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 Carl Tsosie, Picuris Pueblo Tribal Sheriff
BLM Finally Releases Rio Grande Corridor Plan By Kay Matthews
Sipapu Water Transfer Protest Goes to Hearing By Mark Schiller
On August 1 the Peñasco Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) finished 8 weeks' of work on several forest projects, including fencing, trail reconstruction, and campground work. According to Terry Dilts of the Camino Real recreation staff, the Peñasco crew, comprised of all local area kids, "did an excellent job."
Most of the 8 weeks was spent on the difficult trail reconstruction of La Cueva Canyon Trail #492 near Tres Ritos. The crew reconstructed the trail on the ridge above its previous route alongside the canyon creek; the Forest Service hopes to complete the remaining section of the trail this year and tie it back into La Cueva Lake Trail near the previous junction. The crew also spent several weeks working with an engineering crew in Agua Piedra Campground, where they moved rocks and cleaned up the sites that were being rearranged. Another project entailed reconstructing a mile of fence at Osha Cienga, a grazing allotment, to help protect the riparian area. Dilts also pointed out that above and beyond the on-the-ground-experience the crew gained, the kids were introduced to the functions of the Forest Service and helped establish good community relations.
On Sunday, July 10, Archbishop Michael Sheehan celebrated mass in the newly refurbished church at Picuris Pueblo. July 10 is the Pueblo feast day, commemorating their patron saint, San Lorenzo. In his sermon, Archbishop Sheehan pointed out the may similarities between Christian and traditional Native American beliefs.
The mass was followed by the Pueblo's traditional foot races, mountain sheep dance, and pole climb.
The Picuris Church was the original mission built in our area. Pueblo members have been rebuilding the church for years and recently had a new hardwood floor installed and finished the interior plaster.
The feast of San Lorenzo also included an arts and crafts fair, food booths, and fishing at the tribal pond.
By Carl Tsosie, Picuris Pueblo Tribal Sheriff
My name is Carl A. Tsosie and I am the Tribal Sheriff at Picuris Pueblo and a member of the Tribal Council. I'm writing this article to explain how the Pueblo government works and what we are presently working on in the hope that we can unite with other groups and individuals in the community to better understand each other and address issues which threaten our resources, culture, and traditions.
Our Pueblo government is divided into three councils: the General Council, which meets quarterly and includes all 339 tribal members currently residing on tribal lands; the Tribal Council, which meets almost daily and consists of the governor, lieutenant governor, sheriff, first and second fiscales, and three war chiefs; and the Traditional Council, which includes the five oldest men in the Pueblo whose duty it is to maintain the traditions and ceremonies of our people. All decision making is done by a consensus of these three councils. However, as a federally recognized tribe, we are often at the mercy of the federal government. Many people do not realize that we don't actually own our tribal lands or even our homes. We cannot, for example, use our lands or homes as collateral to receive bank loans or mortgages. The federal government sits as trustees of our lands and all the infrastructure at the Pueblo. Many decisions that affect the Pueblo are made without ever soliciting our input. The federal budget for our entitlements is formulated two years in advance. Each year the federal government basically throws out a bone of money to the 574 federally recognized tribes and lets us fight amongst ourselves over it. We feel that this is both degrading and unfair.
Now, because the government is trying to balance the budget, many of our entitlements, including those for education and medical care, are either being eliminated or severely cut back. That is why we, along with other Native Americans in New Mexico, are so concerned about establishing our own economic and political independence. One of the ways we hope to pursue this is through our new multipurpose facility, the first phase of which was completed this spring. We would like to expand this facility into a holistic health center that would include massage and water therapy and traditional healing practices using herbs and animals. In conjunction with this development, we are looking at expanding our waste treatment facilities with the construction of a wetlands. Wetlands not only provide a low-cost, low-impact means of detoxifying wastewater but also provide habitat for many plants and animals and can be an ideal setting for an outdoor classroom for our school children.
