A community newspaper for the Jicarita watershed, including the
Rio Mora, Rio Santa Barbara, Rio de las Trampas, Rio Pueblo, & Rio Embudo
Collaborative Stewardship on the Carson National Forest: Where We've Been and How Far We Have to Go By Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews
Water Planning Resumes in Santa Fe, Española, Los Alamos Area By Estevan López, Santa Fe County Utilities Director, Chairperson of the Jemez y Sangre Regional Water Planning Council
By Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews
In the mid-1990s the Camino Real Ranger District of Carson National Forest began to take a new approach to the way it managed the forest. District employees Henry Lopez, Wilbert Rodriguez, Crockett Dumas and others consulted community members to identify natural resource and human needs that should be incorporated into a more inclusive management process. They divided the district into nine ecological and social management areas and analyzed them from the perspective of "existing conditions, desired conditions, and possible practices that will produce the desired conditions." The district was then able to address ecosystem management goals by working with community members to thin overstocked areas for fuelwood and small-diameter wood products.
This effort spawned other collaborative projects and became known as Collaborative Stewardship, utilizing both scientific and traditional knowledge to benefit forests and rural economies. A contract stewardship restoration project in the East Entrañas area of the forest was undertaken by La Montaña de Truchas to provide firewood and other forest products to community members. La Montaña Woodlot, a nonprofit corporation to market wood products, grew out of this restoration project. Picuris Pueblo forestry crew was formed to work on forest restoration projects on the Pueblo and to do contract thinning for the Forest Service. The district also sponsored contract stewardship workshops to familiarize community members with contracting opportunities and procedures. The Santa Barbara allotment restoration project began in 1998 to thin and burn overstocked forest to improve watershed conditions, forage, and wildlife habitat. Projects like these have spread to other Carson forest districts and through Vice-President Al Gore's Hammer Award and Harvard University's Innovations in Government Award have received national recognition and become models for similar projects throughout the nation.
While these programs have been successful, the Collaborative Stewardship program now faces several challenges. Historically, the Forest Service has been reluctant to share power in the management of our public lands. The 1972 Region 3 Policy (Hassell Report) mandated the Forest Service to manage northern New Mexico forests with the needs of its communities foremost in mind. However, no binding agreement ever insured community representation in the decision making process. Forest Service policy sets the agenda, and while the Carson has so far been willing to work with communities as partners, there is no guarantee that community needs will continue to be met. Land management agencies now say that the National Environmental Policy Act has been modified to insure that communities are stakeholders in management policy to achieve a desired human/ecosystem balance, but this has not yet been tested.
Another reason community members feel it's so important to establish binding agreements is the high turnover of Forest Service staff. Every time employees move out of the district, community people take two steps back and have to establish new relationships. This not only slows projects down, it also leads to misunderstanding. For instance, the Camino Real recently had a complete change in the administrative staff who were responsible for initiating many of the Collaborative Stewardship projects, including the district ranger, the wildlife biologist, the range manager, and the archeologist. As a result, the Santa Barbara restoration project is behind schedule and community members' request to establish a more rigid schedule has yet to be addressed. The Española district ranger position has turned over five times since the mid-90s. La Montaña de Truchas has been hamstrung on several of its projects because the district has been unable to complete necessary paper work.
Budget constraints have also severely impacted Collaborative Stewardship projects. Forest Service budgeting is an unwieldy and largely political process that doesn't guarantee that successful, on-the-ground projects will continue to be funded. On the Carson National Forest, because saw-timber production has been replaced by ecosystem management which produces small-diameter wood products, the overall budget has been reduced from $15-$16 million to $6.5 million for fiscal year 1999. Gilbert Vigil, Carson Forest Supervisor, acknowledged that the budgeting process should be based on ecosystem management proposals rather than arbitrary criteria, such as timber output and recreational use. Current budgeting does not allow supervisors and rangers the flexibility to move monies from rigid categories that often don't match up with on-the-ground needs. What this means on the Camino Real is that the district may not have the funding this year to conduct the archeological and wildlife surveys for ecosystem management areas which provide fuelwood and small-diameter wood products to communities and local contractors.
