PERSPECTIVE FROM NM WILDERNESS BLOG

 
   
 

The New Mexico Wilderness blog site was owned by Mr. Jim Scarantino, Albuquerque, NM.

From the blog site profile:

"I am an avid hiker, happiest with a pack on my back and spending my nights under the stars. As Chairman of the Coalition for NM Wilderness, it was my pleasure to lead the effort to pass the Ojito Wilderness Act, the first citizen initiated wilderness legislation for NM in nearly two decades."

Mr. Scarantino is an attorney.  He writes a column for The Alibi titled "The Real Side".  A very interesting recent article is titled "The Big, Green Terror Genie".  He is also a commentator for KUNM.FM, as well as the immediate past Chairman of the Coalition for NM Wilderness. 

Mr. Scarantino was the Executive Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance until he resigned in early 2004.   In his own words from a comment on his blog "My life membership in NMWA was cancelled when I demanded an accounting of how they were spending members' money, and when I insisted that the conflicts of interest on the Board of Directors be cleaned up. That is true, and I've got the correspondence to prove it. But I wasn't fired. When I resigned as Executive Director I received a very nice letter of commendation from the current Chairman."

He discontinued his blog on 7/24/07, and he graciously gave us permission to reproduce his writings about the wilderness proposals in Dona Ana County here.  Mr. Scarantino says: "Anything that has appeared on my blog is already in the public domain.  You and anyone else are welcome to it."

The posts are listed below, from most recent to oldest.  We think you will find them very informative.

Mr. Scarantino mentions groups like EarthFirst in his writings.  For some insight into this group, simply do a Google search on EarthFirst (no spaces), as well as some of the individuals he mentions.  There is quite a collection of enlightening information available. 

A letter from Village of Hatch Trustees Dave Sment and Lloyd Burns also brings to light some serious concerns.  In mid-August, 2007, the Village of Hatch unanimously rescinded their support for the proposed wilderness.  In this letter, the trustees state "The issue of importance today is the emerging awareness of who is behind this effort.", in reference to Mr. Dave Foreman, founder of the environmental group Earth First, and one of the founders of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.  The 2005 IRS Form 990 for NMWA listed Mr. Foreman on the Board of Directors.  The 2006 Form 990 is not yet available.  Mr. Foreman was a featured speaker at the 2006 New Mexico Wilderness Conference, sponsored by NMWA, on Nov. 11, 2006 in Santa Fe, and an article by Mr. Foreman was published in the Spring 2007 NMWA newsletter.  He also co-founded the Wildlands Project, and is also involved  in The Rewilding Institude, along with NMWA Board Member Dave Parsons, NMWA Executive Director Steve Capra, and NMWA Board Member Robert Howard (Former Wildlands Proejct Board President).   For additional information on Dave Foreman, see Wikipedia, or view the sites on a Google search.

See our Reference Material & Research Resources area for additional information.
 

   
 

The Dona Ana Mess Part 5: Dueling Banjos and A Final Word
Thursday, July 19, 2007

Yesterday saw dueling press conferences by supporters and opponents of a huge wilderness proposal in Dona Ana County. The Las Cruces Sun-Times provided coverage. I understand El Paso press and local television also picked up on the tug of war for the public's attention.

The perfect musical score, of course, comes from the movie "Deliverance." But a fugue is not a good thing for a wilderness campaign.

A wilderness campaign is not a plebiscite. The polling data for the Dona Ana Wilderness Coalition shows only 55% of those polled favored the wilderness proposal. It also shows 45% are not on board. What the population wants, and where there is consensus is on protecting open space...and that doesn't necessarily require a restrictive and controversial wilderness designation.

The increasing contentiousness of this issue favors stalemate, not forward progress. What legislator wants to stick his nose into an angry beehive? The job of the wilderness advocates was to make it easy for Sens. Domenici and Bingaman, and Rep. Pearce to introduce and pass legislation. A smooth path was especially important when it came to Domenici and Pearce, since they know the wilderness folks are not their supporters. The wilderness advocates have clearly failed in making it easy for Congress to pass a wilderness bill. (Hey, don't blame anyone else, guys. That's what you were paid to do).

Wilderness opponents, working without any paid staff or funding, seem to be doing an improved job of advocating their position. They've dropped abstract rhetoric and now roll out law enforcement concerns (backed by the County Sheriff) and scientific concerns (backed by reputable range experts and former government officials who worked for the BLM and USFS). It's becoming clear that the opposition is not just sixteen yahoos running doggies in the desert. The opposition is composed of respected business people and community leaders with deep roots in Dona Ana County, and a very large network of friends and acquaintances.