This brings me to an enormous problem which all the communities in our watershed are now facing&emdash;wastewater management. This is particularly important to us at Picuris because of the checkerboard make-up of our reservation. While our Pueblo consists of only 339 Native American people, over 4,000 non-tribal members reside on tribal lands. Through the Pueblo Lands Act of 1839 two-thirds of our land was given over through patents to non-tribal members. It is important that these non-tribal members adhere to federal, state, county, and tribal guidelines with regard to the use of these lands. Over the years very few of our non-tribal residents have obtained permits for their septic tanks and leach fields. As a consequence, many septic tanks and leach fields have been built in the Rio Pueblo alluvium and they are now threatening to pollute our once pristine waters. The Pueblo would like to work with a federation of domestic water associations and acequias to address this problem. By uniting now we can lobby federal, state, and county agencies for funds so that an affordable solution to this problem can be found. Downstream residents in Cañoncito have already been forced to boil their drinking water. We urgently need to address this problem before it gets any worse.
Picuris Pueblo is also taking a leadership role in the battle against Summo Corporation's (now called Lisbon Valley Mining) proposed mine in the Copper Hill area. We oppose mining in this area for environmental, spiritual, and economic reasons. First, we feel the proposed mine threatens water quantity and quality in our watershed, as well as air quality. Second, this area is former tribal property and contains shrines, battle grounds, cemeteries, and traditional gathering areas, all of which are very important to the Pueblo. Third, we feel the economic opportunities for local people will be limited and short-term at best, while the negative environmental and spiritual impacts will be with us forever. We urge community members to learn the facts about this proposed operation and let their county, state, and congressional representatives know how they feel.
Another issue that the Pueblo is addressing is regaining more control over former tribal lands currently administered by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. These lands hold many of our sacred shrines and include the ancient pathways to our tribal hunting grounds on the plains east of Mora. We would like to unite with our Hispanic neighbors whose land grants have also been misappropriated by these agencies to urge the formation of a Land Grant Review Commission to address these injustices. We feel that since these lands formally belonged to our communities they should be administered to address our needs and cultural concerns. We would also like to begin working with the Hispanic community in urging the local schools to implement more programs that will inform the children about the local environmental, social, and cultural issues we are now facing.
In order to implement the kind of changes I've been talking about it's critical that we initiate a more open dialogue among all the communities and cultures in our watershed. We need to address problems before they become crises. All of us are faced with the same dilemma&emdash;governments on all levels are top-down systems which often fail to address actual on-the-ground problems. By uniting into a grassroots coalition of communities, we can work from ground level and see that our tax dollars are used to solve our real problems and not the pork barrel schemes of politicians. Finally, I just want to say that the Pueblo is not trying to hoard our resources or control our communities. We are simply trying to take a leadership role in empowering our communities so that together we can preserve our traditions and control our own destinies.
Forest Guardians and the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity were handed a victory by a San Francisco Appeals Court the last week in July: an injunction against 20 timber sales in New Mexico and Arizona, including the controversial La Manga sale in the Vallecitos Sustained Yield Unit. This injunction will have more far reaching implications than these timber sales, however. As many as 50 to 80 per cent of Forest Service grazing allotments in the two states may be affected as well if deemed unsatisfactory under amended Forest Service plan guidelines to protect endangered species. Northern New Mexico will once again be subject to the sweeping effects of a legal action that will not only unilaterally shut down land-based activities but will escalate the battle being waged between environmental groups and communities.
Only a month before the issuance of this injunction, the editors of La Jicarita received the first copy of the newsletter of the Quivera Coalition, an organization brought to life by two environmentalists, Courtney White and Barbara Johnson, and a southern New Mexico rancher, Jim Winder. As stated in their "Message From the Founders", the purpose of the coalition is to "not referee the contest of wills between ranchers and environmentalists, or to mediate a negotiated truce . . . instead . . . to lead people to an alternative which allows the land to heal while enabling ranchers to make a living. We call it The New Ranch." This concept is based on the work that ranchers like Winder, at his Double Lightning Ranch near Nutt, are doing to employ sustainable ranching techniques while continuing to make a profit .
We at La Jicarita were immediately encouraged: here was an effort that was sensitive to both environmental and human concerns. While some of the techniques used by southern ranchers might not be appropriate in northern New Mexico, the concept of sustainable ranching is. We immediately compiled a list of ranchers and conservationists from our part of the state and sent it along to the Quivera Coalition, who can now extend their efforts to our communities as well.
