A community newspaper for the Jicarita watershed, including the
Rio Mora, Rio Santa Barbara, Rio de las Trampas, Rio Pueblo, & Rio Embudo
Puntos de Vista By Gary Vigil, President, Pilar Action Community
Ranchers and Environmentalists Work Together By Kay Matthews
Los Siete Hosts Hammer Award Presentations By Mark Schiller
By Kay Matthews
Robert Templeton, the first speaker at the BLM Rio Grande Corridor Plan hearing, set the emotional tone for the rest of the meeting: "We have something extraordinary in northern New Mexico: Here in the midst of a highly technological world is, to a great extent, an indigenous culture. I was shocked to read the plan and find nothing of that in there . . . The plan doesn't even begin to explain the relationship of people to the water."
The majority of the speakers who followed Templeton, community members from the Dixon-Embudo-Pilar area, expressed their dissatisfaction and anger at both the BLM, author of this draft plan that will determine management policy on the Rio Grande corridor from southern Colorado to Velarde, and rafting companies operating on the river. Estevan Arellano, a resident of Embudo and Director of the Oñate Center, stated that as a land grant heir whose family had settled this valley in 1725 he wanted to see tourism&emdash;which benefits a few people at the expense of the indigenous population&emdash; "scaled down." While several other speakers endorsed Alternative B, what BLM calls the biodiversity alternative (as opposed to D, the BLM preferred alternative), Arellano also expressed his reservations about this alternative, which he felt might further restrict the people's use of river resources.
What quickly became apparent, beyond the emotional response that the communities are being overrun by rafters, was that people generally felt the BLM had failed to substantiate its plan with scientific data, cultural studies, or an analysis of cumulative impacts. Karen Cohen of Dixon pointed out that every environment has a carrying capacity, and she did not see any evidence that the BLM had determined either a human or biological carrying capacity of the river corridor upon which to base its figures. Benjamin Rogers, a Rinconada resident, concurred with Cohen that the plan fails to address biological concerns: minimum stream flows and wetlands conservation are issues about which the BLM should be consulting with other agencies. He also raised the issue of grazing, which several other people spoke to as well: The BLM must be more responsible in fencing its grazing allotments and methods it uses&emdash;pesticides and herbicides&emdash;to increase rangeland.
Brian Shields of Amigos Bravos, a Taos-based river advocacy group, stated that the the BLM plan does not include a comprehensive cultural impacts study, required by the National Historic Preservation Act, upon the "living" culture of the Rio Grande communities. He also cited lack of study on minimum stream flows and a lack of provision for water quality monitoring.
Joe Quintana, owner of the rafting company Native Sons Adventures, also accused the BLM of failing to back up its plan with hard data with regard to both a river carrying capacity and an accurate picture of historical rafting use. Quintana, who is a native of the Taos area, went on the offensive at the meeting by telling community members that they were being "greedy" and that while rafting companies rarely reach capacity limits they "are not going to go away." Quintana, speaking in Spanish, pointed out that he, too, had ties to the land that go back centuries, but felt that as a rafter he was being unfairly blamed for everything that is happening in northern New Mexico as a result of growing tourism. He especially resented being accused of trashing the environment, claiming that rafters are responsible for a very small percentage of the "pampers and garbage" found along the river. He did say there was room for compromise, and that everyone had to work together to find some middle ground.
La Jicarita spoke with Quintana after the meeting to follow up on his call for compromise. Quintana, who currently sits on a state BLM advisory commission, said that the corridor plan consensus group wasn't effective because of members' inherent distrust of the BLM and the fact that everyone got stuck on yearly or seasonal "limit caps" on the river, which he sees as meaningless. As a member of the Taos Outdoor Recreation Association he is preparing to submit a daily limit management plan to the BLM, which would set number limits on high use days and hopefully alleviate the cumulative impacts these high-use days create. He also said that because of the BLM' s inability to to both monitor and enforce river use and restrictions, "the rafting community is going to have to buy into self policing to reduce overcrowding on one particular day."
Several other people at the meeting also proposed compromise solutions. Even one of the more vociferous speakers, who called the plan&emdash;or the BLM, it was unclear which&emdash;"ridiculous, stupid, asinine", suggested that perhaps the BLM could set aside certain days for rafters and certain days for activities like fishing and swimming. Another suggested that El Bosque section of the river be closed to commercial rafters except on holidays, which drew big laughs from the audience. Kay Weiner, a member of the BLM consensus group, pointed out that the group had all agreed upon a Wednesday river closure to boaters, but that the BLM failed to include this in the plan. She also said that she felt community groups had made a good faith effort at compromise by agreeing to the Alternative B cap on commerical boating use in El Bosque, which at 1,500 is half that of the proposed cap in Alternative D.
But for some, there is too much anger to talk of compromise. Eremita Campos, an organic farmer who lives with four generations of family alongside the Rio Grande, shook with emotion when she spoke of the rafters and how they disrupted her life. Then she looked directly at the BLM officials sitting at the table and said, "I hope this is the last time I have to get up here and fight you about this . . . . I don't want my daughter and my grandson to be fighting you when I leave this world." One of her neighbors, Lou Malchie, who once advocated a reasonable increase of boaters on the river, declared that he had changed his mind and communities must "fight them tooth and nail."
The BLM is accepting written comment on the plan until October 20. Their address is: BLM Taos Resource Area, 226 Cruz Alta Road, Taos, NM, 87571.
By Gary Vigil, President, Pilar Action Community
My name is Ernest Gary Vigil and I live in Pilar, New Mexico. The community of Pilar is located on the Rio Grande, at the Intersection of State Highway 68 and County Road 570. We are a small community of about 100 people. Most people don't even know that we are a community, and if you blink as you pass you would probably not realize that you had passed Pilar.
Two and a half years ago I had the opportunity to make my home in Pilar on a piece of property that once belonged to my grandfather. I was excited about being able to live along the river in this sleepy, quiet little town. But I was to have a rude awakening. In a community that isn't normally recognized as a community and doesn't show up on most maps, we are under siege by a number of entities.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has introduced it's Rio Grande Corridor Plan with all the effects it will have on the area. This federal bureaucratic agency is known as the steward of public lands and is responsible for land which was once a land grant. The agency has affected this little community in a number of ways, the first being the canyon above the community where the people of Pilar once grazed their cattle and collected their firewood. When the government appropriated these former land grant common lands, the BLM not only withdrew them from grazing and firewood gathering but now acutally tries to charge community members for recreational uses such as hiking and fishing. Now our sleepy town is being inundated by commercial and private rafting, camping, fishing, picnicking and sight-seeing traffic. In 1995 rafters alone brought 50,000 plus or minus people through our community, not counting the other activities mentioned. In the Corridor Plan the BLM wants to increase rafting, campsites, and open new trails for hiking and off-road vehicles.
The BLM's Rio Grande Gorge Visitors Center has been open for almost two years. When that facility was first proposed, the plan included the updating of the intersection with acell, decell [acceleration and deceleration], and turning lanes. The center is open and being used, yet the intersections stays the same. The road through the community has become a mini-highway with no control of traffic volume or speed and lack of maintenance. The BLM proposed increase in use is only going to strain an already over-used roadway. How many more vehicles and people can BLM try to squeeze in and through our little community?
Another issue that the BLM has put before Pilar and it's neighboring communities is the possibility of an open pit copper mine. The proposed mine by Summo Mining Company, which has transferred the mine rights to Lisbon Valley Mining Company, is an open pit and heap leach mine. For this process large amounts of waterwill be needed in an already overtaxed area. Also, there is a strong possibility that the mine will pollute the water table, streams and rivers. These areas have been agricultural for hundreds of years, and to think of taking the limited water supply from these communities is not an option. This does not include the issues of pollution from dust, light, noise and traffic.
In addition, the BLM has proposed selling four or five acres of land that were formerly a landfill site to the County of Taos at $10.00 an acre, as a dump site. The site is located about one mile above the 68 and 570 intersection. The county had proposed that a waste transfer station be located at this site with huge rollaway dumpsters, as well as a white metal recycling center. This would be done without a proper environmental impact or water impact study. The entrance to the site would impact traffic on State Highway 68: again, no accell or decell or turn lanes, but more traffic.
The BLM has also proposed increasing the number of commercial rafters in the area by more than 20%. This number doesn't even include the private rafters and kyakers. The resulting increase in traffic is unacceptable to the community.
County Road 270 used to be an accessible route to Taos from Pilar, but due to a landslide that road was closed. This has created another traffic impact for Pilar. People from Carson, who traveled to Taos on that road, now have to go through Pilar. Rafters from Taos, who used to launch at the Taos junction bridge, have to come through Pilar. The only people who benefit from this road closure are the people who live near the golf course, which is now a gated community. This has increased the value of property for those chosen few who can afford to live there.
In conclusion, the sleepy town of Pilar and the surrounding communities are fighting for their sanity and quality of life. The BLM Rio Grande Corridor Plan is not addressing the needs of the communities. The plan has created a method for government agencies to take control of our land and communities for the exploitation of our natural resources and the prostitution of the peaceful way of life of our northern New Mexico communities.
We as residents of this area must stand up for our rights, the lands of our forefathers and the future of our children. We must become knowledgeable of the issues, active in the problem solving, and volunteer our time to help keep what our forefathers gave to our generation so that we may pass on a pristine and healthy environment
to our children and grandchildren. We must be willing to go to the polls and vote for people who share our concerns. If we are not willing to do these things, then be ready to give up your community and your way of life.
The Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission has announced that two reports important to water users throughout the Rio Grande basin will be released in October. First is the final edition of the Management Study of the Upper Rio Grande Basin. The draft version of this report was reviewed in the April La Jicarita and was widely criticized for using economics as the major criteria in evaluating water use while ignoring its cultural, historical, and spiritual values. The second is the draft report of the Commission itself, which has been mandated to review federal policy concerning water use throughout a 19 western-state area. Anyone not already on the mailing list can receive these reports by writing: Western Water Policy Office, Attention D&emdash;5001, P. O. Box 25007, Denver, Colorado, 80225. La Jicarita will review both of these documents in upcoming issues.
The Taos/Rio Arriba Mining Reform Alliance (TRAMRA) will hold regular meetings on the third Monday of each month at 6:30 p. m. Please call Robert Templeton at 579-4095 for meeting locations.
By Kay Matthews
Ranchers and environmentalists are initiating projects that will work to restore degraded rangelands without forcing ranchers to remove their cattle from public lands.
The Quivera Coalition, founded by environmentalists Courtney White and Barbara Johnson, and rancher Jim Winder, released its first newsletter in June of 1997, which states the purpose of the coalition: "To teach ranchers, environmentalists, public land managers, and other members of the public that ecologically healthy rangeland and economically robust ranches can be compatible. Our mission is to define the core issues of the grazing conflict and to articulate a new position based on common interests and common sense. We call this new position the New Ranch."
On September 6 the Coalition sponsored a tour of Jim Winder's Double Lightening Ranch, which is a model for this "New Ranch" concept. A group of about fifty people, including ranchers, environmentalists, and State Representative McSherry, showed up at the ranch located in southern New Mexico between Hatch and Deming near Nutt. Winder discussed the sustainable ranching techniques he employs, such as keeping cattle herds moving, keeping them away from creeks, dodging the springtime growing season, and resting the lands. Kris Havstad, of the Jornada Experimental Range Department at New Mexico State University, gave a talk on grazing as a natural process, be it wild animals, which have been here for thousands of years, or cattle, which have been grazing New Mexico lands for hundreds of years. The highlight of the tour was Macho Creek, which Winder has completely restored from a dry arroyo to a healthy riparian zone with year-round running water, thick vegetation of willows and grasses, and diverse wildlife. He accomplished this primarily by keeping his cattle out of the creek area during spring growth. According to Winder, there is now 10 times more forage along the creek, and he is able to successfully graze his cattle there during the dormant season.
Everyone&emdash;environmentalists, ranchers, and public land managers&emdash;agree that because of overgrazing and poor management practices there are degraded public and private lands and threats of extinction to riparian species. Cattle came to the west with Oñate in the 1500s and became part of the Ibero-American ranching tradition. During the latter part of the 1800s, however, cattle herds grew enormously in both New Mexico (from 41,000 to one million) and other states. Overgrazing on the semi-arid grasslands of central and southern New Mexico resulted in loss of topsoil and elimination of perennial grasses. Here in northern New Mexico, the change from the more sustainable sheep and goat ranching to cash-based cattle ranching, along with years of fire suppression, resulted in the degradation of riparian areas where the cattle congregated. While a huge effort by government agencies in the early 1900s sought to control erosion on rangelands, many riparian areas in the mountains of northern New Mexico continued to deteriorate even as local ranchers reduced their allotments.
The Quivera Coalition's goal is to continue these restoration efforts, of both southern and northern New Mexico rangelands, by working with local people who "have deep ties to the land, both historically and emotionally. We should learn to respect those ties and learn to think anthropologically; ranching, after all is a distinct culture. How can environmentalists fight for the rights of indigenous cultures around the world and then turn a blind eye to rural cultures in our own backyard?" (Quote from the Quivera Coalition newsletter.)
So far, the response has been mostly positive. Good press coverage has resulted in many individuals contacting the Coalition to find out more about what it does. The Coalition is currently sponsoring a range project on state land near Winder's ranch to test management and land restoration practices. They also plan to sponsor work sessions around the state with ranchers, environmentalists, and government agencies to learn more about local needs and solutions. La Jicarita met with Johnson and White to discuss setting up a session in the Peñasco area, perhaps in the spring of 1998: They are especially interested in establishing a cooperative effort in northern New Mexico to discuss what kinds of management are applicable to forest public lands. For further information contact Courtney White at 982-5502.
The Conservation Fund recently closed the deal on the purchase of a ranch with a 36,000-acre grazing allotment on Rowe Mesa. The Fund, a non-profit group headquartered in Virginia, works to promote sustainable economic development as well as land protection, and is represented in New Mexico by Bill deBuys, well-known author and northern New Mexico resident. The Fund intends to make the allotment available for use as a grass bank for northern New Mexico permittees who will be able to put their cattle there while they rest and improve their allotments The Fund will work with the Forest Service and the Northern New Mexico Stockman's Association to identify permittees interested in utilizing the grass bank.
According to a briefing paper released by the Fund, it chose to purchase the ranching operation with the Valle Grande Allotment because it is one of the few northern New Mexico allotments that had only one permittee. The condition of the allotment is excellent and will provide large grasslands and abundant, well-distributed water. It is also large enough to accommodate several bank arrangements at one time; these arrangement will last anywhere from three months to three years, "tailored to the needs of the individual permittee or group of permittees participating and to the needs of the 'home' allotment that is to be improved."
An example of the why a permittee might choose to participate in the grass bank is given in the brief. Say that the grass on a permittee's allotment is declining because of tree or shrub invasion. By putting cows on the grass bank for a couple of years the permittee's home allotment will grow thick enough with forage to support a prescribed burn. The burn will both stop the invasion of trees and regenerate the growth of grass. The home allotment can then sustainably support the permittee's cattle.
According to the Fund, the Forest Service has agreed to make the grass bank a priority, providing range funds and funds for home allotment improvements such as thinning, prescribed fire, selected road closure or rehabilitation, wildlife, and watershed restoration. New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service has agreed to assist with the evaluation of the project by using scientific monitoring techniques. The bank is also getting support from members of the Northern New Mexico Stockman's Association. Francisco Vigil, president of the Association, stated that "It could be a big help to some of the permittees on the Santa Fe and Carson National Forests." Palemon Martinez, Secretary Treasurer, also supports the project. Discussions are in progress between the Fund and the Association to develop a joint Memorandum of Understanding to help govern operation of the grass bank.
The Conservation Fund intends to operate the Grass Bank for a minimum of four years; when the Fund elects to sell the ranch and allotment, a binding "right of refusal" will require that it be sold to either a rancher-organized entity designed to continue operation of the grass bank or Santa Fe National Forest community-based ranching interests. This, along with a specification that if the allotment is not stocked for a period of three years the permit will be terminated, will prevent the allotment from being taken out of livestock production.
In several newspaper articles, David Sanchez, of La Herencia de Norteños Unidos, has been unsupportive of the grass bank idea, stating that taking cattle off the Valle Grande allotment would harm the economy of San Miguel County. According to the Conservation Fund brief, the amount of money generated by the Valle Grade allotment, stocked with 400 head of cattle represents 6 one-hundreths of one percent of the San Miguel County budget. Sanchez is also on record as stating that any attempts to remove cattle from any northern New Mexico's Hispano allotments may result in violence.