La Jicarita spoke with Regional Forester Eleanor Townes about these budget issues, and while she acknowledged that the budgeting process is not meeting the needs of local forests, she has some flexibility in directing watershed and ecosystem management monies to address these needs. She also explained that once the forest service guidelines for management of goshawk and spotted owl habitat are further reviewed, the Forest Service will implement these management policies that should increase small-diameter timber sales. We also discussed the failure of the Forest Service to implement the 1972 Policy, and she indicated that there is renewed interest from our congressional delegation to address land grant issues and meet the needs of forest dependent communities.
Budget constraints that effect on-the-ground-projects are also caused by lawsuits and injunctions brought against the Forest Service by special interest groups. The latest injunction that directly affects the Collaborative Stewardship program is the moratorium on Categorical Exclusions (CE) involving commercial sales. This is a category which allows land managers to implement small-scale ecosystem management projects without being subject to appeal. Most of the small greenwood thinning sales on the Camino Real have been released as CEs. If the Forest Service isn't allowed to use CEs in these areas, Environmental Assessments or Environmental Impact Statements, involving thousands of acres and subject to appeal and litigation, will be obligatory. While these management requirements are appropriate for large-scale, high impact projects, meeting these requirements for small-scale projects like the contract stewardship program will force the Forest Service to spend years rather than months on restoration projects that benefit the forests and the communities.
Finally, in order to insure the viability of the Collaborative Stewardship program, the Forest Service must, as it has long been mandated, implement effective monitoring. Otherwise, the program may well repeat the mistakes of the past. An effective monitoring program will also enable the Forest Service to avoid frivolous litigation by absolutist environmental groups seeking to implement Zero Cut and Zero Cow initiatives. It is critical to the health of both our forests and norteño communities that these collaborative efforts demonstrate their effectiveness from a scientific and social perspective.
The Camino Real Ranger District of Carson National Forest is proposing a prescribed fire in the Jacinto/ Entrañas area to "reduce piñon-juniper and sagebrush invasion to maintain revegetated grasses and foraging capacity for permitted cattle and to improve big game habitat." The project area includes approximately 750 acres and would occur over the next two years. Because the area is to the north of Truchas, the Forest Service expects no smoke impact to the community. The district is currently conducting a 30 day scoping period before commencement of NEPA analysis. If you have any concerns or comments please contact Carol Holland or Manuel Romero at 587-2255.
The Camino Real Ranger District is conducting a NEPA analysis with regard to its reauthorization of the Miranda Allotment (located in the Rio Grande del Rancho area) for a ten year period. The district is recommending that the grazing permit be issued under the same terms and conditions it currently holds, and that the numbers and season remain the same. Please contact Steven Miranda or Carol Holland at 587-2255 if you have any concerns or questions. Comments can also be submitted in writing to the Camino Real Ranger District, P. O. Box 68, Peñasco, NM 87553.
By Estevan López, Santa Fe County Utilities Director, Chairperson of the Jemez y Sangre Regional Water Planning Council
Regional water planning in north central New Mexico is about the things that matter most in the life of our communities: land, climate and culture. During the next two years, people from Santa Fe, Española, Los Alamos and surrounding communities will talk about those things in light of our most important natural resource - water.
In the Jemez y Sangre Regional Water Planning Region, we can no longer assume there will be enough water for all of the people who could be living here in 2060. The regions extends from Embudo in the north to Madrid in the south, from the Jemez Mountains on the west to the Sangre de Cristos on the east. People in communities throughout the region will have numerous opportunities to participate in the creation of the regional water plan.
The Jemez y Sangre de Cristo Water Planning Council was formed in response to the need for New Mexico to understand its water supply for present and future uses. The need came to light nearly 20 years ago when the City of El Paso claimed water from New Mexico. The judge in the lawsuit ruled that New Mexico could only prevent the export of water if it had a plan for its use. Ultimately, the Jemez y Sangre plan and 15 other regional water plans will be unified in a state water plan by the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission.
The task of the Council is three-fold:
First, the Council will gather data showing how much water is available for use in the region, taking into account snowfall, rain, runoff and recycling, as well as the various legal restrictions and allocations that exist. The data will also show present usage for city residential, agricultural, environmental and industrial uses. The Council will then attempt to reach agreement on populations and future uses of water within the region. This crucial step will reveal whether there is currently an imbalance in the supply and demand of water or if an imbalance is likely to develop.
