A community advocacy newspaper for northern New Mexico
Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, NM 87521
Cows, Culture, and Continuity: An Environmental Justice Argument in Support of Public Lands Ranching in Northern New Mexico By Ernest Atencio Reviewed by Kay Matthews
A Victory for the Carnuel Land Grant By Kay Matthews
Editorial: Sierra Club Vote on "Zero Cow" Initiative By Kay Matthews
Cows, Culture, and Continuity: An Environmental Justice Argument in Support of Public Lands Ranching in Northern New Mexico
By Ernest Atencio
Reviewed by Kay Matthews
"History will judge greens by whether they stand with the world's poor." - Tom Athanasiou, social ecologist
Ernie Atencio uses this quote to begin his analysis of public lands grazing as an issue of environmental justice in the report "Cows, Culture, and Continuity: An Environmental Argument in Support of Public Lands Ranching in Northern New Mexico." In the complete quote Athanasiou uses the word "greens" interchangeably with the word "environmentalists", cautioning them that it is "past time . . . to face their own history, in which they have too often stood not for justice and freedom, or even for realism, but merely for the comforts and aesthetics of affluent nature lovers."
This, unfortunately, has often been the pattern in northern New Mexico and what has caused a wide rift within that environmental community between those who understand that environmental and social justice issues are inextricably linked and those who advocate policies such as "Zero Cow" that discriminate against poor people.The Santa Fe Group of the Sierra Club funded the writing of this report, a courageous challenge to the national Sierra Club's impending referendum that calls for the termination of public lands grazing (see page 6 of this issue of La Jicarita).
In his report, Atencio provides the faces and names of the the people of northern New Mexico who would suffer from absolutist policies like Zero Cow. He interviews six public lands ranchers whose stories reveal the economic necessity of their access to public lands to graze their cattle and the innovative techniques they use to restore and protect their grazing allotments.
Andie Sanchez, who lives in Llano, is president of the Santa Barbara Grazing Association and is currently participating with the other members of his association in the Santa Barbara Restoration project. The association's 203 cattle have been removed to the Valle Grande Grassbank while the allotment is rehabilitated by thinning, burning, reseeding, and riparian protection work. Sanchez's own 14 cattle supplement his income as a maintenance worker at the Peñasco schools, as do the cattle of George Maestas of Rodarte, a member, like Sanchez, of the Santa Barbara Grazing Association: " . . . the ability to sell a few steers is often the only insurance which many families have to cover unexpected expenses," Maestas says in the report.
Rancher Joe Torres, of Black Lake, points out that the cattle they are raising provide healthier, chemically free meat for their families. Torres, who has worked in government, as a teacher and a contractor, currently runs one of the largest cattle enterprises (864 head) in northern New Mexico on the Valle Vidal Allotment, where the association of permittees employs a herder to move their cattle to avoid overgrazing any one area. Torres expresses his anger at the characterization of public lands grazers as "welfare ranchers": "Who's subsidizing who? We have the cheapest food in the world. We have the best food in the world, and we have a few - a very small percentage of the population are farmers and ranchers, and they feed not only the United States, they feed the world." He points out that practically everything in our lives is subsidized - our schools, our highways, etc. That's what the government is for, and in particular, to provide a safety net for the most marginalized in society.
Virgil Trujillo, Superintendent of Rangelands at Ghost Ranch and a permittee of 139 cattle, tells Atencio what the consequences in his own life would be if that safety net were removed: After his family's five generations in the Chama Valley, the uprooting of "our culture and communities . . . would be completely devastating to me." Trujillo is a respected practitioner of holistic range management and is on the board of directors of the Quivira Coalition.
Ricardo Fresquez is a farmer, rancher, and sawyer who lives near Mora, where his ancestors were members of the Mora Land Grant. The rights of these land grant families were abrogated when the land grants were adjudicated in the U.S. courts and became part of the national forests. Not only did they lose possession of their common lands, or ejidos, where they grazed their cattle, the Forest Service failed to recognize their use rights, and without access to grasslands and timber lands their means of subsistence living was denied. Now Fresquez, who says, "I depend on the cattle . . . to get out of the hole", faces another battle to protect even these marginalized grazing rights.
The sixth permittee Atencio interviewed is Aparcio Gurulé, a life-long rancher who along with his sons graze 376 cattle four months a year on the Santa Fe National Forest near Cuba.This operation, the largest single permit on the Santa Fe, is the sole support of several generations of the family, an anomaly in these days of grazing associations where (as of 1982) the average permit is for 32 cattle.
