National forest planning spurs worries for Hispanic ranchers

New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Hispanic ranchers in New Mexico are asking President Donald Trump and top federal officials to ensure the latest round of forest management planning considers traditional values that have helped shape the use of mountain ranges and pastures in rural communities for 500 years.

Members of the Northern New Mexico Stockman’s Association are accusing local forest managers of dismissing their comments while drafting a proposed management plan for the Carson National Forest.

“Our concerns about protecting valid existing rights and traditional and historic uses have been ignored in this entire process as we witnessed in the many meetings attended and correspondence submitted. We have been treated like second-class citizens,” said Carlos Salazar, president of the ranchers’ group.

The ranchers are pushing for Trump to intervene, citing a long history in which they claim the federal government has ignored the property rights of Hispanic ranchers in the Southwest.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, in a recent letter to the ranchers, said forest officials in New Mexico have acknowledged the region’s unique history and its traditional and cultural ways of life. Perdue pointed to policies that require land managers to incorporate local views when crafting the plans.

He told the ranchers he understood their concerns about potential effects on the social and economic welfare of rural communities, saying there’s more time to comment and they could appeal if they’re not happy with the final plan.

More than a dozen public meetings are planned in the coming weeks. It could be several months before a final decision is made.

The draft plan provides an overview of the region’s history — from the Native Americans who first occupied the area to the Spanish settlers who arrived in the 1500s. With the expansion of the settlements came the construction of irrigation systems known as acequias, many of which are still in use.

Communities throughout the region developed over the years, tapping forest resources for water supplies, building materials, food, medicine and other domestic needs. Pasture land was used to support sheep and cattle.

Salazar said grazing in northern New Mexico has been reduced by more than 70% over the last eight decades and language in the proposed plan threatens to push more Hispanic ranchers from the land.

He called the plan a “train wreck,” while other ranchers in the group said the proposal amounted to a “green deal” that would hurt communities in a region where poverty and dependence on the land for subsistence is still high.

Salazar warned that without intervention, ranchers are worried the Forest Service could eliminate grazing in the area over the next 5 to 10 years.

This marks the latest fight between Hispanic ranchers and the Forest Service, as efforts to get the Obama administration to address discrimination and civil rights violations went unanswered.

In 2013, a federal report outlined civil rights violations stemming from grazing disputes over the years. The agriculture secretary at the time declined an invitation to visit with the ranchers.

The group also points to a decades-old policy that noted the relationship Hispanic residents of northern New Mexico had with the land. The 1972 policy declared their culture a resource that must be recognized when setting agency objectives and policies.

While the ranchers say the latest management proposal is flawed, it does repeatedly refer to the forest’s importance to local residents.

“Long-standing use of the Carson and its natural resources are fundamental to the interconnected economic, social, and cultural vitality of many northern New Mexico inhabitants,” the plan states.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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