I saw tears in the eyes of ranchers. These were tough men; men who could scrape a good living out of the rock and tumbleweeds in the harsh New Mexico deserts. But when asked about passing on the ranch to their children, a ranch that may have been in the family for generations, eyes grew moist, jaws quivered, and grown men became so choked up they couldn't speak.
Carolyn Nelson, who teaches kindergarten through third grade in a one-room school house in Catron County, New Mexico, while her husband handles their ranch, held the camera crew spellbound as she told her story. She stated: "The federal government has taken away jobs; they've taken away hope. Shame on them."
I spent two days with a film crew from the For the Record (FTR) television show that airs on Glen Beck's Blaze TV.
A year ago, FTR did a show on border security. For the "Borderless" episode, the crew met with ranchers in southern Arizona's Cochise County. After working with the ranchers there, when Nevada's Bundy Ranch story broke earlier this year, the producers knew there was more to the story. For answers, the FTR crew reached out to the friends they'd made in Arizona, who steered The Blaze team to New Mexico. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. I cited the 600,000 acres the monument encompasses when the private property is included. Now the numbers had faces. I heard their stories. I saw the tears. I felt their pain.
Many of these ranchers' families had cared for this land for generations — long before the federal government claimed it. They had an "allotment" — meaning they owned the right to graze their cattle on the, now, federal lands. Most ranches contained a mix of private lands and allotments. Yet, with one stroke of a pen, and talk of protecting a distant mountain, ranchers near Las Cruces may lose their property. Their livelihood is threatened.
These ranchers spent eight years going to meetings, providing public comment, doing studies — anything they could to stave off the proposed monument; eight years where they were distracted from their actual job of ranching. All for naught.
When asked if they felt their government listened, the answer was universal. Not only did they feel unheard, they were confident that the goal was to drive them off the land.
Ranchers in Catron County who are actually trying to earn a living, like those within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument designation, feel that they are being chased off the land; that environmental groups want to turn the entire region into a "wilderness area" — without human beings. They feel bullied by the U.S. Forest Service and the FWS, who are being driven by fear of lawsuit from the environmental groups. They feel their government doesn't listen, doesn't care.
It turns out, what these ranchers are feeling is real. Environmental groups do want them off the land — them and their cattle. The effort is called the Wildlands Network.
Catron County Commissioner Bucky Allred believes they must fight for the transfer of federal lands to the states as was originally planned by the Enabling Act. He shook his head as he sighed: "We've become the weakest generation."
Last week, I, too, would have sighed. But that was before the Supreme Court shot down the Obama Administration for its overreach. Perhaps House Speaker John Boehner can include these land abuses in his lawsuit against the Administration for its abuses of executive power. We can hope the Supreme Court would hand down its decision before the good folks I met are chased from their family ranches.