Atencio supplies the statistics to support his argument that it is not the small-scale ranchers of northern New Mexico who benefit from public subsidies or are responsible for the land degradation that does result from over grazing on public lands. For instance, nationwide, the top 10% of BLM grazing permit holders control 65% of all livestock on BLM lands. None of that top 10% is in New Mexico. Compared to the 100 permittees in Rio Arriba County who share a quarter of a million acres on 11 adjoining allotments on the Santa Fe National Forest, 16 Elko, Nevada ranches are larger than 100,000 acres.
But beyond the facts and figures that support an argument for public lands grazing in northern New Mexico is the reality of norteños' querencia, the affection and longing they have for the land:"The more you work the land, the more you get to love it, because your heart is in your land." This is a dicho from Andie Sanchez's grandfather that expresses the connection these third and fourth generation ranchers feel towards these lands that continue to sustain them, despite the loss of the land grants. They maintain a proprietary attitude towards the land that engenders a land ethic of responsibility and stewardship. Atencio cautions readers not to "romanticize land-based Hipano culture as a paragon of environmental harmony and sustainable resource stewardship" because no culture on earth "can claim a history of perfect, benevolent stewardship. Nonetheless, an ethos of restraint is and has been the general guiding principle of resource use, or cultural ecology, in northern New Mexico for centuries."
It is this attachment and restraint that have created the localized agricultural enterprises in northern New Mexico that are not only a link to the past but can serve as models for sustainable communities in the future. Atencio lists some of the agriculturally based enterprises that provide this link: Ganados del Valle, Tierra Wools, Pastores Collections, Sangre de Cristo Growers Cooperative, Las Humanas Cooperative, Madera Forest Products, and La Montaña de Truchas Woodlot. He lists the innovations in range management that are revitalizing ranching in northern New Mexico: holistic range management, like Trujillo utilizes at Ghost Ranch; the herding employed by Torres and others; and the Valle Grande Grassbank. These are all examples of work that has been achieved through collaboration and consensus, concepts that people who work on the ground know are essential to maintaining healthy economies, communities, and resources. Atencio ends his report with this statement: "If we care about genuine environmental justice and about setting right historic injustices, then supporting local Hispano self-determination through appropriate and sustainable economic development is a move in the right direction. Finding a way to insure traditional-use access to ancestral lands and resources, though sure to stir more controversy among the old guard of the environmental movement, moves us farther in the right direction."
Atencio's report is being published by the Quivira Coalition, and will be released at a press conference at the state capitol in Santa Fe at the end of January. Free copies of the book will be available at the press conference and through the Quivira Coalition, with a charge for postage and handling. The coalition can be reached at P. O. Box 4126, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 87502, 505 820-2544.
The 10th annual New Mexico Organic Farming and Gardening Expo will take place Saturday, February 10th at the Glorieta conference center in Pecos, NM. The theme for this year's conference is In Tune With Nature - Nurturing Land, People, and Diversity.
Kent Whealy of Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa will open the conference with a presentation on preserving heirloom garden plants. Seed Savers is a 25 year-old international seed saving and sharing organization. It's 8,000 members are preserving a wealth of useful plant genes in their own back yards. Frances Moore Lappe, author of the seminal book Diet for a Small Planet will be delivering the closing keynote speech. The much awaited sequel to her book goes to the publisher in February.
Over 25 different breakout sessions will be offered throughout the day on topics related to southwestern gardening and agriculture. These will include: Acequia Water Quality, Farm Land Preservation, Organic Beef Production, Cooperative Marketing, Organic Gardening in Arid Lands, and a Cerro Grande Fire update.
The New Mexico Organic Farming and Gardening Expo will be sponsored once again by the New Mexico Organic Commodity Commission and The Farm Connection, a regional agricultural newsletter. For registration information please contact Sarah or Marion at 505 983-4098, ext. 13 or Lynda at 505 579-4386.
Collaborative Stewardship in Northern New Mexico: A Conference About Restoring Land and Hope. On April 27 and 28, 2001, activists in northern New Mexico will be looking at how effectively communities, environmentalists, and public lands managers have been working together to maintain rural economies and natural resources here in el norte, and if these methods can be replicated in other parts of the country. Three free, half-day sessions will address community forestry, grazing, and water/agriculture management in terms of current efforts and possible future practices. Panels will be comprised of the people currently involved in these activities, with an open dialogue between audience members and panelists. The conference will be held at the Best Western Kachina Lodge in Taos, and weather permitting, will culminate with a Saturday afternoon field trip to an area where collaborative work has taken place. Fliers and mailers will be sent out after the first of the year. If you would like to be put on the mailing list contact Courtney White at 820-2544.