The strategy of the wilderness folks was to dash out ahead, and try to push a wilderness bill through before opposition could organize. Yesterday's press conferences show that strategy didn't work.

I've written before that I doubt State Representative and the southern director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Jeff Steinborn, will have any room for real, substantial compromise. There is a strong centrifugal force in wilderness circles. Peer pressure works against anyone who advocates compromise or empathy with the other side's point of view; the safer spot in those circles is to spin further and further outward towards the fringes of extremism and intransigence.

The wilderness opponents are equally dug in. In my conversations with them, it's clear they want to find a way to protect open space around Las Cruces. But they are very alarmed about harm to the investments they have made in their ranches. They are the ones in this fight with something tangible to lose. They have watched the experience of other ranchers. To them, it seems that wilderness designation comes first. Then follows the constant pressures to move them off the land, from endangered species and other forms of litigation by groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity (which has one of its leaders on the NMWA Board), to pressures exerted at the agency level that ramp up restrictions on ranching activities.

It's a shame. Once upon a time ranchers stood with wilderness advocates. Today, there is deep-seated hostility among environmentalists towards the ranching and agricultural communities. Ever since environmental groups decided to try to purge the ranching industry from public lands in the West, the relationship between the two sides has been poisoned with mistrust and antipathy.

I don't think wilderness advocates truly appreciate the perspective of ranchers who feel threatened and betrayed. And, you know, I don't think environmentalists truly give a damn about ranch families that suffer, sick with worry about losing their investments and homes, and being forced to surrender a kind of life that defines who they are.

The place where consensus exists is in protecting Dona Ana County's open space. The wilderness folks should come back with a proposal to switch out many of their wilderness designations for open space designations only, with legislative protections against the land ever being developed but allowing greater access than wilderness designation permits. The ranchers will have to address realistically the widespread support for protecting Organ Mountains.

Since the wilderness coalition started the process, the initiative towards real, substantial compromise should come from them. But, to repeat, I doubt that the extremists and EarthFirsters on NMWA's Board and behind the scenes will tolerate real compromise. And institutional environmentalism loves big, costly, high-profile fights such as the Dona Ana mess has become. It's a great fundraising vehicle, and for many in the wilderness movement their primary motivation is money, power and status. They discovered wilderness the first time they saw the word on a paycheck. Heck, just ask how they spend their vacation time: do they backpack or head to Mexico or the beach? That's a sad commentary, but I have seen these principles in operation at all levels of the environmental movement.

This is--officially, once and for all, definitively--the last post here. As stated in the preceding post, I am getting into biking in a big way. Clearing out my backpacking room and installing storage racks for bikes is already underway. If you want to preserve anything that's appeared on this blog, here's notice you'd better copy it pretty soon. This blog will be gone next week.

Thanks to the more than a thousand readers since May 2006. I kept count of you, and saw readership spike tremendously this year. Sorry to bail, but life, one hopes, moves forward.

The Dona Ana Mess Part 4
Monday, July 09, 2007

Some interesting things on the wind out of DC. First, I was told that Sen. Jeff Bingaman is considering introducing legislation to protect the Organ Mountains and the mesa to the east of Las Cruces. This is considerably short of what wilderness advocates want. But, if there's any substance to the tip, it may be a reflection of the difficulties in finding agreement (and a recognition of a growing controversy) in that community regarding a 300,000 acre wilderness proposal that stretches on three sides of the city. The Organs to Las Cruces are like the Sandias to Albuquerque. Protecting them should be less controversial...or maybe that's too optimistic an assessment considering how much the water has been poisoned along the Rio Grande in Dona Ana County when it comes to wilderness.

Which brings us to the second tip, speaking of poisoned water...

I heard that the meeting between the wilderness advocates and Rep. Steve Pearce did not go that well. The wilderness activists may not have picked up on it, but, I'm told, Pearce didn't think they were being straight with him about who was opposing their plans. He confirmed his suspicions that he had been lied to the next day in a meeting with opponents of the wilderness proposal. Credibility is all-important in working with any Congressional delegation to fashion and pass legislation. Leading a Congressman to think you respect him so little you'd mislead him ain't the way to build trust.

