Thursday, February 18, 2016
NM Federal Land Council host meeting.
Lively debate at public lands panel Springboarding local discussion around the possibility of an armed standoff over public lands locally, the “Violent Means to Political Ends … Will Silver City be the Next Burns, Oregon?” community conversation hosted by the Gila Resources Information Project and Gila/Mimbres Community Radio took place Tuesday night in the Global Resource Center Auditorium on the Western New Mexico University campus. Those who spoke touched on topics like peacekeeping, conservation, recreation on public lands, rights and protections as American citizens, and government boundaries. Ranchers expressed frustration; sportsmen expressed fear of public land closures; other locals expressed their personal experiences with those who ranch in this area — particularly with Adrian Sewell and family, who renounced their grazing lease with the federal government, visiting and aligning with the armed protestors in Burns, Ore., last month. Moderator Jamie Newton, host of the “Civil Discourse” show over Gila/Mimbres Community Radio, said he would set a framework to “give this conversation consistent quality of candor and stability,” introducing panelists Kierán Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity; Cissy McAndrew, Realtor and owner of SilverCityTour; Linda Brewer, owner of Bear Mountain Lodge; Jason Amaro of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation board; and Grant County Sheriff Raul Villanueva. Suckling opened with a summary of the events leading to armed takeovers led by Cliven Bundy, which resulted in deaths and arrests in Nevada and Oregon. He said Bundy has a history of turning peaceful protests violent in communities around the nation. “I bring that up to indicate that what we’re dealing with is a very, very potentially serious situation,” he said. Suckling, who recently returned from Burns, said the town was more infiltrated by militia people than the nearby Malheur Wildlife Refuge. “It was very, very scary for the people of that town. … The 12 days I was there, you could see the tension and trauma just increasing.” When the Bundys asked other ranchers to come to Oregon and sign a petition renouncing their grazing contracts with the federal government, the only rancher who did was Grant County’s Adrian Sewell. Suckling said Sewell’s ability to call militia people here could create a violent situation over public lands, but “I believe there’s a tremendous opportunity to avert this,” he said. McAndrew continued, emphasizing her mantra to build community and respect culture. “I feel very close to all cross-sections of the community,” she said. “We’re all independent people. We try to intellectualize and understand each other. We approach things with common sense. I don’t think we live in fear. We recognize we’re perhaps a target area. We need to be progressive and try to offset this.” Brewer, who raises cattle herself, said Courtney Sewell was once a Bear Mountain Lodge employee, but that she has not met her husband, Adrian. “I know Courtney and she’s fabulous,” Brewer said. “It’s not us versus them. We are us.” She said ranchers have been in touch with the panelists this week, and one asked her what she wants for Grant County. “I said, ‘Well, I’m pretty excited about the Continental Divide Trail and we will have to have discussions because it will have those two factions. To make it really happen, we’ve gotta come together on that. And the other thing is I want a USDA inspector-modded slaughterhouse so I can have my cows slaughtered in Grant County. If you go to all the effort to raise really good beef and you have to drive it all the way to Belen and stress out, it is not proper.” Amaro started by thanking the people who established our nation’s public lands legacy. “We’re kidding ourselves if we think this is about us. It’s about our kids and what they’re gonna go through and what we leave to them,” he said. He said several ranchers and sportsmen called him ahead of Tuesday’s conversation. The sportsmen told him they worried they won’t be able to use public lands in the event of a standoff like the one in Burns, while the ranchers said they don’t want to be associated with “any of this craziness.” Amaro said the invitation to be on the panel had him considering which stereotype he would fit for the discussion. “My wife always says I’m a hunting hippie,” he said, urging people to act like we’re all in this together and encouraging the public to work with the appropriate agencies and use the lawful processes of conflict resolution. Villanueva spoke of the need for just law enforcement and pride in community to prevent potentially dangerous situations. “We’re not gonna break the rules for anybody,” he said. Hugh B. McKeen, who owns a forest grazing permit and a Bureau of Land Management grazing permit, said he attended because he suspected the panel would be one-sided, and thinks Suckling is anti-livestock. He said he would be more disturbed by the FBI coming here to settle a dispute than some ranchers. “I don’t know if you’re people afraid of ranchers here. There are several ranchers here. I don’t think anybody’s afraid. They might be armed. It’s just like the deal in Oregon. To me, they’re just ranchers just like here,” he said. McKeen also said he identifies with the Bundys’ frustration. “As a last resort, they do things. We had this go on even around us,” he said, naming individuals — including himself — who’ve fought the federal government for land. “There’s no way you can win in court against the federal government. They set all the parameters by which you can sue them.” Suckling replied by saying, “I don’t think this issue has anything to do with grazing whatsoever. What this has to do with is being able to resolve conflicts and differences of opinion in peaceful manners, and obeying the law and following legal processes versus threatening to kill, saying you’re willing to die, and then making demands and putting a whole community under siege.” Ben Zaslow, a resident of LS Mesa near where Sewell ranches, said he understands the irritation at government overreach, but described a run-in he had with Sewell on the road they both live off, asking the sheriff how he will increase safety in the event of more “felonious” behavior. Villanueva said Zaslow is not the first to report such an incident and that deputies are patrolling that area more than usual now. “We haven’t encountered any other issues in regards to that,” he said, encouraging people to report criminal activity when it happens. Another resident of LS Mesa said he has had pleasant dealings with Sewell and visits his ranch occasionally to get manure for their garden. “[Sewell] said, ‘There has to be a balance in all these different kinds of philosophies and intentions.’ It’s been a little while since I’ve seen him, and I was really surprised when I heard that he was involved in this situation and that he was going up to Oregon. If we could all hold the intention that, in the wee hours of the morning, he’ll have a change of heart and tell those militia guys to go back home and that he could find that balance in himself and go back to the business of raising his family.” Jane Forager Thompson stood up and said her ancestors ranched in this area and elsewhere. “I come from a ranching heritage. I also come from a heritage of peace and conservation,” she said. “There should not be an issue here. Ranchers get a pretty free ride. They buy a little bit of land, and then they can rent the public lands for a little bit of money per cattle and use public lands almost for free for grazing their cattle. That way they can have a much larger ranch than they could possibly buy. So they actually have a good deal. It’s just the attitude of not liking government. We can’t have a civilized society without government,” she said to applause. “We can work this out.” J.C. Nelson stood up later. “I just recently bought one of those cheap forest allotments for $600,000. People wonder why these ranchers get upset. The government comes in and says you can only run half as many cows or whatever, and the banker, they still want their money. And they said take it over here to court, through the process of why you disagree. What are you supposed to do in the year’s time before your payments come up? That’s all I wonder.” A young audience member asked what youths can do to prevent violent situations. Aldo Leopold High School student Sky Fisher said the issues expressed during the forum will affect their future. “My question is what do you feel that us, as the up-and-coming generation, should do to prepare for what is going to happen, or to try and change what will happen?” McAndrew replied and said communicating and striving to understand is what young people can do. “It’s a matter of taking time to sit down with people one-on-one,” she said. Amaro agreed. “You’re doing exactly what you need to do: get out, get engaged and be heard.” Representing the Mimbres Farm Bureau, Don Larson said, “We don’t need an armed conflict in this community. I don’t think it’s likely to happen, knowing the ranchers in this area. The email that I received informing me about this meeting had another email attached to it that stated it’s time to go start shooting cows. Everybody’s worried about the militia, but nobody’s brought up a word about this other group that wants to start shooting cows. Why aren’t they here tonight? Why aren’t they part of this conversation?” Carolyn Nelson, J.C. Nelson’s mother, read a statement from Courtney Sewell: “Just because we took a stand for what we believe doesn’t make us bad people. We love to ranch and we love the land. This wasn’t to keep anyone from using it. We welcome hunters, hikers, bikers. We pick up trash constantly and are trying to keep it nice out there. … Since when does standing for your rights give others the right to threaten your life to the point that it’s not safe to have your children in your home?” http://www.scdailypress.com/site/2016/02/17/lively-debate-at-public-lands-panel/