According to Ike DeVargas, Rio Arriba County employee and longtime norteño activist, Sanchez, a rancher from Hernandez, represents the hard-core element of the ranching community with ties to the old Emilio Naranjo political machine. "I understand why Sanchez is taking a hard line&emdash;because of the recent lawsuit by the environmental groups&emdash;but it's basically a knee-jerk reaction. We need to look at allotments individually and make on-the-ground decisions. But we also need to look at all the factors that may contributing to a decline in the species that the environmentalists are concerned about, because it's not just cows next to creeks."
La Jicarita spoke with Levi Sanchez, president of La Herencia, to ask if his organization had an official opinion of the grass bank proposal. While he had heard of the proposal he had yet to see the briefing paper and said that once he was more informed of the project he would officially present it to the La Herencia membership. He did say, however, that he supported the concept of a grass bank, especially to alleviate conditions in drought years. He also agreed with DeVargas that many ranchers and farmers, because of Forest Guardians' grazing lawsuit, are leery of any proposal that would take cattle off northern New Mexico allotments. They worry that environmentalists would then work to keep them off, because "everything they've done has been hurting stockmen."
By Mark Schiller
On August 16 about 150 people gathered at Los Siete in Truchas to celebrate the presentation of Vice President Al Gore's Hammer Awards. These awards are given to people " . . . who have participated in a team effort that has contributed dramatically to improving the way government works. It recognizes special achievements in reinventing government, improving services, cutting red tape, empowering employees, and getting back to basics." About 22 groups, ranging from the Truchas Land Grant to the Sierra Club, grazing permittees to the Taos Birders, and representing hundreds of individuals, were honored for their contributions towards establishing a "Collaborative Stewardship" program which helps manage Forest Service lands on the Camino Real District.
Collaborative Stewardship is a new management strategy (see article in May 1997 La Jicarita) which breaks the Camino Real District into nine ecological management areas and then solicits input from the neighboring communities and other groups and individuals which use these areas. Collaborative Stewardship attempts to break down the old adversarial relationships that have developed between the Forest Service, the communities, environmentalists, and recreationalists, while at the same time promoting the overall health of the forest.
La Jicarita interviewed several Hammer Award recipients to get their views on how they would like to see the program grow. Max Córdova, president of the Truchas Land Grant and one of the initiators of the program, felt that the groups already involved could provide "the nucleus for a good organization. The Carson National Forest needs to capitalize on this momentum," he said, "and formalize these groups into an advisory board. It is essential that people not focus on one issue, such as timber or grazing, but take into account the overall health of the forest and the adjacent communities. The Forest Service is at a crossroads," he continued. "Collaborative Stewardship is a good first step but we must strengthen the program to avoid the kind of crisis situations we've been faced with. The Forest Service needs to take more initiative and be proactive in its management rather than reactive."
George Grossman of the Sierra Club felt that the Collaborative Stewardship program helped establish the fact that we can protect and promote forest ecosystems while at the same time providing resources for the members of forest adjacent communities. "Protection of wilderness, water resources, and riparian areas is part of the heritage and culture of both the Hispanic and Native American peoples. Collaborative Stewardship can allow us to put our adversarial biases aside and work out equitable uses of our forest resources based on enlightened management practices."
Rainbow Seaver of the Taos Birders agreed. "We need to stop demonizing each other," she said, "and develop a new paradigm for working together." She wants to see more coalition building and hopes that the Collaborative Stewardship program and the newly formed Quivera Coalition (see article this issue) can form the ground work for these efforts.
Bill deBuys of The Conservation Fund was specific in his response. He noted how management strategies can be used in conjunction with each other to provide a net result which achieves the goals of many diverse interests. Citing the fuelwood program, he pointed out that it cannot only provide fuelwood for our communities but thin out badly overgrown areas, and when used in conjunction with prescribed fires, can provide larger, healthier trees, more rangeland, healthier watersheds, and fire proofing for adjacent communities.
The Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Coalition is also enthusiastic about this program and hopes to work with the Forest Service in establishing an advisory board which can work within the district and serve as a model for other districts. La Jicarita will continue to monitor this program. For more information readers can contact Crockett Dumas or Ben Kuykendall at the Camino Real District Office, 587-2255.
Copyright 1996-2001 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.