Hope ranchers worry BLM resource plan at odds with ranching culture

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus
H.C. "Hotshot" Hendricks explains his needs and concerns as a rancher in the Hope area, Sept. 19, 2018 at the Village of Hope Community Center.

H.C. “Hotshot” Hendricks ranched in the Hope area for almost his entire life.

He has about 3,500 acres where he raises 1,200 head of cattle. The land was in his family since the 1920s, six generations.

But with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) revising its resource management plan (RMP), Hendricks worried he could lose his way of life.

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Much of his land could be subject to wilderness characterizations, which Hendricks worried could restrict his acreage from commercial uses such as farming or ranching.

“What affects me is about 3,500 acres they say I can keep on using,” he said. “If we get another administration, they’re gonna say I can’t do it. They’re going to call it wilderness."

The BLM hosted a public meeting, Wednesday at the Village of Hope’s Community Center, to solicit feedback from the public on the RMP’s revision.

The current RMP was first published in 1988, and revised in 1997 to accommodate the oil and gas industry, then again 10 years later to acknowledge the lesser prairie chicken, a native foul species listed as threatened by the State of New Mexico.

More:BLM looks to strike balance between extraction, environment in Carlsbad resource plan

The RMP when finalized directs the BLM’s Pecos District’s management of federal lands in the region, which contains Eddy, Lea and Chaves counties.

In total, the RMP would affect 2.1 million acres of BLM-managed surface, considering the needs of numerous industries, while balancing the need to conserve resources and wildlife.

The 'culture' of a community

The Hope community of about 100 residents posed concerns unique to the area due to its reliance on the ranching industry.

BLM specialists in several categories answered questions from booths specific to their area of expertise.

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While attendees at a similar meeting in Carlsbad flocked to booths pertaining to mineral extraction, Hope residents stuck to wilderness characterizations and the impact on grazelands.

Hope ranchers review data from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's proposed revisions to its Pecos District, which contains Eddy, Lea and Chaves counties, Sept. 19, 2018 at the Hope Community Center.

Jim Stovall, BLM Pecos District Manager, said it was important to hear a variety of responses, from the oilfields to the ranches.

“This is part of the field office where we don’t have a lot of mineral activity,” he said. “But they’re a good community. It’s important for us to come out here and hear their concerns.”

Stovall said the biggest issue on the minds of the people of Hope appeared to be the wilderness characterizations.

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He said many worried an increase in such designations could impede the ranching industry.

“It’s another major use for us,” Stovall said of ranching. "It’s as important as any other industry. The cultures in these areas are very different. These are rural cultures. It’s just understanding but being respectful.”

Lewis Derrick, a former Eddy County commissioner who owns a small ranch of about 50 head near Hope, said it’s about more than preserving the business of ranching.

For most of Hope, he said, it’s a way of life.

“(Ranching) is the socioeconomic culture of this community,” Derrick said. “It’s been here for maybe 100 years. It’s a way of life, and a way to make a living. They don’t want it interrupted.”

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The ranching industry is already burdened by government regulations, a market constantly in flux and a region often suffering from drought, Derrick said.

Anxiety is already high in the industry, and he said the RMP revision’s potential outcomes could be a problem for many local ranchers.

Ranchers from the Hope community discuss their concerns regarding the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's proposed revisions to its Pecos District, which contains Eddy, Lea and Chaves counties, Sept. 19, 2018 at the Hope Community Center.

“We’re not price makers, we’re price takers,” Derrick said. “It’s supply and demand. We don’t need a lot more regulations to deal with that could make it worse.”

That balance of conserving the wilderness while allowing ranching to survive is a key feature of the RMP, said RMP team lead Hector Gonzalez.

He said Hope poses a unique challenge.

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“In this part of the region, around Hope, there is a significant community of ranchers that practice livestock grazing,” Gonzalez said. “We see there is a major concern for decisions that will impact this activity. It’s a big concern.

“It’s about how the recommendations could affect their ranching. They would like to know more about the impact.”

Ranches in 'little boxes?'

The current drafted RMP contains five alternatives, including a “no action” option that would leave the 1988 version of the RMP in place.  

Alternative A focuses on watershed management and restoration, prioritizing that first before other uses and needs.

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Alternative B would geographically separate conservation uses such as wilderness characterizations, from industrial uses such as extraction or ranching.

Alternative D would prioritize mineral development and extraction over all others, valuing economic growth ahead of conservation and recreational uses.

Alternative C was identified by the BLM as its “preferred” alternative, opting for a “multi-use” methodology to balance all uses on federal land.

Bureau of Land Management staff discuss revisions to the BLM's resource management plan, Sept. 19, 2018 at the Village of Hope Community Center.

BLM spokesman Ty Allen said the preferred option is most similar to what the BLM is already doing.  

“We can continue doing what we’ve been doing,” he said. “We can get those resources that we need, while also using conservation.”

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Alden Elkins, who’s ranched in the Dunken area west of Hope for most of his life said he just hopes the impact stays off his land.

He said potential restrictions on his and other local ranch lands are the prime concern for the people of Hope.

“Things can restrict what you can do on your ranch. That’s the main concern for everyone in here,” he said. “We don’t want to lose our grazing.”

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Marc Kincaid, another lifelong rancher in the Hope area said restrictions on ranching activities could lower the value of permits, and ruin ranchers’ investments.

“We don’t want to see our ranches in these little boxes,” he said. “We paid a lot of money.”

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.