But the possibilities of this good work pale under the reality of the injunction. John Talberth of Forest Guardians is quoted in a New Mexican article as saying, "Public land ranching is a trivial part of New Mexico's economy. It's heavily subsidized and creates no real economic benefits to rural communities." Reducing a way of life to an economic evaluation is just what the corporate world is doing in its attempt to steal the very resources Talberth believes he is protecting. In taking this position, Forest Guardians joins forces with the subdividers, industrialists, and bureaucrats who have already found us "economically unviable" and are waiting in the wings to transfer our water to Intel and our communities to tourists.
The monies groups like Forest Guardians have raised to support their positions have recently made headlines as well. Investigations reveal that certain foundations are funding groups actually working at cross purposes. Even the groups that supposedly support the same policies, like Forest Guardians and the Southwest Forest Alliance, are fighting over hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Pew Charitable Trust they each claim is their own. Sam Hitt of Forest Guardians is on record accusing Pew of trying to use its money to "straightjacket" his forest protection efforts.
What this all means for La Companía, the designated operator for the La Manga timber sale, is another delay in a three-year battle to log an area that was specifically set aside to sustain community-based operators. Even though only two units in the current La Manga sale do not conform to the amended Forest Service plans, the appeals court has specifically stayed the sale. What the implications are for other forest activities remains to be seen: According to the Forest Service, the injunction may force them to shut down not only grazing allotments but any forest activities that in some way do not comply with the amended plans.
The most serious implication, however, is that the Endangered Species Act may be dismantled. New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici has already written the chairman of the senate subcommittee on environment and public works to urge the law be rewritten to limit critical habitat designations. These environmental groups must bear the responsibility for this backlash; their attempt to blame norteños, who they claim are being duped by both the Wise Use movement and the Forest Service, is a smokescreen. It is because this law is being used indiscriminately to lock up the forest that people are questioning its validity and decrying its abuse. While we're all busy fighting each other, the bureacrats may well end up completely gutting a law which provides necessary and valuable environmental protection.
The Bureau of Land Management will hold a formal public hearing on its Draft Rio Grande Corridor Plan at the Dixon Elementary School Gymnasium on Wednesday, September 3, at 7:00 pm. The public may submit oral or written comments, which will be included in the record. For additional information contact: BLM Taos Resource Area, 226 Cruz Alta Rd., Taos, NM 87571, 758-8851.
The Taos/Rio Arriba Mining Reform Alliance (TRAMRA) will hold regular meetings on the third Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the Embudo Valley Library in Dixon.
The next meeting of the citizen group working with the New Mexico Environment Department to study and remediate nonpoint source pollution in the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo watershed will be held Wednesday, September 17, 7:00 pm, at the Embudo Valley Library in Dixon.
By Kay Matthews
The release of the long-awaited Draft Rio Grande Corridor Plan has already elicited sharp criticism from the people whose lives&emdash;and livelihood&emdash;are inextricably linked to the river. From local people comes word that the plan places too much emphasis on developed recreational opportunities along the river corridor that will adversely affect their communities. From the recreationists, especially the rafting companies, comes the accusation that the community attitude "not in my backyard" is denying the American public its right to enjoy the river. In the middle is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), author of the corridor plan that directs management for the next 15 years.
Of the four detailed alternative plans, the BLM has chosen Alternative D as its preferred alternative. This plan "would provide for management that maintained and enhanced ecosystem health while optimizing recreational opportunities and other resource uses." The other alternatives include a no-action alternative, a biodiversity alternative which emphasizes the enhancement of natural and cultural resources, and a resource alternative which emphasizes development of natural resources. According to the BLM, Alternative D tries to balance all river uses.
Briefly, the main issues and proposed changes under Alternative D are as follows:
Wild and Scenic River Status. 7.3 miles of the Rio Grande Bosque (from county line to above the Velarde Diversion) will be designated Recreational and 5 miles of the Rio Embudo (from Picuris to Cañoncito) will be designated Wild.
Recreation Permits. Maximum of 10 boating outfitters and 6 fishing outfitters on the Rio Grande. In the Rio Grande Bosque section the plan allows for 3,000 private and 3,000 commercial boaters per year.
Trails. Trail expansions include West Rim, Pescado Rinconada, Cienguilla, Horseshoe, Petaca Arroyo, and Chili Line. Under the resource protection alternative there would be no new trail development.
River Access. John Dunn Bridge access would be expanded. Boating access would be authorized only at Taos Junction and Lone Juniper and takeouts only at Orilla Verde Campground. The Embudo River South Access would be developed.