By Mark Schiller
The State Engineer's Office (SEO) recently held a hearing to determine the legitimacy of a protest to a proposed transfer of agricultural surface water rights from Valencia County to domestic ground water water rights in Sandoval County. The proposed transfer has a long and sordid history and raises important issues with regard to notification of intent to transfer water rights and potential impacts of such transfers on the area to which the water rights are being conveyed.
In 1998 Lomas Alto Inc., the agent for two subdivisions in the Sandoval County community of Placitas, gave notice that it was seeking to transfer 4.85 acre feet per year from the Peralta Main Ditch, 4.2 acre feet per year from the Old Belen Ditch, and 6.0 acre feet per year from the Isleta Diversion Dam to an approximately 500 foot well that services the subdivisions. New Mexico state law requires that notification be made for three successive weeks in a publication of general circulation in the areas that could potentially be affected by the transfer. Lomas Alto chose to publish their notification in El Hispano, an Albuquerque based Spanish language newspaper which is distributed by subscription. The Sandoval Environmental Action Community (SEAC) became aware of the proposed transfer after the prescribed period to lodge appeals had expired. The group protested to the SEO, claiming that Lomas Alto purposely sought to evade the public-notice provision by publishing its notice in a paper that was not widely circulated in the area. The SEO denied this appeal and SEAC subsequently appealed the SEO decision in state district court. In late July of 1998 Judge Kenneth Brown upheld the SEAC appeal, stating that the publication in El Hispano clearly intended to evade the public-notice provision and deny citizens the right of due process.
Notification of intent to transfer water rights has been a contentious issue for many years, and the state legislature has considered amending the statute to further ensure that citizens who could potentially be affected by such transfers are alerted and given ample opportunity to protest. However, all such proposals have either died in the legislature or been vetoed by the governor, a clear indication that developmental interests who benefit from such transfers continue to control the political process to the detriment of the public at large. It's particularly distressing that the SEO also seems to cater to these interests and had to be ordered to revisit its initial decision.
In the wake of Judge Brown's decision Lomas Alto was required to readvertise its notice (this time it appeared in the Albuquerque Journal) and the transfer was appealed by local homeowners Bob Wessely and Catherine Harris and the mayordomo of a nearby spring-fed acequia, Lynn Montgomery. The application seeks to transfer the water to the two subdivisions totaling 257 acres. Forty-five homes currently exist within the subdivisions and 106 additional homes have been platted.The SEO is considering the transfer of surface water rights downstream from the subdivisions to ground water rights within the subdivisions because the underground aquifer into which the subdivisions' well is drilled feeds the Rio Grande, that is also the source of the surface water rights.
The protestants, represented by Taos attorney Mary Humphrey, claim the transfer will impair their existing water rights and be contrary to sound conservation practice and the public welfare. Using information provided by hydrologist Reid Bandeen, Humphrey argued that the aquifer from which the subdivisions draw their water intercepts water that feeds springs and perennial streams in the area. Therefore, if development such as Lomas Alto is allowed to proceed, each new water user will have a negative incremental effect upon the springs and streams in the area and the riparian areas which depend upon them. Harris, who has lived in the vicinity of the subdivisions since 1975, testified that her hand-dug 32 foot well, which she relies on for domestic water, went dry this summer after being a reliable source for more than 20 years. She claimed the proposed transfer will further impair the ground water and springs on her property. Lynn Montgomery testified that the proposed transfer will impair the hydrology of the spring-fed acequia he manages which has been in use since the 1840s. Expert witnesses Consuelo Bokum of 1000 Friends of New Mexico and Bill Dunmire, a botanist and instructor at UNM, testified that increased depletion of the springs and perennial streams would destroy fragile wetlands and riparian habitat, eventually making the entire area a piñon-juniper desert and destroying the ecological diversity most people in the community treasure. Humphrey also argued that water use records for the subdivisions demonstrate that some homeowners within the subdivisions are using enormous amounts of water and that the developers have no guidelines for water conservation, provide no incentive to conserve, and have no means to enforce conservation
Lawyers for the subdivisions claimed, despite Humphrey pointing out that all New Mexico rivers are fully appropriated, that a surplus of water exists in the vicinity of the well and that the proposed transfer would have little if any effect upon the surface water, springs, and ground water in the area. They also vigorously questioned whether the protestants, despite living in close proximity to the subdivisions, would be directly affected in any way, and that they therefore did not have legal standing to protest the application. A decision is expected early in the new year.
This case should serve as a wake-up call to people throughout New Mexico (as if we needed another example!) that developmental interests do not care about the existing human, plant, and wildlife communities that depend on acequias, perennial streams, springs, wetlands, and riparian areas. Wealthy developers realize that most private citizens are in no position to deal with the long, complicated, and expensive process necessary to demonstrate the adverse effects such transfers pose. As this case vividly demonstrates they are prepared to resort to whatever means necessary to obtain the water upon which further development depends. The current State Engineer is on record stating that he would like to make the process of transferring water from "low value uses" to "higher value uses" easier. Unless current water rights holders are prepared to battle these interests, water will continue to flow uphill to money and the ecology, culture, and quality of life in New Mexico will go down the drain.
By Kay Matthews
The Cañon de Carnuel Land Grant, located in the Sandia Mountain foothills to the east of Albuquerque, was established in 1763 by genízaros (non-Pueblo Indians who had been captured as slaves and adopted the Spanish way of life) as a buffer community to Albuquerque. Originally 90,000 acres in size the grant lands extended from San Antonio, north of Tijeras, to Carnuel, just east of the city. The grant suffered constant attacks by marauding Indians, and in 1819 was re-granted to the heirs of the original settlers. The Court of Private Land Claims adjudicated the grant in 1901 and reduced its size to 2,000 acres, recognizing the heirs of 52 original settlers. Today, there are about 1,000 members of the grant who manage 400 acres of common lands scattered in a checkerboard pattern in San Antonio and Tijeras.
Because of its proximity to Albuquerque, the grant has been involved in numerous battles to protect both its land and water rights. The grant prevailed against the most recent attempt to whittle away its historical land base. A district court decision on December 8 prevented the annexation and development of 150 acres of land that lie within its traditional boundaries in the Four Hills area of the city. Three acres of this land - valued at over $100,000 - were awarded to the grant in a quiet title suit initiated by Moises Gonzales, Carnuel land grant heir and planning assistant for Rio Arriba County: "This was a good victory for land grants and acequias adjacent to urban areas," Gonzales said.
The battle began when Albuquerque developer Mike Knight of West Tijeras Canyon Ltd. tried to get the city to annex the Four Hills land to facilitate his proposed development. The city was actually opposed to annexation (along with the Bernalillo County Commission and residents living in the proposed area) because it would contravene its comprehensive management plan, which called for keeping this area rural, and didn't want to spend the money to extend services required by annexation. Land grant members had already been looking into the ownership of the land in question, and when they discovered that the person who Knight had bought some of the land from did not have clear title, the grant filed deeds and paid the back taxes.
Unfortunately, an obscure board called the Municipal Boundary Commission stepped into the debate and, after a short hearing on the annexation request, decided that the city of Albuquerque did indeed have to annex the Four Hills land. The city, the land grant, and the Acequia Madre de Carnuel Community Ditch Association appealed this decision to district court, and the land grant was given standing because of proof of deed to the lands in question. District Court Judge Robert Scott overturned approval of the annexation by the Municipal Boundary Commission, finding that the Commission had acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" by refusing to hear the the "well-founded and stated objections" of the people living in the area who objected to annexation for cultural, economic and environmental reasons. The judge also concluded "that the Commission itself was created by the Legislature to hear disputes between people living in an area contiguous to a municipality and the municipality itself" and cannot consider "the goals of single corporate owners of land who wish municipal services for developmental purposes over the objection of the municipality and the people."
According to Moises Gonzales, the grant is looking at the process of " using laws on the books", as land grant heirs did in this case, to conduct genealogies and acquire warranty deeds as a way to control land speculation within grants. They anticipate that the developer will appeal the district court decision, but in the meantime they will continue to try to clear title on the remaining lands in question. State Rep. Ron Godbey, who represents the east mountain area, has already introduced House Joint Memorial 35 before several legislative committees to require that the Municipal Boundary Commission suspend all annexation proposals until the legislative interim land use committee has studied the current state provisions and made recommendations.
Copyright 1996-2000 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.