And that leads to the third and final tidbit I learned over the weekend:

Looks like this blog wasn't the first place to bring up the fact that NM State Representative Jeff Steinborn and the front men and women for the Dona Wilderness campaign have been reporting back to people who launched, facilitated, supported and/or sympathized with ecoterrorism (and, I firmly believe, continue to harbor sympathy for ecoterrorists). Turns out the rancher opposition was already on the trail. They had done their own research, and dug up the connections between Directors of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and EarthFirst!--the seminal ecoterrorism organization that has spawned Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front. I learned they've been sharing their dossier on NMWA's EarthFirst! connections with public officials since earlier this year.

I don't understand how Steinborn, who is an elected official much in the public eye, NMWA and others in the Dona Ana wilderness coalition thought the EarthFirst! connection would never surface. Nor do I understand why they didn't insulate themselves from association with EarthFirst founders and sympathizers before launching a high-profile, ambitious and contentious wilderness campaign in the district of a conservative Republican Congressman who already views environmentalists warily. From what I know, they were fully aware of who was who in NMWA, what they had done, and what they stood for. Waiting until this Spring to scrub EarthFirst references from the bios of NMWA Directors, or hiding the fact that Dave Foreman, the co-founder of EarthFirst! has been on NMWA's Board for a decade, was a pretty lame makeover. Only last August, NMWA was publicly heralding Dave Foreman as its "founding father." (As mentioned before on this blog, other NMWA Directors, past and present, also have EarthFirst connections). And cosmetic changes don't speak to the underlying moral issue of association with people who have advocated, taught, and practiced violence, and never renounced their beliefs or called on others to turn away from a path they have walked. As suggested by the most recent letters posted at Western Heritage Alliance (link on the right), the identity of the people behind NMWA seems to be a looming issue.

Mr. Scarantino's responses related to comments from this post included the following:

When questioned about the link between NMWA to eco-terrorists, Mr. Scarantino wrote:

Are you contending EarthFirst was and is not a terroristic organization? That's the only way anyone can argue that NMWA, and people who work for NMWA, have no link to those who have founded, facilitated, supported and sympathized with ecoterrorism. That's so because it is beyond argument that NMWA was established and has been led and influenced for a decade by people who were closely involved with EarthFirst, ranging from one of its founders, to funders, to the physician who midwifed the birth of EarthFirst at his kitchen table, to a person who fired a rifle over the head of PNM security guards. Foreman's book "Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching" is considered the "Bible" of the Animal and Earth Liberation Fronts (so says ELF and ALF arsonist Rodney Coronado, whom Foreman brought on stage at an EarthFirst rally and hailed as one of the "new breed of warriors"). I bet you could borrow a copy from a NMWA Director and see why this EarthFirst publication is held in such high esteem by practicing ecoterrorists.

 
When accused of being fired from NMWA, Mr. Scarantino wrote:

Once again, for the record, I voluntarily resigned from my brief tenure at NMWA. I've been raising the EarthFirst connections of NMWA's board ever since I first learned of what EarthFirst really stood for and practiced. I will confess to making a serious error in not doing that research sooner.

 
When asked for proof on the association between NMWA and eco-terrorist organizations, Mr. Scarantino wrote:

Re-read carefully what I wrote in this and previous entries and comments on the subject. I will point out that even you admitted NMWA was founded by Earthfirsters and the co-founder of EarthFirst (a man who sees hope in the extinction of humanity) has been on the NMWA Board for the past decade. There's no denying the facts. Now, you haven't disputed that EarthFirst has always been a terroristic organization. Maybe you don't think it is, and that's the crux of the problem.

 
When someone commented that the fact the NMWA was founded by people involved in EarthFirst! doesn't justify the insinuation that the organization and/or inviduals involved are involved in eco-terrorism:

You still avoid my question: hasn't EarthFirst been a terroristic organization since inception? Or are you one of those who won't call what EarthFirst does "terror"? Or are you simply reluctant to speak the truth about an organization that is still remembered proudly by NMWA Directors who helped bring it into the world?

 
In another follow up response, Mr. Scarantino wrote:

The post doesn't make the claims you have injected into your comments. It states that Steinborn and others in the Dona Ana wilderness coalition have been reporting back to "people who launched, facilitated, supported and/or sympathized with ecoterrorism." It is undeniable that NMWA's Board has people who meet that description because of their involvlement with EarthFirst. They've never renounced what EarthFirst stood for and did. I just remembered that in Foreman's farewell letter to EF, he heralded how much economic damage EarthFirst had done. That's not a change in heart. NMWA, until recently, also had EF credentials in Directors' bios. (It's not credible to argue the Board doesn't get reports on the Dona Ana wilderness effort. Don't go there.)

We've been over this. Your turn. (P.S. EarthFirst wasn't around in the 1970's). (P.P.S. There's an essay in a Wild Earth magazine on the legitimacy of violence in the name of the environment, likening violent enviros to Potawatomie (sp?) John, John Brown, who killed people in Kansas. The Wildlands Project was the publisher. Who was on the Board at the time? Foreman and Howard (I think he was Chairman), same time they were on NMWA's Board)(P.P.P.S. Ask Bob Howard and Wes Leonard about EarthFirst, and whether they had any involvement with it. Tell me what they tell you and we'll compare notes).

Anyway, your turn: Do you deny that EarthFirst has been a terroristic organization since inception?

 

The Dona Ana Mess Part 3
Wednesday, July 04, 2007

I'd like to say "I'm sorry" to those folks who don't want me using "mess" to describe the state of the Dona Ana wilderness campaign. But I can't. I think I'm being accurate in my assessment. I've reviewed and reconsidered all information that's publicly available, as well info from someone inside the wilderness campaign. I held a long conversation with leaders of the opposition and have the perspective of confidential sources in the Federal government. I've found no grounds for reconsidering anything I wrote in Parts 1 and 2 of the series of posts on this issue. So I'm afraid I have to stick with "mess" until something happens to contradict that characterization.

I'll be posting more expansive analyses of the state of the Dona Ana campaign over the next month. For now, I'll simply point to recent letters written in opposition to the wilderness proposal. They come from the Dona Ana County Sheriff, the Dona Ana County Sheriff's Posse, others with law enforcement connections and local business owners. The Elephant Butte Irrigation District has upped the intensity of its opposition by a second letter, raising the spectre of flooding, as well as concerns about losing the ability to capture surface water runoff. You can find these letters at
Western Heritage Alliance, one of the groups leading the opposition to the wilderness campaign. From what I learned in my most recent conversation with two members of that group, we can expect to see more letters like these. It looks like the opposition is growing broader and stronger.

Some Kinda Big Deal
Monday, June 18, 2007

I was just informed I have been honored as one of the best political columnists in the country by the Association of Alternative NewsWeeklies, the trade group of all the alternative papers ranging from NYC's Village Voice to Denver's Westword to Albuquerque's Weekly Alibi. For those who don't know, I write for the Alibi as a columnist and an interviewer profiling interesting people in New Mexico. (I've also just started as a commentator for KUNM.FM and may be appearing on other NM media outlets very soon).

My editor tells me this is some kind of really big deal, especially since it's the first year my work has been considered by the AAN.

My column is called "The Real Side." I try to call it as I see it, employing what I describe as "nonideological realism." I really don't have an ideology that governs my analysis of current affairs. I've been a Democrat then a Republican then a Democrat again...and don't know how long it will be before I strike out for Independent territory. I'm pro-peace, pro-environment, against the death penalty and pro-life. I've voted for Heather Wilson every two years since her first election, but worked my butt off to defeat Bush each time he's run for the Presidency. And so on. It would be a lot easier to live as an ideologue, but my brain just doesn't work that way.

In my column, I've been both complementary and critical of environmentalists, and harshly critical of eco-terrorists, starting with EarthFirst! and continuing through to the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front. All three groups are still active, and getting more and more dangerous. Check my column that comes out this week about the latest round of ELF nut cases who were preparing for assassinations of living, breathing human beings but instead (thank, God) are now headed to federal prison.

I have received more harsh, even violent reactions to criticism of environmentalists than anything else I've written about, even though no one has yet shown that I've gotten my facts wrong. Some of the reaction was organized in an effort to stifle me. Some of it included harassment, like the "Home Visit" by enviro-wackos who banged on our home's windows and doors in the middle of the night shouting and screaming. I wasn't home. They managed, however, to terrify my wife. For the record, that act of intimidation occurred at the time of my criticism of NMWA's sloppiness and hyperbole in the Otero Mesa defense campaign.

I got a lot of heat for cracking the brittle metal of the enviro icon Edward Abbey. He was in fact a drunk, misogynistic, hypocrite. I do regret I didn't do a better job: I failed to mention that this man who decried the human population explosion had himself fathered at least five children.

