A community newspaper for the Jicarita watershed, including the
Rio Mora, Rio Santa Barbara, Rio de las Trampas, Rio Pueblo, and Rio Embudo
Puntos de Vista By George Maestas, Santa Barbara Grazing Permittee
Vallecitos Sawmill at Work Photos by Claire Cummings
Picuris Pueblo Nears Completion of San Lorenzo Mission Photos by Kay Matthews
By Mark Schiller
On June 6 members of the Santa Barbara Grazing Association, the Quivira Coalition, the Camino Real Ranger District and the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Coalition held a workshop to discuss how economically viable ranching and ecologically healthy rangeland can coexist. The workshop brought together members of the northern New Mexico ranching community, the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, New Mexico Green Party, BLM, Forest Service, National Parks Conservation Association, Taos Soil and Water, Taos Land Trust, Amigos Bravos, charitable trusts, and other interested individuals in an effort to initiate dialogue, create trust, and establish common goals.
Virgil Trujillo, rangelands manager at Ghost Ranch, and a member of the Quivira Coalition Board of Directors, was the moderator, and gave a brief introductory presentation emphasizing the distinction between small-time family ranching, meant to put food on the table, supplement family income, and maintain traditional ties to the land, and big-time corporate ranching, which exploits both land and people.
Andie Sanchez, President of the Santa Barbara Grazing Association, and George Maestas, a permittee on that allotment, then discussed some of the problems they are facing: loss of rangeland due to forest encroachment; lawsuits, which imperil grazing on public lands; and new regulations being imposed by the Forest Service. (Maestas' presentation is reproduced in our Puntos De Vista column on page 3).
Next up was Palemon Martinez of the Northern New Mexico Stockman's Association. Martinez spoke about the role this group is trying to play in protecting and advancing the rights of stockmen. These include a proposed range management workshop on monitoring, investigating the grazing rights of Spanish and Mexican land grant heirs with regard to the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, working with The Conservation Fund on the Rowe Mesa grassbank, and pursuing the Baca Ranch in the Jemez Valle Grande as another potential grass bank location. He also pointed out that forcing permittees off public lands will break these people's traditional ties to the land and ultimately could result in more development and the destruction of our rural/ agricultural communities. He asked the group, "Would you rather see 50 cows or 50 houses?"
Dr. Craig Allen, an ecologist with the USGS, then gave a comprehensive presentation on the history of fire in the Jemez Mountains and its effect upon the grasslands. By studying the history of fire over hundreds of years and charting landscape changes over the last 55 years, as detected in aerial photographs, Allen has been able to determine that the montane grasslands, which have existed for thousands of years and are the most productive grasslands in the state, have steadily disappeared at the rate of about one per cent a year over the last 50 years. This has been due to the suppression of fire in these areas and the subsequent encroachment of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and aspen. In an article in the May issue of the Quivira Coalition newsletter, he stated,
"Similar tree and shrub invasions are also observed in many other open vegetation types throughout northern New Mexico. Many local forests, woodlands, and grasslands need to be restored to more open conditions to protect ecological values and human communities . . . . [G]enerally examples of ecologically appropriate restoration efforts include: cutting and burning trees out of invaded grasslands and meadows; thinning and prescribed burning on ponderosa pine forests to reduce the density of understory trees; and thinning younger piñon and juniper from thick woodlands . . . ." He goes on to say, " . . . [I]t is possible that the widespread restoration of enhanced grassy vegetation could help resolve persistent range management conflicts on public lands by providing additional grazing capacity on upland settings away from the environmental conflicts associated with grazing in riparian zones."
Bill deBuys of The Conservation Fund then spoke about the grassbank his group is operating on Rowe Mesa near Pecos. The purpose of the grassbank is to provide year-round graze for up to 325 cattle from other national forest allotments which need to be upgraded. Permittees who take advantage of the program can place their cows on the ranch allotment for short or extended periods while they make efforts to upgrade "the capacity and vigor" of their own allotments. In this way permittees do not have to reduce the numbers of their cows and suffer the consequent economic hardships. Several permittees voiced interest in this program and a site visit is being planned.
After lunch workshop participants, led by Camino Real biologist and range manager Ben Kuykendall, headed out to the Borrego area on US Hill where the Forest Service has implemented a thinning and burning project. Kuykendall showed participants how this combination has reduced the forest canopy and accumulated understory, thus stimulating the growth of native grasses and producing larger, healthier trees. This not only benefits grazing permittees but also increases biodiversity and produces cleaner, more abundant water.
As a result of the workshop, organizers are now discussing the possibility of an on-the-ground project to demonstrate the effectiveness of these techniques and the cooperative efforts of ranchers, environmentalists, and public lands managers to, as Bill deBuys says, "work together for the good of the land and the people who depend on it.
The Camino Real Ranger District is proposing a wildfire protection and fuelwood project north of the village of El Valle on FR 207. According to the Forest Service, high density ponderosa, piñon, and juniper on ridges and ravines is causing an unhealthy watershed condition. The plan would include: 1) thinning for community fuelwood (4 to 6 weeks) and safety along FR 207; 2) reduce fuels to protect El Valle from wildfire danger; 3) achieve a stocking of large piñon nut producing trees; 4) correct erosion problems due to lack of ground vegetation by seeding native grasses; and 5) provide latillas and vigas. The project is consistent with the East Entrañas Ecosystem Management Unit of the Collaborative Stewardship Plan developed by local communities and various agencies. If you have any concerns or questions, please contact Carol Holland or Henry Lopez at
P. O. Box 68, Peñasco, NM 87553 or call 587-2255.
Picuris Pueblo Environment Department, in conjunction with the Lannan Foundation, is sponsoring a Native American Permaculture Design Course from July 20 to July 31 at Picuris Pueblo. This 10-day intensive course will focus on land restoration, ecological design, home garden and backyard diversity, global community building, site analysis and landscape language, dry land strategies, seed saving, natural farming, solar energy systems, water harvesting, and water quality. For more information call Picuris Pueblo at 505-587-2519 or Traditional Native American Farmers Association at 505-983-2712.
The New Mexico Environment Department is sponsoring a workshop for watershed groups called the Confluence of Caretakers on July 25 at the Albuquerque Convention Center. The objective is to help organize and strengthen watershed groups, which have formed throughout the state to focus on issues of water quality and quantity; drinking water sources; recreation; the aquatic, riparian or uplands environment; irrigated agriculture or watering cattle; erosion control; flood control; land-use planning; land development and construction. The workshop will run all day and will address the following subjects: 1) history and hydrology of water in New Mexico; 2) practical tips on organizing local watershed groups; 3) watershed planning; 4) acequias; 5) how to work effectively with agencies and regulators; and 6) mediation, when and how. Please call Neal Shaeffer at the NMED for a complete agenda and to register for the workshop, which is free (including lunch): 505-827-5991.
This month La Jicarita expanded its free mailing to the village of Truchas. Soon we hope to also mail to all boxholders in the Dixon/Embudo area. The newspaper recently helped New Mexico win an informal contest in High Country News to determine which western state produces the best newsletters.
By George Maestas, Santa Barbara Grazing Permittee
My name is George Maestas. I am a grazing permittee in the Santa Barbara Allotment of the Carson National Forest. When I was asked to come and speak to this group I was somewhat skeptical about how useful that might be, given the typical antagonistic relationship between ranchers and "environmental" groups. As I've learned more about the Quivira Coalition I've developed a more optimistic but still cautious outlook of the potential to work together. I'll try to explain a bit about why I was skeptical and about why I'm still cautious. I'll also try to focus on some of the issues that I believe are common interests to both our groups and on how we might be able to work together.
As I said, my first reaction to this meeting was skepticism. This is born in the fact that almost weekly we hear about another lawsuit filed by some environmental group to try to eliminate or severely restrict grazing on our public lands. It seems that every week cattle and ranchers are blamed for some new environmental catastrophe. It's gotten to the point that I wouldn't be surprised to hear us blamed for problems with the Japanese economy or failure of the peace process in the Middle East.
