Permit-holding ranchers are constant stewards of state trust lands

Ron Burnett
New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association

For generations, New Mexico ranchers have been the constant steward over both private and state trust lands. With so much of our state’s land dedicated to agriculture, New Mexico ranchers proudly provide food and fiber while maintaining the integrity and resilience of the States landscape. 

With that being said, I think it’s time we took a balanced and informed look at the stewardship of this “Land” of Enchantment.

While some New Mexico ranches are privately owned and have been handed down over several generations, there are also ranches located on state trust lands which are leased to permittees. 

Permit holding ranchers aren’t just tax paying citizens who visit their lease a few times a year. These ranchers also own private land in and around the state trust lands that they lease. 

Ron Burnett

This is their home, it’s where they live year round. 

Leasing regulations and restrictions represent a unique set of challenges to permittees, much like those enforced when someone is renting a home. A good tenant would oversee and complete daily tasks to ensure that the home was functioning, safe and serving its ultimate purpose, providing a comfortable home to those that reside there.  

Permit holding ranchers choose to care for the land just like it was their home. By utilizing state trust lands ranchers can run their livestock cost-effectively, ensuring that their herds have adequate area and forage availability to grow and produce.   

This is where the stewardship comes in to practice, or caring for the land because it provides for us. We work with government agencies like USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service on programs to ensure the best in conservation practices. Much of our joint planning is to implement programs to help mitigate the impacts caused by drought. An example would be rotational grazing. 

To ensure the health of the soil and native grasses, we allow our livestock to graze areas of land that is otherwise unfit for farming or timber production. Grazing also decreases the impact and intensity of wildfire reducing rangeland fuels and forages non-digestible to humans. 

We manage the watershed to conserve our most precious resource, water. A watershed is a grouping of land that collectively channels rainfall and snowmelt to creeks, streams and rivers. We conserve water by utilizing stock ponds. Stock ponds are naturally placed in low areas of the watershed area where water can be collected and used to water our livestock.

Stock ponds also provide habitat for numerous wildlife such as waterfowl and amphibians while also providing a water source for deer, elk, pronghorn and predator animals such as wolf, bear and coyote. While our primary focus is our cattle, the habitat we maintain provides for an abundance of wildlife; often in far greater numbers than our livestock. Outdoorsmen from all over the country have come to appreciate New Mexico’s big game hunting and that all ties into the management of our States land. 

Keeping an eye on our livestock entails daily trips in and around the land that our livestock graze. Having a presence on the land helps to ensure the safety of the area.

We also maintain dirt roads we frequently travel and make sure campfires that are left by travelers are put out properly. Ranchers have even been known for helping a lost or injured hunter find their way back to town, or pull a woodcutter or a piñon picker out of the mud.  

Ron Burnett is the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association’s promotions & marketing chairman.