Mineral Entry. 78,820 acres would be withdrawn from mineral entry; 50,173 acres would be closed to mineral leasing. The Copper Hill area, site of the proposed acid-leach copper mine, would be part of the withdrawal and designated an area of critical environmental concern.
Grazing. 58,765 acres would be excluded from grazing, the same amount as in the resource protection alternative.
Public Access. 72.4 miles of roads would be closed to motorized use, the same number as in the resource protection alternative.
Several members of the BLM consensus group have expressed their concerns about these recommendations. This group, formed in 1995, is comprised of two representatives each from Adobe Whitewater Club, representing private boating interests; New Mexico River Outfitters Association, representing commercial outfitters; Pilar Action Committee (PAC); El Bosque Preservation Action Committee (EBPAC); and Steve Henke and Mark Sundin of the BLM. According to Kay Wiener, a member of EBPAC, the BLM has failed to back up its recommendations&emdash;specifically with regard to numbers of boaters&emdash;with adequate research and information. Weiner feels that what is called ecosystem management, supposedly more resource sensitive, is really just another name for multiple use management. She points out that the Rio Grande Bosque section of the river, a flatwater section that has traditionally been of limited interest to boaters, will see a 600 per cent increase in use (according to BLM records, only 1000 boaters historically used the section each season). She also questions the BLM recommendation to classify El Bosque section under Wild and Scenic designation as "recreational" rather than "scenic," which the consensus group feels would help prevent expansion of recreational development. Wiener claims that the BLM failed to provide actual wildlife and cultural studies that support this recommended designation. Another concern is the proposed development of the Chili Line Trail, which passes through private land and has traditionally been opposed by affected land-owners. According to Wiener, the development of this trail never came up during consensus group discussions.
Representatives of the communities and EBPAC support the position that was first issued in a paper in 1992: "We favor a plan which places primary emphasis on the protection and preservation of the environment and the rich cultural and historical legacy of our rural, farming communities. Only secondarily should the plan seek to accommodate the desires of those who come here looking for additional leisure time activities." Gary Vigil, a member of PAC, concurs: "I'm afraid it's [the plan] going to be an over commercialization of the Rio Grande. . . . It's going to change the terrain, change the wildlife, change the way people live."
Steve Harris of Pilar wears two hats: he is the executive secretary of Rio Grande Restoration, a conservation group, and owner of Far Flung Adventures, a commercial outfitter. His main criticism of the corridor plan is that "BLM sees its role as a political balancing act between conflicting interests rather than dealing with resource needs in a scientific manner." Harris contends that the BLM ignored his group's concerns that the plan protect stream flows and wildlife habitat. Harris feels that the BLM should have taken a position on the controversial issue of setting minimum stream flows, which he believes is not contrary to the interests of acequia users. While the BLM recognizes the need to protect fisheries and riparian habitat with minimum flows, until the state of New Mexico completes the adjudication of the Rio Grande, the agency feels it is premature to file water claims&emdash;claims with junior rights set by passage of the Wild and Scenic Act of of the 1960s.
As a representative of the outfitters, Harris claims that they are "being stung" by the potentially threatening economic situation the plan will create. The plan calls for a decrease from the present 17 commercial operators to 10, by means of attrition: Harris contends that group limits and restrictions on daily use will cause some of the outfitters to go out of business. He feels a better way of keeping a reasonable number of people on the river at one time is by assessing impacts on other concerns such as traffic and trespass. Community members feel that the highway and trespass issues are already a problem at the current level of use, and that because there is no time limit on reducing the number of outfitters to 10, outfitters will have time to adjust.
While Harris does not feel it is worthwhile to get into arguments over numbers, he did respond to Wiener's question concerning the proposed 600 per cent yearly increase in the Rio Grande Bosque area. According to Harris, the outfitters are more concerned that they are restricted on the upper portions of the river where there is more demand: "El Bosque section of the river is not that heavily used by outfitters."
The Taos County District Attorney's office has set a new precedent by agreeing with the Acequia Madre del Sur del Cañon of Taos that acequias are political subdivisions of state municipalities and are therefore entitled to the District Attorney's protection. The Acequia Madre del Sur del Cañon has recently been embroiled in a controversy with Alan Stamm, developer of Vegas de Taos subdivision. The developer, in order to accommodate easements into the subdivision, realigned the acequia and installed culverts under the roadways for the acequia. Stamm contends that his plans were approved by the Town Council and Planning Department, including the work done to the acequia. Acequia members contend that Stamm needed the approval of the majority of parciantes affected in order to initiate these changes. Furthermore, they claim that the culverts were installed too low and are causing acequia water to back up.
