber for the mill. He also pointed out that because of La Compania's recent settlement with the Forest Service, guaranteeing La Compania 75% and 80% of the next two timber sales in the Unit, his company is the only one that can provide the mill with that timber.
La Jicarita subsequently spoke with Levi Sanchez, President of La Herencia, for his response. Sanchez pointed out that La Herencia was contacted by Congressman Richardson's office about the proposed transfer because that office had identified his group as a broad-based coalition that Duke City thought would be appropriate (Harold Sluga, the manager of the Española lumber mill, which Duke City also owns, is a member of La Herencia). Sanchez said that La Herencia is a non-profit group interested in getting local people back to work, including members of La Compania. It is not the intent of La Herencia to lease the mill at "fair market value," as DeVargas alleged. In fact, La Herencia has contacted the Duke City lawyers about the feasibility of donating the mill directly to the community groups, such as Las Comunidades or La Compania, who could begin operation immediately, or whenever the timber becomes available: "We want to see the mill go to whoever best represents the community and can involve as many residents of the Vallecitos area as possible," Sanchez said. La Herencia has requested start-up money for the mill from Congressman Richardson; at least $100,000 is needed.
La Jicarita also spoke with Floyd Valdez of Las Comunidades, a recently organized association that has expressed interest in operating the mill. According to Valdez, his organization is ready and capable of operating the mill, and has also approached Senator Domenici's office about acquiring start-up funds to get the mill going. Las Comunidades has circulated a petition among the communities in the Vallecitos Unit, soliciting support, and according to Valdez, better represents those communities than the Vallecitos Association and La Compania. As for the availability of timber if Las Comunidades does indeed acquire the mill, Valdez stated that his organization plans to challenge the Forest Service settlement that guarantees La Compania 75% of the La Manga timber sale. Valdez anticipates that because the current La Manga lawsuit, filed by environmentalists against the Forest Service, will effectively tie up the sale for some time to come, Las Comunidades will, in the meantime, be able to acquire the timber necessary to effectively operate the mill by processing timber off of private lands.
As of May 8, the Taos County Commission has prohibited all open fires in the county. This includes campfires, trash burning, barbecues (including gas grills), and field burning. The ban also applies to fireplaces. On the previous day, Governor Gary Johnson issued statewide Level 2 restrictions which make it illegal to burn on public or private lands.
Carson National Forest has also restricted fires in the national forest. No fires of any kind are permitted on forest lands, with the exception of gas stoves in improved campgrounds where a host is present. To find out which campgrounds currently have hosts present, you can call the district office where the campground is located (the Camino Real District Office phone number is 587-2255). Smoking is allowed only in a vehicle or inside a building. Chainsaws are prohibited anywhere on the forest. These restrictions also apply to backcounty wilderness areas.
These restrictions remain in effect until further notice. The forest may also enact area closures, as it did during the Hondo Fire, to protect areas of high recreational use or areas that are particularly hazardous because of fire potential.
Copyright 1996-2001 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.