I try to take everything into account in reaching an opinion, and so I have held off on Part III of the series on the Dona Ana Mess in this blog. I am weighing the information provided by "Environmentalist" in the comments, information that is both not publicly available and somewhat at odds with published reports of the Dona Ana campaign. I am glad to see that Dave Foreman, co-founder of America's first eco-terrorism group, who has written that mankind is a disease and famine relief should be discouraged so that "Nature can run its course," is, after a decade on the NMWA Board, departed from the organization. But other EarthFirsters are still there, as anyone familiar with the Board knows. They not only welcomed Foreman and other former Board members who were publicly known to be associated with EarthFirst, they have never denounced EarthFirst's violence, and, in fact, have objected to EarthFirst's activities being considered eco-terrorism (they prefer to call it "eco-tage").

Tell that to anyone who has been the target of EarthFirst, ELF or ALF, or any of the young, impressionable environmentalists who cut their teeth studying The EarthFirst! Journal and are now headed for a decade or more in federal penitentiaries. Just like NMWA's EarthFirsters, they never considered what they were supporting or practicing to be terrorism, either.

The Dona Ana Mess Part 2
Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What to make of the situation in Dona Ana County? The Dona Ana Wilderness Coalition is making a big push to overcome the fact that no consensus developed out of the hearings and meetings requested by Sen. Pete Domenici. Ranchers, off-roaders and developers are not on board with specific boundaries and entire proposed wilderness designations. Only 55% of the county residents polled last year support the Coalition's proposal.

Ranchers distrust wilderness designations because they feel they'll be in the cross-hairs of efforts to destroy their businesses down the road. Developers like protecting open space because it raises adjoining property values, but they want to nudge future developments closer to the Organ Mountains than the Coalition likes. Off-roaders...well, they're off-roaders, what's to be expected? But they are vocal, organized and numerous.

The Archbishop of Las Cruces announced his support for wilderness protection, but I doubt there is a theological difference between a designation under the 1964 Wilderness Act, a National Conservation Area, protections under FLPMA or placing the lands into an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. If ranchers explained to him why they would settle for something less than wilderness, I don't think there's any Papal Bull that would prevent him from sympathizing with their point of view.

On the other hand, a lot of local governments, businesses and organizations do support the huge Coalition proposal. The Coalition is vigorous, large, and seems well-funded. But it has mishandled a golden opportunity in Dona Ana County up to now.

Its first failing was not cultivating good, trusting working relationships with Sen. Domenici and Rep. Steve Pearce before approaching them with their "ask." Unfortunately, the wilderness community's reputation for less than honorable dealings with Republican office-holders is well known. They stab Rep. Heather Wilson in the back every two years, despite the fact she has taken the lead on the only wilderness legislation to pass in a long time, and also was walking point in getting Valle Vidal done (brief history lesson: her visit to Valle Vidal got Udall off the pot.)

Domenici has gotten more than a million acres of wilderness protected in this state, but knows wilderness supporters will be out to get him every election. The Board and Executive Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance actively sought to defeat Rep. Pearce, including engaging in activities that either violated or came darn close to violating their 501(c)(3) status. Police were called into a meeting in Socorro a couple years ago when a confrontation led by NMWA's current ED with Rep. Pearce got a little out of hand.

It's not likely either of these gentlemen will be riding off into the sunset soon, so wilderness supporters must find a way to work with them. But that hasn't happened. And that's why they had so little say in the formulation of Sen. Domenici's original bill. They weren't in on ground level with his staff, operating from a position of mutual respect and trust, and working hand-in-hand on a bill that avoided deal-killers the multiple interests in the wilderness community couldn't swallow.

So they tried to muscle Domenici, to "roll him" as they call it. Enviros can't "roll" Pete and that backfired. But he gave them another chance to make it easy for him to pass a wilderness bill, and convince Pearce to back it. And that set off the wide-open process led by the City of Las Cruces to develop a consensus.

Well, no consensus evolved. The ranchers' suspicions of wilderness were heightened, one could say validated, by the fact NMWA had for two years been laying plans for turning their grazing lands into wilderness without talking with them. I've discussed that bungle in previous posts.

Now with no consensus, NMWA alleges that the people who don't agree with them didn't belong in the process, that they were not "legitimate stakeholders." That sounds more than a little petulant. And NMWA is now trying to "roll" the ranchers, developers and off-roaders by dumping the mess into Domenici's lap and hoping he'll come up with something.

What that means is they're hoping Domenici himself will "roll" NMWA's opponents, people who form his perennial supporter base, people who don't stab him in the back every election. And then, presumably, it's up to Domenici to take care of Pearce and get him to overlook opposition, likewise from his own base of supporters.