Second, the Council has defined 10 sub-regions in the region to include every watershed and community, and will convene meetings about water and the public welfare with the residents of those sub-regions. In two series of meetings, residents will have their say about what is important to them, their families, their jobs and their cultures.
Third, residents will help the Council identify what alternatives exist if there is a serious imbalance between supply and demand, and what choices may have to be made to make sure there is enough water to support the projected demand.
The questions may be difficult or impossible to answer. What effect do domestic wells have on a community's overall water supply, and when would a community system be beneficial? What kind of interaction over the use of water should occur between growing cities and rural areas? Under what criteria should competing uses of water be evaluated? The Council may not be able to settle every question. The local governments in the region will have to give final approval to the plan and ultimately the plan will be subject to state and federal law.
Residents of the region can help the Jemez y Sangre Regional Water Planning Council formulate and possibly answer these tough questions. The Council meets at 3 p. m. on the second Monday of every month at Northern New Mexico Community College in Española. Residents can also get on the Jemez y Sangre mailing list to stay abreast of the planning process.
Any resident who would like additional information about the Jemez y Sangre Regional Water Plan may call me at 986-6210 or Amy Lewis, water resources planning coordinator, City of Santa Fe, at 505 954-7123.
By Kay Matthews
Over the course of this past year the New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA) has been redrafting its bylaws and organizing an Acequia Congreso that will represent acequias from around the state on issues of common concern. At the organization's annual meeting on November 13 the membership approved this reorganization and elected the Congreso, which is made up of at-large acequia representatives and acequia association representatives. The previous NMAA board of directors became part of the Congreso: these members include Antonio Medina (Mora); Harold Trujillo (Santa Fe); Michael Coca (Las Vegas); Dennis Chavez (Río Mimbres Acequia Association); Manuel Trujillo (Asociación de Acequias Norteñas de Río Arriba); Kay Matthews (El Valle); Palemón Martinez/Geoff Bryce (Taos Valley Acequia Association); Fred Vigil (Río de Chama Acequia Association); and Paul Garcia/Josie Lujan (Río Quemado, Río en Medio, Río Frijoles, and Santa Cruz Community Ditch Association). New members include William Gonzales (Río de las Gallinas Acequia Association), Facundo Valdez (San Jose), Alfredo Dominguez (Chamisal), Robert Templeton (Dixon), and Joe Herrera (Tecolote).
Congreso membership will expand as other acequia associations are invited to join (they are automatically provided a seat on the Congreso), and other acequias form associations within their watersheds. One of the primary goals of the NMAA is to help acequias form these associations, to prepare for adjudication and to address issues of concern within their own watersheds. Associations will be self-defined and organized at the grassroots level by those acequias that are ready to join together in a more formal way. Paula Garcia, Director of the NMAA, will be available to help acequias wishing to form associations with their organizational needs. She can be reached at 262-2797, P. O. Box 32282, Santa Fe, NM 87491, or by email: email@example.com.
At the annual meeting the Congreso also elected a Concilio, or working board, that will meet at least bi-monthly to conduct the day to day business of the association in coordination with the Director. The NMAA will continue to focus on three efforts: capacity building through workshops and leadership teams to meet the educational and organizational needs of acequias; policy advocacy through monitoring, analyzing, and developing legislation concerning water management at the state level; and organizational recruiting to better represent acequias and acequia associations statewide.
The Congreso directed the Concilio, as one of its first items of business, to draft three resolutions: 1) stating the NMAA position that healthy watersheds are directly dependent upon healthy forests; 2) endorsing Rep. Pauline Gubbels recommendation that the Enlibra process, where all stakeholders are at the negotiating table, be employed with regard to any water banking legislation; and 3) supporting Rio Arriba County's moratorium on subdivision of irrigated agricultural land.
The Rio Arriba county planners responsible for drafting an ordinance to regulate the development of agriculture lands presented an overview at the annual meeting. Patricio Garcia and Moises Gonzales explained that the goal of this ordinance is to "protect and enhance" agricultural lands rather than "preserve", which connotes that something is at an end. The first step in the planning process was to inventory irrigated land in the county: approximately 49,000 acres of irrigated or potentially irrigable lands were identified, located primarily within narrow river corridors, surrounded by federal and tribal lands (70% of Rio Arriba County is in federal ownership).