That's an exaggeration, of course, but the point is that our general impression is that for many environmental activists the end justifies the means. Their ultimate goal is to eliminate cattle grazing from public lands and the means to achieving that goal is to somehow link every environmental mishap or instance of range degradation to cattle. Some would have us believe that cattle and ranchers are the roots of all evil. In fact, our natural resources are under assault on a number of fronts. Recreational users, development interests, commercial and economic interests and even the activities of environmental activists can all adversely impact our natural resources.
While it is true that cattle grazing undoubtedly affects the environment in a very direct (though not necessarily harmful) way, it is also true that ranchers have a very direct incentive to keep natural forage, and hence the environment in general, as healthy as possible. In the long term, a rancher's livelihood is directly linked to the productive capacity of the land. We have, over the long term, attempted to manage our grazing allotments so as to keep them healthy and productive.
In my case, my grazing permits have been in my family for about 50 years. During that time, my family, my fellow permittees and I have conducted ourselves as stewards of the land. We have always understood that good quality rangeland will result in healthier, heavier stock, which is more profitable. Therefore, we have always promoted the range management practices believed to give the best quality and healthiest range. These management practices have evolved over time with different emphasis at different times, but the focus has always been on improvement.
Many of the range improvement practices which were used in the past are no longer being allowed, often as a result of opposition by environmental activist groups. Logging, firewood gathering and burning, which were traditionally used to improve forage, are now either prohibited outright or extremely limited. In nature, fire is a natural and probably somewhat regular event. However, natural fires are seldom allowed to burn for long; instead, they are almost immediately extinguished. As a result of all these things, the forest continues to get denser and denser and the available grass forage is less and less. Also, grazing has been and continues to be pushed into more and more remote and often less productive areas to accommodate other uses such as recreation. Yet any damage done by some of those other users is still often attributed to cattle grazing.
Seldom does anyone outside of the ranching community even recognize grazing as a legitimate use of public lands. But few have been as vocal as the so-called "environmentalists" have been in trying to force the outright elimination of grazing from public lands. I say so-called environmentalists because in my opinion they are often so intent on eliminating grazing that they have failed to consider the long term, big picture consequences of their "anti-grazing" blinders. In my opinion, the economic viability of our traditional communities is dependent on the continued availability of our forest lands for a variety of uses, including grazing. These traditional communities have helped preserve the environmental health of this area as compared to so many other areas in the country where development, recreation and large-scale economic interests like mineral extraction have laid waste to the environment.
Having explained my skepticism, I am cautiously hopeful that the Quivira Coalition will live up to its billing - a billing that recognizes the value of traditional uses of the land, including grazing, and promotes improved range management practices. I am hopeful that you will, in fact, support our efforts to improve our range conditions. Most of all, however, I am hopeful that you will support grazing as a legitimate, environmentally benign use of public land. A voice of reason from an environmentally sensitive organization such as yours might go a long way toward real cooperation on the important issues of preserving our environment, our resources, and our way of life.
Photos by Claire Cummings
Five employees of La Companía Ocho have been working at this sawmill site near the village of Vallecitos, milling sawtimber and peeling vigas. The timber, so far, is from the Jacques Tank sale. Ike DeVargas, La Companía founding member, hopes that with a $10,000 grant from the Forest Service and the return of a $5,000 performance bond the company will be able to buy a saw sharpener for the Heartwood Saw (pictured at right and below) that has been working overtime.
Meanwhile, La Companía is preparing a work plan required for a funding proposal they will submit to the Northcentral Economic Development District. Several more sales are up and coming, and a skidder is removing trees along the La Manga sale right-of-way. Timber felled last year is decked (in good shape, with little blue stain) within the units already partially cut. The company would also like to purchase a planer and kiln drier to produce construction-grade lumber. The market for the rough-sawn wood they are producing at the site is soft: too many regulations prevent it from being marketed for mainstream construction. They have been selling to a door company in Santa Fe and to various other markets throughout the region. At this point, La Companía has more volume of timber than just about any other logging company in New Mexico.