Is that how wilderness legislation gets passed? I may be wrong, but this sure looks to be a mess.

I will write next time on whether real compromise from the Wilderness Coalition can be expected, since Jeff Steinborn, a state representative who is NMWA's southern director, gets his marching orders from people who have engaged in, advocated, facilitated or in other ways supported eco-terrorism. Until then, I'm off to the canyonlands of New York City for high culture and haute cuisine, and as many Broadway shows as we can cram in a week. Not exactly a wilderness experience, I admit. But I'll be posting pics of more hikes when I return.
  Mr. Scarantino's responses related to comments from this post included the following:
When questioned about the link between NMWA to eco-terrorists, Mr. Scarantino wrote:

The point of my writing on the progress (or lack thereof) of wilderness campaigns is to hold NMWA and The Wilderness Society accountable, to provide information and opinions they won't and to encourage other wilderness supporters to demand results, even if it gets under some people's skin.

and

Simply put "EarthFirst" in parens behind "ecoterrorism." I am on solid ground here. I will elaborate in a future post.

and

I see Dave Foreman's name has been removed from the Internet list of the NMWA Board, though he's all over the latest newsletter. I see other EarthFirsters (Howard, Leonard, e.g.) still listed as Board members, contrary to your last post. And, BTW, Foreman and his cohorts never disavowed EarthFirst's tactics, never condemned monkeywrenching and never embraced only nonviolence as the means of social change. They walked out only because they lost control of EarthFirst. Check Dave Foreman's and Nancy Morton's Dear EarthFirst letter published in the EarthFirst Journal upon his departure. Foreman, in fact, celebrated the twentieth anniversary of EarthFirst and has passed out copies of his sabotage manual not so long ago. I also remember EarthFirst being celebrated at NMWA Board meetings as recently as 2003, and current Board members getting nostalgic about discharging a gun, or late night meetings of the EarthFirst founders around their kitchen table.

 

The Dona Ana Mess Part 1
Friday, May 18, 2007

Go to the website for the Coalition for Dona Ana Wilderness on the right side of this page. Click under their "news" entries to see what has turned into the mess once called the Campaign for Dona Ana Wilderness.

After many meetings with stakeholders, the City of Las Cruces has reported to the Southern NM Congressional delegation not only a lack of consensus, but wide disagreement as to what lands should be put into wilderness. It's sad that things have come to such an impasse. Dona Ana County is booming, and the majority of people know what is at risk of being lost if they don't act now.

I've always believed that New Mexicans treasure their state and don't want to see it become like everywhere else. If done correctly, wilderness campaigns can succeed in most areas of this state. But those opportunities have frequently been overlooked, passed over for agendas that disserve NM wilderness. And growth comes at us relentlessly. With the passage of time opportunities for preserving this state as we love it are lost, and those that remain get harder every day.

The Dona Ana Campaign is struggling first of all against a legacy of poor leadership within the wilderness community (both on the state and national levels) for the past two decades, at least as far as NM is concerned. If one thing has been learned from those years of mistakes and wasted money, time and effort, it is that time is not on the side of wilderness.

Let's hope wilderness supporters capitalize on the opportunities now existing in Dona Ana County to protect as much land as they can from development--whether by wilderness designation or any other means--and not hope that the stars will magically align more favorably at some future time. Lets hope they drop their anti-ranching agendas, their rewilding pipedreams and their personal ambitions. It appears every stakeholder recognizes the importance of what is at stake, and that is a wonderful thing in itself. It will take wilderness advocates rising above themselves and their organizations to make necessary compromises, to bring about something very good for Dona Ana County...

...and then get going on the next wilderness protection campaign before even more time and opportunities are lost.
   
 

The Water Card Gets Played in Dona Ana County
Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Conservationists have played the water card on Otero Mesa to push back plans for opening the area to natural gas development. Now opponents of a huge wilderness proposal for Dona Ana County are playing their own water card. The Board of Directors of the Elephant Butte Irrigation District has stated its opposition to the wilderness proposal for Dona Ana County. You can find the letter on the website of the anti-wilderness coalition, Western Heritage Alliance, linked on the right side of this page.

Does water trump oil...and wilderness?

The presence of a huge aquifer underlying Otero Mesa does not necessary preclude drilling for natural gas. With the right kind of equipment and care, as is done in many places, natural gas can be extracted without damaging the water resource. And at some point, the surface of Otero Mesa must be developed with roads, pipelines and utilities to pump and move the water to people. But for now the water issue is being used to try to delay natural gas development, without considering that eventual water development will have its own consequences for the landscape.

