Ruddy-faced from winter winds and cow manure still clinging to
his work boots, cattleman Preston Stone stood to address a meeting
of Lincoln County, N.M. ranchers and members of the U.S. Forest
Service. Preston was not happy. He testily asked, "How can I bring
my lease into compliance if I dont know what the problem is?
I cant cooperate unless I know. Ive asked my ranger, and he
says he cant tell me because endangered species are exempt from
the Freedom of Information Act and their location is a secret.
He cant tell me why my leases dont meet compliance."
Prestons words caused a stir in the audience. He voiced
exactly what everyone was worrying about. All the permittees present
were under the pressure of a lawsuit filed by Forest Guardians,
other environmentalist groups, and an ensuing injunction from
the Ninth District Court of Appeals. It looked as if many folks
might have to give up their leases. The environmentalists alleged
the Forest Service was violating the National Forest Management
Act (NFMA) in 11 southwestern forests by not following guidelines
for protecting endangered species habitat. Seventy-eight grazing
allotments in Lincoln National Forest had been identified as non-conforming
to the NFMA and district rangers were scrambling to bring them
into compliance by March 1, 1998. "The environmental lawsuits
are stacked up and coming at us," said Larry Sansom of the Forest
Service. "Three lawsuits concerning grazing, riparian and endangered
species habitat are filed. It is too early to tell who will be
affected, but some allotments will have the amount of livestock
reduced. It is impossible to predict what changes pending ESA-specific
lawsuits will cause."
The Ninth ruled in favor of the Forest Service on Dec. 15,
1997. Fred Salinas, deputy director of the Lincoln National Forest
was cautiously happy over the Ninths ruling against Forest Guardians.
"This is a big win for us. It gives us a legal precedence to use
in these other lawsuits. Even so we are working hard to bring
leases into compliance." Happy or not, the Lincoln National Forest
officials, even weeks after the court decision, had not notified
their permittees that the injunction had been lifted. "We dont
like to crow about winning," Salinas said. "Sometimes that can
backfire on you." Lincoln permittee Fred Pfingsten solemnly noted,
"Sure wish they had let us know. It would have lifted the gloom
from a lot of Christmas dinners."
Forest Service credibility has suffered much damage because
of its ongoing failure to communicate. Agents did not inform ranchers
what they must do to meet compliance, nor could they provide an
understandable priority description.
Dorothy Epps has been ranching the Lincoln National Forest
since the 1920s. She, as did her father, has grazing leases in
the Capitan Mountains. Dorothy, like most ranchers in the area,
is upset and suspicious. "Until this little bird [Willow flycatcher]
thing came up I never had any trouble with the Forest Service.
They tell me we are on Priority-One and I dont even know what
that means. Initially we heard we would have to remove cattle
six miles from national forest land. That would take practically
all my cattle off. The Forest Service puts out a lot of information
but never tells us what is wrong with our leases; never puts it
in black and white. How can we fix it if we dont know what is
wrong? I believe they have wanted to kick everybody out for a
long time. This may be their chance. My neighbors are so alarmed
that they believe the only way to talk to the Forest Service is
to take a recorder and tape the conversation."
Rangers on the firing line caught between the cattlemens
distrust and a cowed, bumbling, bureaucratic nightmare were scared
to talk. It seemed they had been issued a gag order. An anonymous
Forest Service ranger said, "I am afraid to talk to you; this
thing is so hot. Hell, a federal marshall will probably come arrest
me, but I will say this. We are trying our best to help our ranchers,
but the Fish and Wildlife Service keeps changing the priority
specifications. They foul us up at every move!"
The Forest Service did cover their backside by sending documents,
written in undecipherable federal-ese, to permittees. They were
so complex, no one short of a federal attorney with access to
a full library of agency regulations could possibly understand
their contents. Sansom was asked to provide a description of the
Forest Services critical or Priority-One habitat. "Those would
contain riparian areas or source of water or intermittent water,
riparian vegetation such as a cottonwood tree, and wilderness
area would of course be taken into consideration. But not all
of the factors would have to be present to identify a Priority-One
lease. A lease identified as a Priority-One need not contain an
actual endangered species. Only potential habitat is necessary."
Sansom called on a U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist
to explain. "If I find a location with food, deadwood and a source
of water, I would have to identify it to be protected." The biologist
further explained that it need not be a potential habitat for
listed species indigenous to the area, but species identified
in the area. All the soft-talk boils down to this. Pending lawsuits
and past decisions from a court far-removed from the grazing land
of the Southwest are creating a situation in which a dry gulch
with a cottonwood tree could be identified as a potential habitat
for threatened or endangered species. The Ninth District set precedence
for protecting such areas in a recent ruling against the Department
of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The court
ruled, "When a species is listed, critical habitat must be designated."
Simply, public land and, in some cases, private property use could
be drastically affected for the protection of absent species with
no history of living or even visiting the areas in question.
All this uproar, mistrust and apprehension is because of
a salvo of lawsuits unleashed against the Forest Service by Forest
Guardians, Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, and Dr.
Robin Silver. They have a pat plan, an offensive winning strategy,
and they work it hard. The environmental groups file lawsuits
against federal land agencies, a savvy action that prohibits land
users from defending themselves because the actions are not lodged
against them. Additionally, the pubic relations angle is strong.
They portray their organization to the media as concerned citizens
standing up for the rights of plants and animals against the power
and might of the uncaring government. Whereas, if they sued private
citizens, the public would get a clear look at their yellow-dog
They almost count on losing in local district courts, then
appealing to the environmentally friendly, Ninth District Court
of Appeals, along with a request for emergency injunctive relief.
The injunction request is almost invariably granted, so even if
they dont win the case, they have effectively clogged the machinery
of government land agencies, and put more ranchers out of business.
Plainly, because of their tricky use of the court system, even
if they lose they still inflict such heavy economic damage that,
actually, they advance.
If the court does not rule in their favor, they dig out applicable
federal court rulings, reword the complaint, and fire off another
lawsuit. The Forest Service is forced to comply with the injunctions,
and in recent years has been willing to settle lawsuits out of
court. Using these tactics, the environmental groups cannot lose,
as long as they can afford to keep filing lawsuits.
It does not appear they will run out of money. They thrive
on government agency and private foundation grants. Furthermore,
they unite in lawsuits and mingle their funds to finance common
legal efforts. They are united, strongly financed, and organized.
These tactics have created mega-environmental groups which become
so powerful they can be termed green cartels.
The Southwest Forest Alliance is a conglomerate of 55 New
Mexico and Arizona environmental groups like Forest Guardians,
Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, and the previously
effete Audubon Society. The membership numbers and financial resources
have made this group the first green cartel.
The Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, was impressed with green
movements such as the Southwest Forest Alliance, praised them
in his manifesto, and saw a logical development in their actions.
"There are well-developed environmental and wilderness movements,"
he wrote. "The radical environmentalists ALREADY hold an ideology
that exalts nature and opposes technology.... The ideology should
be propagated in a simplified form that will enable the unthinking
majority to see the conflict of technology vs. nature in unambiguous
terms.... Propaganda of the rabble-rousing type may be necessary
when the system is nearing the point of collapse and there is
a final struggle between rival ideologies to determine which will
become dominant when the old world-view goes under."
Seems like the little old letter-bomb maker had it pegged
about right. The environmental rabble-rousing publicity machine
is well polished. Their innocuous propaganda machine is damn effective
when it comes to winning hearts and minds. Deceptive slick television
and radio commercials, pretty mailers and colorful magazine ads
so bombard citizens they suffer green guilt unless they support
the movement. The average "six-pack" Joe does not grasp that his
donation may be used to deny productive people their livelihoods,
erode his own freedoms and use of public lands. Indeed, good-hearted
Joes contribution will cost him much more money in the end.
The average American citizen caught up in the throes of the
green publicity machine never stops to consider the dollar effect
of environmental lawsuits. The timber industry estimates that
protecting the Spotted owl has added $4,800 to the price of a
new home. The Brooking Institute reviewed all major economic studies
since 1970 and found the cost of environmental compliance to be
several hundred billion dollars per year. The Rochester Institute
of Technology says environmental regulation cost per family was
approximately $4,200. I reckon Joe might wish he had kept his
money in his wallet when beef goes to $15 per pound.
The direct economic effect of the Forest Guardian lawsuits
on southwestern ranchers is readily apparent. An unexpected and
potentially disastrous consequence has been the effect on traditional
agricultural lenders. Jimmie C. Hall, president of the Albuquerque
Production Credit Association (PCA) and a strong personal supporter
of the ranching industry, hammered that nail home in a recent
meeting of the New Mexico Public Lands Council.
"Ranchers on public and private lands, who might have an
endangered species on their range, are facing drastically reduced
operational funding from lenders like PCA," Hall said. "Lenders
must examine the full force and effect of the ESA on borrowers.
If ranchers, because of an endangered species on their lands,
must give up control and use of those holdings, their repayment
capacity is in peril and the market value of their assets diminished.
The growers are in a double jeopardy situation; they must first
move their livestock off, and then prove that grazing is not endangering
those on the list."
Is this effect on lenders part of the green scheme? Devaluation
of ranching assets and shrinking funds for operation costs could
force numbers of ranchers out of business. Public land leases
for grazing may become valueless as their worth continues to plunge
and the threat of endangered species on private lands could drastically
reduce market value. Could not this deflation cause BLM and the
Forest Service to lease, and private landowners to sell to, organizations
like The Nature Conservancy?
These lawsuits and consequences have many New Mexicans fighting
mad. Former New Mexico Cattle Growers Assn. Director Al Schneberger
is blunt: "These people do not care about conservation; its just
a lot of mischief. They are a bunch of former hippies who turned
to environmentalism when they grew disenchanted with socialism.
They are community-destroyers."
Captain Opinion, a journalist for the Albuquerque Alibi newsletter,
was really to the point: "To save ranching and a piece of America,
take away the environmentalist weapon. If there are no Willow
flycatchers to protect, there will be no reason to shut down the
cattle industry. So go out and kill the wimpy little song birds
as fast as you can. The Earthies will squeak about this being
an immoral and inhuman action. Theyre right, but it is no different
than what they are trying to do to the ranchers."
Dorothy Epps granddaughter, 24-year-old cattlewoman Mary
Folkner, resonates the disheartenment, anger and uncertainties
felt by the ranching community. "The U.S. Forest Service tries
to find the cheap way to win the battle. They didnt prepare for
the case, and they have lost a lot of ground. I cant tell you
what the future is. I cant even plan for a future! We have such
a battle going on we dont know where we stand from one day to
the next. I dont believe the thinking process of the Forest Guardians
will ever become reality. They affect the way that we live today
but I believe their actions come from people in higher power.
Nothing is as straight as it looks. If they run our cattle off
our land, I will find something else to do. I will not give up
the land for anybody! The land is family!"
Environmental organizations have historically attempted to
show alliance with Native Americans and minorities. Forest Guardian
Sam Hitt so alienated rural Hispanics when he pushed for restrictions
on firewood gathering, that they hung him and his lieutenant,
John Talberth, in effigy at Santa Fe. The injunction outraged
the county commission of Rio Arriba County, a predominantly Native
American and Hispanic area. The commissioners attacked the Southwest
Forest Alliance in a published letter to the editor of The Albuquerque
"Rio Arriba is the focal point in a confrontation between
its native inhabitants and a group known as the Southwest Forest
Alliance," they wrote. "The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
will hear another appeal by the Southwest Forest Alliance on Nov.
6. If these so-called forest-guardians win the appeal, they will
have succeeded in banning both grazing and cutting on all public
lands in New Mexico. Hispanic and Indian ranchers produce the
majority of the cattle in Rio Arriba. These are small ranchers
running only 100 head of cattle or less. Could this county [the
fourth poorest county in New Mexico] handle the loss of almost
$8 million in cash receipts? This most certainly will happen when
you consider that the U.S. government classifies 90 percent of
the land in Rio Arriba as grazing land. Is it right to force an
exodus of these native people from their land and public heritage?"
I guess the question we should ask ourselves is, should these
people decide what is best for our communities? Of all the 16
members on the board of the Southwest Forest Alliance, not one
is Hispanic, Native American, or even a native of New Mexico.
How can they expect to know the best solution for our local, native
The County of Rio Arriba asks, "What right, other than conquest,
do these people have to develop vision for our communities or
for the lands stolen from us? It is a sophisticated, treacherous
and deceptive attempt at cultural extermination. We dont care
about their vision; we demand the right of our people to determine
our own destiny. We demand democracy and we demand the U.S. government
honor the treaty signed with our ancestors. This is the decent
thing to do."
On Dec. 11, 1997, Forest Guardians of Santa Fe filed yet
another lawsuit against the Forest Service, charging the agency
failed to protect at least 18 kinds of rare wildlife on 107 grazing
allotments in Arizona and New Mexico.
Preston Stone spent hard weeks in December bucking five-foot
snowdrifts feeding his starving cattle in the most severe winter
storm to ever hit southern New Mexico. His voice was defined by
exhaustion when he somberly noted, "It is a sad day in America
when the government allows faraway courts to destroy the livelihood
of working people. We do the best we can to support our government,
but it doesnt stand beside us."
* * *
J. Zane Walley is a writer from Lincoln, New Mexico. "This article
was hard, damn hard to write," he admits. "It was kinda like peeling
a rotten onion layer by layer. The outside didnt look real good,
but with each layer removed, it became more disgusting. Im convinced
that the green scheme is real." He adds, "The environmental rank
and file followers absolutely support the concerted, disruptive
actions of the green cartel leaders. On the other hand, ranchers
are too busy working and too damn independent to become seriously
involved. I believe unless ranchers and all productive elements
of society unite to combat the greens unbalanced philosophy,
extreme environmentalism will prove a threat to the economic and
social well-being of our country that far surpasses that of any
foreign terrorists. Folks, the enemy aint red anymore, they
are green. They are growing and are on the offense."