Currently the planners are conducting community meetings in each watershed - Tierra Amarilla, Velarde, Dixon/Embudo, Truchas, Ojo Sarco, etc. - to determine the kinds of flexibility the ordinance must incorporate to address individual community concerns. For example, while enforcing a minimum lot-split of 10 acres might be appropriate in the Tierra Amarilla area where ranchers still retain relatively large tracts of agricultural land, in villages like Chimayó and Embudo, where lot sizes are commonly two to three acres, a smaller minimum lot size would be more appropriate. To allow for family development of these lands, the planners and communities are discussing clustering housing development onto smaller portions of the lot (as opposed to the current three-quarter acre minimum lot size), which would preserve the surrounding agricultural land. Another option includes conservation easements, which could be undertaken by legislative action that would recognize the social and economic value of these lands remaining in agricultural production. Garcia and Gonzales emphasized that many more small farms are becoming viable as farmers' markets help sell value-added products from more diverse farming operations. They both stressed that implementing an ordinance must not be seen as a private property rights issue. As long as some benefit is derived from the land, it cannot be seen as a "taking."
The county will sponsor a conference in April that will bring together community information it has gathered, experts who have developed agricultural protections in their communities, and information concerning land grant issues. The County Commissioners will then convene in June to adopt an ordinance. The final planning stage will be the development of a comprehensive county land-use plan.
A second panel spoke about mechanisms to protect acequias from increased demands for water throughout the state. David Benavides, staff attorney with Northern New Mexico Legal Services, gave a general overview of the threats acequias face - loss of water rights from nonuse and water transfers - and some of the thinking about how these threats can best be met. He mentioned that Taos Valley Acequia Association's water conservation program is a good attempt to pool or bank water rights within the association to protect them from loss because of nonuse, but has met with obstacles from the State Engineer's Office. He pointed out that we need something automatic in the law that allows acequias to set up water banking programs: other entities such as irrigation districts are already engaged in banking programs, but acequia statutes don't address this issue.
Peter White, a water rights attorney who currently represent acequias and parciantes in the Top of the World water transfer protest, provided one possible legal mechanism that would allow acequias to protect their water rights from what he sees as their biggest threat - urban entities. In a 1988 decision by the Colorado Supreme Court, a mutual ditch company established a bylaw that requires approval of its board of directors for any proposed change of place of delivery. White paraphrased this bylaw and proposed a bylaw for community acequias:
"Each parciante desiring to change the place to which any water shall be delivered shall make written request for such change to the commissioners of this community acequia association. If, in the opinion of the commissioners, such transfer may be made without injury to the acequia, the association, or other parciantes, such water shall be then delivered to such place or places as requested."
Arnold Lopez of Acequias de Chamisal y Ojito then explained that his acequia association has already set up its own water conservation/banking program to protect their water rights. Initially, the association submitted a declaration of its water conservation program to the State Engineer's Office (SEO). When the SEO failed to respond, the association proceeded to issue contracts between parciantes and the association to place water rights within the community system, which will be managed and distributed by the association. Currently 12 parciantes are participating in the program.
During the question and answer period, David stated that the methods described by Peter and Arnold could be models for acequias to protect their water rights. When asked what might happen if these methods are challenged, he replied: "It's better to do something than nothing." Peter concurred, saying that while statute authority is the best guarantee for acequias, the political climate in New Mexico makes any legislative-driven changes risky. In the meantime, community-based programs like that of the Acequias de Chamisal y Ojito are good ways for acequias to be proactive.
The Cerro Mojino Ranch: Connie and Sam Taylor's Land Stewardship Sustains Navajo-Churro Sheep Business
By Kay Matthews
The award plaque on Connie and Sam Taylor's Cerro Mojino ranch fence says "Excellence in Grazing Management." It's obvious why. On their side of the fence, the wheat grass they graze their Churro sheep on grows strong and tall, interspersed with piñon/juniper. On the other side of the fence, invasive sagebrush grows on bare, eroded soil. What the Taylors have created during their 20-year tenure on 120 acres of land just south of Tres Piedras is not only a healthier, more diverse ecosystem but a sustainable, viable wool business that begins with sheep and ends with tapestry.
