The New Mexico Wilderness blog site
was owned by Mr. Jim Scarantino,
the blog site profile:
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
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
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."
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Village of Hatch unanimously rescinded their support for the proposed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
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
Spring 2007 NMWA newsletter.
He also co-founded the
Wildlands Project, and is also involved in
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
Wikipedia, or view the sites on a
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
The perfect musical score, of course, comes from the movie
"Deliverance." But a fugue is not a good thing for a wilderness
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
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
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
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
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
Monday, July 09, 2007
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
And that leads to the third and final tidbit I learned over the
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.
Scarantino's responses related to comments from this post included the
When questioned about the link between NMWA to eco-terrorists, Mr.
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
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?
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
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
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
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
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
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
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
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
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
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.
Scarantino's responses related to comments from this post included the
questioned about the link between NMWA to eco-terrorists, Mr.
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
Simply put "EarthFirst" in parens behind "ecoterrorism." I am on
solid ground here. I will elaborate in a future post.
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
Friday, May 18, 2007
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
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
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
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.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
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
Thursday, January 25, 2007
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
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
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
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
Monday, January 1, 2007
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
Friday, December 22, 2007
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
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
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.