Sometimes it seems as though things are getting worse by the minute. We absolutely MUST get this kind of nonsense stopped. — jtl, 419
Three months ago, the U.S. Forest Service abruptly ordered 21 ranches to remove their livestock from federal grazing land allotments in the Mountainair Ranger District. The Forest Service blamed the drought.
The ranchers — some of whom have held Manzano Mountains allotment rights for generations — are now fighting back. They have begun circulating a formal resolution to local governmental bodies “opposing the blanket removal of livestock from the Mountainair District of the Cibola National Forest” and calling for the formation of an advisory panel to give ranchers a say in future decisions.
The order to remove their cattle was arbitrary, ill-thought out and economically punitive, the ranchers say.
Like many federal mountainous areas throughout the United States, the Manzanos are sectioned into allotments, which can be quite large. Specific criteria must be met before an allotment can be obtained or to purchase an existing allotment from another ranch. For example, a rancher must have private land and facilities available to accommodate the livestock, in the event the animals have to be removed.
Many allotments were obtained many generations ago by the ancestors of current ranchers — perhaps when the government purchased the land to establish a national park, for example, or even as a result of Spanish land grants.
Remove all cattle
The order this summer, from a federal Johnny-come-lately agency to a ranch that has grazed the land for perhaps hundreds of years, is ironic, said one rancher, and only adds insult to injury.
It was on June 11 that District Ranger Karen Lessard advised the ranchers in writing that they had to abandon their allotted national forest grazing lands by mid-summer.
“Due to severe drought conditions that for a third year continue to limit livestock forage and plant recovery, I have decided to suspend all grazing on the Mountainair Ranger District no later than July 30, 2013, and continuing for a period of not less than one year following the return of average or above average annual precipitation that produces adequate seed in key grasses and forbs,” Lessard wrote. (A forb is a broad-leafed herbaceous plant.)
Future grazing would be allowed to occur gradually, according to the conditions of each allotment, she said. “It could take a few or more years before the maximum number of livestock authorized on your current permit is allowed on your allotment.”
However, Lessard continued, it would still be the ranchers’ responsibility to maintain water systems and other improvements on their allotments while the lands are not being grazed, because wildlife have come to depend on them.
“This action is the result of drought conditions and is therefore not appealable because it does not change your Term Grazing Permit, nor does it require additional meetings to be put into effect,” Lessard said.
Ranchers: removal is wrong
Rand Perkins, a rancher from Corona, said his permit to graze livestock on federal lands goes back 89 years to 1927. “This total blanket removal is wrong,” he told the Torrance County Commission last week. “They’re using the weather as an excuse. … We’ve had more than eight inches of rain since July 1.”
In Lessard’s letter, she said the district’s range management specialist, Alan Warren, had met with each of the ranchers or their representatives “to inspect range conditions and to discuss timing of stock reduction and range inspections.”
But according to several ranchers, the only discussion focused on when the livestock would be removed — and that decision was dictated by the Forest Service.
One rancher, Matthew Aragon, said he hadn’t grazed his cattle on one of his two allotments for three years when the order came down to remove the livestock. He had been practicing “grazing management,” he said, essentially holding half the allotted land in the bank to meet future needs.
Aragon’s Jesus Baca Ranch on the western face of the Manzano Mountains in Torrance County owns the rights to two 20,000-acre allotments, the Comanche and the Monte Largo. The ranch currently has 120 head of cattle and is permitted to graze 130 animals per allotment per year. Aragon, who is also vice president of the nonprofit Farm and Livestock Bureau, said he supplies the cattle with supplemental pellet feed every other day to avoid overgrazing, even though the pellets are much more expensive than hay.
The Jesus Baca Ranch’s 120 cattle had been grazing on the Monte Largo Allotment, but, because of the drought, Aragon was planning to move them to the Comanche Allotment when the word came down to abandon both. As a result, he had to move the cattle onto the ranch’s 365 acres of private land. “The ability to graze was unfortunately pulled from us at a time it was desperately needed,” he said.
Aragon said Warren visited the Comanche Allotment and “looked at maybe 100 acres of the 20,000 acres. Even though the land had not been grazed for three years, he still felt he needed to remove us.”
He speculated that Warren was afraid other ranchers who were being evicted from their allotments might point a finger at the Jesus Baca Ranch and ask, ” ‘Why are they allowed to stay on?’ So he kicked us off too.”
Rancher Richard Spencer is just as angry. “There is grass,” he told the Torrance County Commission. “The Forest Service is acting improperly.”
He noted that the national forest, which was closed to the public for a time because of the drought, has since reopened for all uses — except grazing. After rain began falling in early July, “all other visitors to the park have been allowed back in,” he said.
Spencer ended his remarks before the commission by quoting Woodie Guthrie: “This land is your land, this land is my land …”
Spencer and other ranchers are calling for the creation of an advisory board that would have the authority to inspect the grazing sites and make recommendations accordingly.
According to the ranchers’ resolution, “this was an arbitrary, non-scientific, blanket removal order which did not take into consideration differences in resource conditions on the various allotments, and … the ability and timing of the allotment owners to resume livestock grazing is left vague and non-specific in the removal order.”
The ranchers said they are unaware of any other forest district in the state issuing such an order.
It will “wreak financial and emotional havoc on the ranchers and their families (while) the economic consequences … will have a negative impact on local businesses, school districts and revenues to local governments,” the document continues.
The resolution also notes that the Forest Service failed to communicate or consult with local governments prior to issuing the order. It calls on the Forest Service to reconsider and withdraw the order and work together with ranchers, the state Department of Agriculture, and the Range Improvement Task Force at New Mexico State University “to develop drought management plans specific to each allotment.”
Last Wednesday, noting that they had not received a word from the Forest Service on the issue, the Torrance County commissioners voted unanimously to endorse the resolution. “The Forest Service hasn’t come here to talk with us,” said Commission Chair LeRoy Candelaria. “I support these people.”
“Are they ignoring us?” Commissioner Lonnie Freyburger wondered aloud. “I’ve heard they’re ignoring these people.”
Books by Dr. Jimmy T. (Gunny) LaBaume
A Handbook for Ranch Managers A Comprehensive Reference Manual for Managing the Working Ranch. Click here to buy the paperback version from Land & Livestock International’s Rancher Supply aStore.
Digital media products such as Kindle can only be purchased on Amazon.com. Click Here to buy the Kendall Version on Amazon.com
To purchase an autographed copy of the book Click Here
The Betrayed: On Warriors, Cowboys and Other Misfits. Click here to buy the paperback version from Land & Livestock International’s Rancher Supply aStore.
To purchase an autographed copy of the book Click Here