Photos by Kay Matthews
On June 19 thirty-one volunteer workers were on hand to help apply the first coat of traditional mud plaster on San Lorenzo Mission at Picuris Pueblo. For eight years the pueblo has been working to restore the centuries-old church, and as San Lorenzo Feast Day (August 10) approaches, completion is in sight . On hand for the plastering were youth groups from Peñasco, tribal council members and village elders, under the direction of First Fiscale Clarence Chili (Second Fiscale is Luther Martinez).
The original site of the mission church was across the road from the present location. The church at the present site was completed in 1751. After the building began to deteriorate, the Picuris Pueblo Restoration League was established in the 1980s, with Richard Mermejo as Chair, Gerald Naylor as Vice Chair, Tom Martinez as Secretary, and Carl Tsosie as Builder. During the last three years the church has been functional: the Matachines dance here at Christmas time, mass is celebrated once a month by Father Ortiz, and last year Archbishop Sheehan conducted mass on the feast day. Volunteers are always welcome to help with the restoration work.
A recent mailing on grazing issues from Santa Fe-based Forest Guardians includes the following exclamations: "Private Brand on our Public Lands"; "Rest the West: Public Land Ranchers Out to Pasture"; and "Cattle ranching on the public land is the most sacred form of public welfare in the United States" (quote from Ed Abbey). One might think this was a broadside from a reactionary republican group taking the position that any kind of government funding - to help the economically oppressed or support rural community livelihoods - is deplorable. Everything must pay its way; anything "uneconomically viable" is history.
Not only do groups like Forest Guardians practice exclusionary politics, they continually fail to differentiate between global, corporate interests that are indeed threatening the environment and the small, traditional ranches that do business on public land. Fortunately, those who do make that distinction have recently been successful in establishing dialogue and trust among open-minded environmental groups, government agencies, and most importantly, the people who work the land. With much credit due the Quivira Coalition and The Conservation Fund, these groups have been meeting all over New Mexico to find common ground and work towards the restoration of grazing lands and the viability of ranches. In June these groups met in Peñasco for the first time to discuss the unique cultural and ecological needs of el norte. From all accounts, it was a success: The New Mexican noted that "On both sides lie an abundance of good people - and at sessions like the one in Peñasco, ranchers and environmentalists alike detect a willingness to see at least some of the other person's point of view." And the Albuquerque Journal said, "The public lands ranch industry of Northern New Mexico is a far cry from the rich-'welfare ranchers' derided by some opponents of forest grazing."
It is clear that these environmental groups have a fixed agenda which calls for the prohibition of all commercial timbering and cattle grazing on public lands. To meet these goals they are exploiting the Endangered Species Act by "fishing" around for species that will halt these practices through court orders. This is shortsighted and will not necessarily result in greater biodiversity, as they claim. It is more likely that it will result in the dismantling of the act by conservative politicians as well as further development of agricultural lands abandoned by land-based people. Palemon Martinez's question - "50 cows or 50 houses" - demands an answer.
The New Mexico Land Grant Forum, a non-partisan, statewide organization that has been meeting for several years to address land grant sovereignty, issued a press release on June 15 declaring that it does not support Senator Jeff Bingaman's recently introduced senate land grant bill. The forum urged the Senator to instead support House Bill 2538, introduced to Congress by Representative Bill Redmond last September, which would establish a Presidential Committee to determine the validity of land claims arising out of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. They expressed their appreciation for Bingaman' support but pointed out their concerns:
"Section 3 of the bill creates settlement committees by county. The committee would consist of seven members. One member would be a representative of the Secretary of the Interior, one would be a representative of the Secretary of Agriculture, and another would be a representative of the State Commissioner of Public Lands. The remaining four would be residents of the county in question. All four would be appointed by the county commissioners. One of the four would have to be a Native American and one would have to be a land grant heir who is not Native American.
