New Mexico residents successfully rallied to draw attention to their plight and plead with government agencies for their economic future.

 

At the Otero County Tree Party, hundreds of mountain residents, in fear of wildfires, gathered to force the Forest Service to stop fighting them and start cooperating. Now, as a community service, trees are being felled by people charged with a misdemeanorsaving the community from devastation. County Commissioner Ronny Rardin said it would have never happened without the public outcry.

 

In Roswell, hundreds protested the endangered-species listing of the sand dune lizard that would have killed the economic base of local communities. At the post-rally hearing, people waited into the night for the opportunity to express their opinion to the bureaucrats from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). After an 18-month battle, the sand dune lizard escaped listing. Oil and gas development and ranching activities continue in the Permian Basin.

 

Now, residents of five states are fighting the proposed lesser prairie chicken listingwhich would also wreak economic havoc. In February, FWS staff cut off the comment period before everyone voiced their opinionpeople were angry. Last week, senators' offices were inundated with calls about stopping the listing. As a result, on May 9, Sen. Tom Udall's office released a statement supporting the plan to prevent the listing: Udall "believes that the Five State Plan, if done correctly, can be a win-win solution resulting in habitat protection and regulatory certainty for the farmers, ranchers, and the oil and gas industry."

 

On May 8, the last of three public meetings about a new management plan for federal lands in three New Mexico counties was held. In short, myriad acts and laws have to be taken into account in the management of public lands including the Endangered Species Act, Federal Lands Policy and Management Act, and National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) just to name a few. By the time all of these layers are applied to nominated portions of federal lands, virtually all economic activity is prohibited or limitedincluding ranching/grazing, mining and oil and gas extraction. Even recreational uses can be banned or restricted.

 

Unlike other meetings, attendees were not allowed to ask questions or comment during the presentationthough we were told the meetings were held because NEPA requires public participation. When instructed on how to provide written comment, we were told to offer only "substantive comments" on the data and/or the sciencenot to vote in favor of, or opposition to, the Resource Management Plan (RMP). The format discouraged public "participation." No average person is ever going to read the 500-plus page documentor be able to offer comment on the science or the data.

 

The TriCounty RMP designates several Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) that are essentially managed as "wilderness areas"created at the discretion of the Bureau of Land Management. Generally conservation groups nominate the ACECs.

 

Surprise! The Wilderness Society's website offers their "Wish List for the BLM in 2013"which includes: "Designate Otero Mesa as an ACEC in the TriCounty RMP and initiate an administrative mineral withdrawal for the area to protect its innumerable natural and cultural resources."

 

The proposed 198,511-acre ACEC for Otero Mesa includes new limitations on rights-of-way, closure to mineral sales and vehicle useall of which impact resource development.

 

Joanne Spivack, an activist fighting the closure of roads and trails to motorized use, explains: "The RMP doesn't have specifics about what will be banned, why or where. There are no facts, no analysis and no proof that an ACEC is needed. But the RMP lays the groundwork for future lock-downs."

 

The BLM-managed land has potential oil and gas resources and rare-earth elements. Due to existing land-use restrictions before the proposed RMP is even implemented a company interested in developing the rare earths was required to explore using 19th century technology: horses and hand tools. A company executive reported: "The RMP has the potential to adversely impact future mineral development."

 

Otero County commissioners are excited about the potential economic benefit the rare-earth mining project could bring: $25 million in the first year alone. Rardin believes one of the goals of the RMP is to stop the mining project. He told me: "The BLM is taking away our ability to make a living."

 

Ranchers in the region agree. Steve Wilmeth, a rancher from southern New Mexico whose family came here beginning in 1880, says: "There is no grassroots land planning in this debacle. This is an end-run legislative proxy. It is being engineered by the environmental brokers."

 

Addressing the proposed ACECs, Wilmeth echoes Spivack's concerns: "The BLM, can designate ACECs. Ranchers might not be immediately forced out, but the BLM is shaping and managing toward de facto wilderness without Congressional authority."

 

Many will address their opposition to this latest federal land grabwith comments filed by the July 11 deadline. All concerned citizens should do the same.

 

When Americans have to fight their own government for their economic survival, you know something has to change. Policy shouldn't trump the growth and economic prosperity miners and farmers create.

 

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE).