Monday, May 2, 2016

New Mexico lawmakers challenge feds over fencing

Several New Mexico Legislators signed a letter addressed to New Mexico State Engineer Tom Blaine regarding the controversial dispute between ranchers and the federal government over the fencing of watering holes on U.S. Forest land in order to protect the New Mexico jumping mouse, which is an endangered animal. The letter was signed by both Republicans and Democrats from across the state and from rural districts. The 50 legislators are arguing that the federal government is abusing its authority and violating private property and water rights. According to the Office of the State Engineer’s website, Blaine is well-versed in the critical water issues facing New Mexico, bringing more than 28 years of engineering experience in the private sectors to the Office of the State Engineer. As the top water official in New Mexico, he has the authority to stop the U.S. Forest Service from limiting access to springs and other riparian areas. “We believe the actions of the U.S. Forest Service are intrusive and overstep the congressional direction and authority given to the U.S. Forest Service and circumvent the long-established ownership of private property and senior water rights of some of our constituents and neighbors,” the letter to Blaine states. “We believe that you are the responsible party with the appropriate authority to terminate the actions of the U.S. Forest Service.” Blaine announced Thursday that he has ordered his staff to investigate the complaints from ranchers. He said New Mexico continues to be concerned with federal mismanagement of public lands and effects on farmers, ranchers and their livelihoods. He also said he’s committed to working with lawmakers and local communities to ensure access to needed water. The Forest Service first began ordering closures and installing fences to protect the jumping mouse habitat in 2014 on the Santa Fe and Lincoln forests after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the mouse as an endangered species. The U.S. Forest Service argues that they’re obligated under the Endangered Species Act to protect the jumping mouse. The mouse is also found in Arizona and Colorado, and federal wildlife officials recently set aside nearly 22 square miles in the three states as a critical habitat. Lawmakers also believe that downstream residents have a vested stake in the outcome of the dispute because it creates a chain reaction that will affect not only wildlife but the livelihoods of the ranchers who have legal rights that were established since before statehood. “We also believe all of the downstream residents and citizens of New Mexico have a vested stake in the outcome of this dispute and we, too, are relying upon you to help resolve the problem expeditiously. These New Mexicans have lived in uncertainty for years with no clear direction or implementation of the decisions that protect their private property rights confirmed by the New Mexico Supreme Court,” the letter to Blaine states. “We believe the taking of the private property is illegal; it is contrary to court decrees and decisions; and it is morally wrong. The incursions of the U.S. Forest Service must be stopped. The citizens of New Mexico deserve to have their rights protected.” Lawmakers also say the U.S. Forest Service is targeting ranchers and their cattle because other hooved life such as deer and elk have a high population in the region, pose no threat to the meadow jumping mouse. Deer and elk are actually managed in a way where they’re protected and nurtured, unlike the rancher’s cattle. “Obviously, the U.S. Forest Service is not protecting the mouse; clearly, it is using its own definition of ‘habitat’ written and defined within the agency as a method to seize water and exercise power over the allotment owners without any restitution,” the lawmakers stated in the letter. At this time the Office of the State Engineer is currently investigating the matter and the New Mexico jumping mouse litigation is still ongoing with still no clear direction in sight. State Engineer Letter by Jackie Devine You can read the letter at: http://www.alamogordonews.com/story/news/local/new-mexico/2016/04/29/new-mexico-lawmakers-challenge-feds-over-fencing/83712320/

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