The land grants were guaranteed property rights by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. A treaty involves the Congress of the United States and the President. It does not involve counties, municipalities, or federal agencies. Committees for every county seems extremely cumbersome and unworkable. Involving this large a number of people would require spreading the money around to many entities. Assigning the first two positions to federal agencies and the third to the State Land Commissioner gives an immediate imbalance to the committees. Agents of the Federal government in many cases were responsible for the loss of the land in the first place. This imbalance is increased even more by having county commissions name the other four members. In many cases county commissioners are beholden to land developers, and there is a fear that their decisions would be against the concerns of the land grants. Also, in some counties, there are no Indian pueblos or tribes. (We feel the input of Native Americans would be valuable but some members feel that the inclusion of this language would cause divisiveness between the two groups.) Another concern is that some of the land grants overlap into two or more counties. Only one member of the committee being a land grant heir is not fair representation. They are the ones who were wronged and should have a strong voice in the process. It is suggested that the bill consist of language setting up one commission with five members, at least two of them land grant heirs.
Ninety days is a reasonable amount of time for the development of guidelines for the submission of land grant claims. The time to file claims in the bill is one year. This needs to be increased to a minimum of three years. One hundred fifty years of claims cannot be researched, documented, and filed in one year.
It should not be the intent of the bill to take any private property without proper compensation. If any private property is found to be part of a land grant and the owner doesn't wish to sell, equal federal land should replace it in the reconstitution of the land grants.
There is concern about the transfer of land to county and other local governments in this bill. The lands belonged to the land grant, not to the counties or municipalities. The purpose of the act should be to set up a commission to deal with land grant lands and the restoration of such lands to the reconstituted land grants.
The bill calls for several settlement packages: restoration of land, reconstitution of a land grant, setting aside federal lands for community use, trust funds for scholarships or home/business loans, and land for commercial use with proceeds to be deposited into trust funds. The New Mexico Land Grant Forum feels the settlement package should only include restoration of land and reconstitution of land grants. Enterprise zones and federal land designation (similar to those in the bill) made to date have not benefitted many people. Special designations of federal land and other use of funds under this act is mixing up apples and oranges (gatos y liebres). The New Mexico Land Grant Forum is not opposed, but it should be included in a separate act.
The bill calls for three years for settlement. Ten years is more realistic.
The bill calls for involvement of UNM, Highland University and the Smithsonian to collaborate on establishing a study center with the archive located at Oñate Center. This is a good point of the bill, but should also include affiliation with National Archives, court and other government agency archives, and international archival records, particularly those in Mexico and Spain. This expansion of HB 2538 may require more money. The New Mexico Land Grant Forum feels that the land grant study center should be housed and administered at the Oñate Center, with New Mexico Highlands acting as a fiscal agent."
The New Mexico Land Grant Forum then urged Senator Bingaman to meet with them as soon as possible to discuss these concerns.
Franklin Industrial Materials has submitted a permit application and closeout plan to the New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division (MMD) seeking approval to mine mica at their US Hill site. They currently operate on approximately 10 acres of private land, and want to expand operations to over 270 acres, including over 100 acres of Forest Service land, which they are also seeking to patent. There are many questions concerning the environmental and social effects this expansion could have on our communities and watershed, including erosion, water quality , traffic, impacts to vegetation and wildlife, impacts to cultural and historic properties, and the company's financial ability and commitment to implement reclamation projects once the mining is completed.
Franklin Industries projects that mining could last 20 years at this site. Additionally, if the land is patented it could subsequently be used for development purposes.
La Jicarita will do a more in-depth assessment of this project in an upcoming issue. Readers who would like to comment on the proposal or would like more information should write Dr. Kathleen Garland, Director, Mining and Minerals Division, Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources, 2040 South Pacheco, Santa Fe, NM 87505. Brian Johnson of MMD is overseeing this project and can be reached at 827-5991.
In addition, Robert Templeton of the Taos/Rio Arriba Mining Reform Alliance (TRAMRA) would like area residents to know that Summo Minerals is continuing to invest money in the proposed Copper Hill mine and that the proposal is by no means dead. Anyone who can spare some time to help work on this issue is urged to contact Templeton at 579-4095.
Copyright 1996-2000 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.