Similarly, the presence of wilderness areas in watersheds does not preclude flood control downslope and down river. Wilderness areas have actually been established for the primary purpose of protecting watersheds (e.g., the Adirondacks, a huge watershed for New York City). Retaining structures necessary to protect communities from flooding can be grandfathered, exempted or carefully written into wilderness legislation. There is no need to prevent surrounding tens of thousands of acres from receiving wilderness protection just because a particular arroyo must receive some special consideration.

In the Southwest, our senstivity about water tends to push other considerations off the table. Opposition from a powerful irrigation district is very bad news for the Dona Ana wilderness effort. It likely presages opposition from other quaters of the affected communities.

At some point, I plan to post my analysis of what has gone wrong in the Dona Ana campaign, which now appears to be teetering over a ditch, with wheels spinning in the indifferent air.

 

 

"Hobby Ranchers"?
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

In looking through the latest newsletter from Great Old Broads for Wilderness I saw an article from the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance on the Dona Ana County wilderness campaign. In the article, the ranchers resisting wilderness designation are referred to derisively as "hobby ranchers." I think that attitude reflects the source of the problems NMWA has had in persuading ranchers to support, or at least not oppose their wilderness proposal.

It comes down to a matter of trust. Ranchers don't give credence to NMWA's assurances that their lives will go on under a wilderness designation as if nothing has happened. A leader of the ranchers' group has told me they are highly suspicious of NMWA and the people on its Board of Directors. Maybe they have good reason for their sense of distrust. Being mocked as "hobby ranchers" certainly doesn't indicate a level of respect from NMWA necessary to any sort of productive relationship with these key stakeholders in the Dona Ana wilderness effort. This is quite disappointing.
   
 

Dona Ana Campaign in a Ditch?
Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Albuquerque Journal has reported that "no consensus" has been produced among the different stakeholders over a potential Dona Ana wilderness bill. I've confirmed the deadlock with people in Dona Ana County.

The off-road vehicle groups have gotten very organized and are opposing wilderness in many areas where the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance wants wilderness. Ranchers are opposing wilderness designation for their ranches, but may be open to alternative administrative protections. NMWA,I am told, won't compromise with the ranchers.

I also learned that NMWA did not even contact the ranchers whose areas would be designated wilderness until after the campaign had been up and running for nearly two years. And then, NMWA simply confronted the ranchers with what NMWA wanted for their allotments. Not a great way to build trust. Shades of previous blunders!

This time last year Sen. Pete Domenici was ready to introduce a bill designating more than 200,000 acres in Dona Ana County as wilderness. Rep. Steve Pearce, despite his inclinations against any more wilderness in his district, was on board. Now...who knows?

 

 

Cabin Fever Breaks and the Last Rant of 2007
Saturday, January 13, 2007

I've been bogged down with some writing projects the first weeks of this new year. That's why you haven't seen new wilderness pics lately. I can tell you I've got cabin fever bad. Hopefully, it will break next week when I head down to the Guadalupes and maybe a day wandering around Otero Mesa or the Brokeoffs.

I've had some private responses to my posts on the lack of productivity in designating wilderness that we've had to put up with from The Wilderness Society and The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. One call I was very sad to take. It came from a rancher in Dona Ana County who was complaining about his experiences with NMWA staff. Unfortunately, it appears the kind of consensus necessary to get legislation down that way looks to be a far way off. I doubt Rep. Steve Pearce or Sens. Bingaman and Domenici will force wilderness down anyone's throat.

I've also heard from people saying I'm too hard on the consultants and staff for TWS and NMWA. My response is that The Wilderness Society hasn't produced any wilderness legislation in this state for twenty years, despite the high salaries paid to the Colorado people who've been holding the steering wheel (yup, whatever happens here has to go through people who don't live here, and don't really have all that much affection for our state's wild lands). NMWA has gone through millions of dollars and can't point to a single acre moved into wilderness protection for which it deserves credit. (Sorry, NMWA, one of the keys to getting Ojito done was keeping you and TWS far, far in the background).

There are always excuses. Tons of money have been raised and burned. People keep getting paychecks--big ones--even though nothing gets done. TWS staff claim credit for the work of others as they chase promotions within their organization. Those of us who use and enjoy New Mexico wilderness don't owe them any benefit of the doubt.

It's the other way around: they owe New Mexico. Big time.