Sam came to New Mexico from Walsenburg, Colorado (with travels in Mexico in between), where he worked summers on a ranch in the La Veta high country. Connie was raised on a ranch in Nebraska, where she learned about sheep and grasses "in spite of myself." Sam acquired 40 acres of the Cerro Mojino property shortly before he met Connie - who was already intimate with the land from camping in the area - and as husband and wife began building a house and trying to make a living. That first entailed cutting firewood and vigas, until Connie figured out they were making "eleven cents an hour" and went to the Taos Soil and Water Conservation Service to see if they had any ideas about a better way to utilize the natural resources on the ranch. They jointly decided on a cost share project of fencing the perimeter of the ranch, discing the sagebrush, and planting a mixture which contained 75% Luna Pubescent wheat grass, a drought tolerant variety. They were blessed with a couple of years of good rain (especially in light of the fact that the Taylors have no water on their land, either irrigation or domestic), and after the second year of planting they started grazing their small herd of sheep and goats. Their goal was to have a herd of 15 sheep, or approximately one sheep per three acres.
What they ended up with is the result of what Connie calls short duration, high intensity managed grazing that allows them to raise 60 to 100 Navajo-Churro sheep. The decision to raise strictly Churro sheep was based on both cultural and scientific reasoning: the historical significance of the breed dates back to the very first "Churra" breed brought by the conquistadors and Spanish settlers to the upper Rio Grande Valley; and the fact that this small but hardy breed eats for only a third of the day and can be better managed in grazing paddocks. Laying out these paddocks became their time consuming work. Sam remembers how many hits it took to put in each fence post and calculated the many thousands of pounds he lifted as a result. Today, a system of 9 paddocks on 40 acres stretches out in wagon-wheel spokes from the house and barns. The Taylors move sheep into a pasture when the grass is seven to eight inches tall and allow them to cover the entire pasture and bite every plant once. They are then rotated to the other pastures and returned to the original pasture in about 34 to 40 days. The sheep also trim the scattered piñon and juniper trees to a 4-foot level, help scatter the fallen needles as mulch, and eat the piñons for extra protein. It's a system of "paying attention," Connie says. "You have to have an IQ at least equal to the grass."
Once Connie limited the herd to Churros, she became involved in all aspects of the weaving business. The sheep are sheared in the spring by a hired professional and the wool is jobbed out to spinners. Connie's sheep produce about 500 pounds of wool, and she buys another 3,000 pounds (sometimes from Antonio and Molly Manzanares of Tierra Wools), which she then custom dyes for clients all over the region: longtime Taos weaver Rachel Brown and Navajo weavers at Two Grey Hills and other reservation communities. Connie is also the registrar for the Navajo-Churro Sheep Association, an organization established in 1986 to preserve and promote the breed. The Navajo-Churro became endangered in the 1850s when thousands were trailed west to supply the California Gold Rush and the remaining supply were crossed with fine wool rams to supply demands of garment wool. U. S. government policies against the Navajo further decimated the stock, and survivors were found only in isolated villages in northern New Mexico and canyons of the Navajo Reservation. In the 1970s several individuals began to acquire purebred Churros, and with the help of Ganados del Valle and the Navajo Sheep Project, flocks have been established all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico (several Indian tribes in the state of Chiapas use Churro wool for their huipils).
Connie is also a weaver of what she calls "political" tapestries that include a message as well as traditional themes. The tapestry pictured below is titled "Landscape Held Hostage": a traditionally rendered flock of sheep below signs of land development. Connie says, "I don't care if people get my message or just see a weaving they like, but it's important for me to say it."
Metal sculptures, Sam's work, stand sentinel along the driveway into the ranch and are scattered amidst the buildings that include a house, Connie's yarn-dyeing shop, Sam's welding studio, and guesthouse/studio where he paints. Everything is powered by solar panels, and underground cisterns collect water from the roofs of the buildings. Sam is a member of the Tres Piedras Water Association, and is jokingly referred to as the "Water Nazi" for his work with other area residents to manage growth and development by controlling water hookups (the only source of water in the Tres Piedras area is four deep wells that access aquifers beneath the town). Cerro Mojino Ranch is living testimony to the Taylors' commitment: like the spokes of their wagon-wheel paddocks, their efforts reach out from the hub of their home to their connected communities.
Copyright 1996-2000 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.