Acequia members sought legal advice from the Taos Valley Acequia Association (TVAA) of which they are a member. The TVAA, after consulting their lawyers, advised the acequia to seek aid from the District Attorney's office as a political subdivision. The District Attorney's office has ordered Stamm to raise the culverts and consult with acequia members about the work. So far Stamm has refused to comply.
The District Attorney's decision to intercede on behalf of the acequia should allow other parciantes to enlist the District Attorney's office aid in fighting development which negatively impacts their acequias.
By Mark Schiller
On Friday, July 25, the Office of the Sate Engineer (SEO) held a pre-hearing in the protest of the transfer of use and point of diversion of water at the Sipapu Ski Area and Summer Resort. The protest was brought by acequia members of the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Coalition in an attempt to mitigate the impacts of Sipapu's proposed expansion on the river, the forest, and surrounding communities. The Bolander family, which owns Sipapu, is attempting to transfer agricultural water rights to commercial use for snowmaking. Both sides had attempted to reach a compromise settlement for over a year, but failed.
The protestants contend that the water rights in question are not valid, that the transfer will impair senior downstream rights, are contrary to sound conservation practice, and are a threat to the public welfare. Because the Forest Service has stated that any expansion of Sipapu's facilities is contingent upon the Bolanders' controlling sufficient commercial water rights, the protest is critical to that expansion.
The proposed expansion would increase the boundaries of the Forest Service-leased area from 185 acres to 977 acres, increase the skiable terrain from 34 acres to 220 acres, increase the number of skiers allowed at one time from 910 to 1,850, and increase water usage from the 11-acre feet allowed under the emergency permit temporarily granted by the SEO to at least 38-acre feet.
In an attempt to reach a compromise, and at the request of Bruce Bolander, the Watershed Protection Coalition submitted a 10-point proposal. Coalition members explained that these points were negotiable, but Bolander felt that the proposal made it clear that the two sides were too far apart to negotiate a compromise. The proposal was as follows:
1. Water for snowmaking would come from the irrigation rights as determined by the SEO on land presently owned by the Bolander family immediately adjacent to the ski area. The Bolander family would agree not to seek water rights from any other location.
2. Because of the close connection between ground and surface water, the hand-dug well and spring that furnish water for domestic use would be metered and limitations, especially during the months agricultural irrigation occurs, would be set and strictly adhered to.
3. The expansion would include only one new lift (instead of the additionally proposed lift that would impact the area to the west) and that lift would extend approximately 3,500 linear feet up the mountain, beginning at the summit of the present area lift. All new trails would be accessed from this lift.
4. The Bolander family would agree to drop the proposed plan for an additional restaurant on national forest land (this would necessitate an access road and an additional water treatment facility).
5. The number of skiers at one time would be determined by the number of skiable acres included in the permit.
6. Any new parking areas would be located on private land.
7. Summer lift operations would not be permitted.
8. The expansion plan, as modified above, would be implemented over a 20-year period, and the Bolanders, their heirs, and any party to whom they might sell or otherwise convey this property and business would agree not to seek any further expansion during this period.
9. The Bolander family would agree to support designation of the Rito Angostura as Wild and Scenic.
10. This agreement would be contingent upon the findings of the cultural and historic survey that is being conducted by the Forest Service and Picuris Pueblo. Any expansion would be in compliance with those findings.
This proposal attempted to address the many concerns of community members that were not addressed in the Forest Service Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS has been withdrawn pending a study of the potential impacts on the culture and traditions of Picuris Pueblo. Because the ski area is seeking to expand its facilities for both winter and summer use the protestants feel that the water diversion as proposed will have negative impacts on the downstream acequias, wells, and riparian areas. They furthermore believe that the expansion will have negative social impacts on the many communities in the watershed which are struggling to maintain their rural/agricultural makeup. The Bolander family contends that they need the expansion to remain economically viable.
A hearing date of December 1 has been set and the hearing officer, Fred Allen, expects the hearing to last two to three days.
Copyright 1996-2001 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.