Hopefully, this will be my last rant of 2007...unless TWS and NMWA screw up again. I hope that doesn't happen.

 

 

Great Expectations for 2007
Monday, January 1, 2007

Now that we have a Democratic Congress, things need to get moving quickly in New Mexico. Last time we were in this situation, 1991-92, The Wilderness Society and Sierra Club D.C. staff messed up a state-wide wilderness bill of between 500,000 and 1,000,000 acres. I hope they've learned from that debacle.

Rep. Tom Udall has announced he will push to designate the 17,000 acre Sabinosa area in San Miguel County as formal wilderness. Great news, and about time. This campaign has taken nearly three years to get a bill intoduced that faces no opposition. By contrast, the Ojito campaign took only 14 months to get the bill introduced in the House. And that was done mostly with volunteer effort. And we turned around a county commission that had only months before voted against any wilderness designations whatsoever in Sandoval County.

The Sabinosa campaign has been led entirely by Wilderness Society and New Mexico Wilderness Alliance staff and paid consultants. They report only to other people who also get paid, regardless of results. There's a great advantage to having volunteers at the helm: their only reward is the ultimate win; they don't get compensated for dragging their feet.

I certainly hope The Wilderness Society and New Mexico Wilderness Alliance have other wilderness proposals in Udall's district stacked up like airplanes waiting to take off. They should have been laying the groundwork for the next two or three bills while Sabinosa was stuck in neutral. There are many opportunities to designate substantial wilderness in Taos County (where the task should be easy) and Rio Arriba county, as well.

Down south, hopefully something will break loose in the Dona Ana campaign, which I wrote about in the previous post. There are other opportunities for wilderness, even in Rep. Steve Pearce's district, if the wilderness pros can manage to work with ranchers.

The 1991-92 experience showed success cannot be taken for granted just because Democrats control Congress. The Wilderness Society and NMWA have long blamed Republicans for their lack of success (an invalid excuse in a state where Pete Domenici is responsible for over 1 million acres of wilderness and protected land). Let's see how many acres of New Mexico the pros move into wilderness designation in the next two years. That's what they are paid, and paid well, to do. Let's hope they get a lot done.

Many happy trails for a promising 2007.

 

 

Dona Ana Wilderness Thoughts
Friday, December 22, 2007

I was cheering the efforts to designate wilderness in Dona Ana County a year ago. Things looked good. Then they hit a major bump when the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society seriously mishandled relations with Sen. Pete Domenici. I was very critical of how they conducted themselves, and, to say the least, my criticism was highly resented. The "professionals" and "old guard" haven't accomplished anything in NM in two decades, and they don't like being reminded.

Now I see that opposition has sprung up to a Dona Ana Wilderness bill. A group of local ranchers are leading the effort. They even have a
website. Considering that their ranches are in some of the areas where NMWA and TWS want wilderness designated, this is not a good development. With delays come increased chances for things to go wrong. This is an example.

It appears that the organized rancher opposition has also reinvigorated the four-wheeler opposition.

I know the BLM was pleased that last year's effort drew no opposition from ranchers. That was one reason why they were pushing to get the legislation done at that time.

It's fairly well known that NMWA and TWS were not communicating well with Domenici before the blow up. I'd be surprised if they have done any better job communicating with the ranchers. There are many in NMWA who would just as soon go to war with every rancher rather than try to work with them. NMWA is led, after all, by founders of EarthFirst! and people who think the Pleistocene Age in North America (the prehistorical period before the appearance of man) was the Good Ole Days.

From reading the ranchers' complaints, it appears NMWA and TWS think they can roll the ranchers just like they tried to muscle Domenici. That's not a wise move. Rancher opposition killed the ill-considered Cabezon wilderness campaign. These ranchers--and not enviros--are the electoral base for Rep. Steve Pearce. I know he's complained that "radical environmentalists" killed last year's wilderness legislation. He's not a fan of wilderness as it is, and opposition from his friends won't help change his mind.


I personally know some of the ranchers leading the opposition. They've confided in me that wilderness designation is not what they fear. It's what comes after that worries them. In truth, some groups like the Center for Biodiveristy and Forest Guardians do target ranchers in wilderness areas and have sought to take them out one by one. This lesson has not gone unnoticed. I'm sure they know one of the leaders of the Center is on NMWA's Board, along with old EarthFirsters who delighted in destroying ranching improvements.

We'll keep tabs on developments. It doesn't look like a consensus on Dona Ana wilderness is close.