At the Southwest County Commissioners Alliance meeting in Deming on Wednesday, May 29, during public input, Nancy Kaminski of Southwest Audubon Society gave her "different point of view" on wolves.
"I was raised on a dairy farm in Wisconsin," Kaminski said. "There are a lot of deadly things on farms. Twenty-two people a year are killed by cows. In my close-knit Catholic family, we were taught that all God's creatures should be treated equally and we were stewards."
She said in 1979, timber wolves were brought back to the area. "I worked alone and with others to support the wolves. My closest encounters were when I was with my children and grandchildren. The wolves were curious, but we were never in danger. Most of our learning happens in our homes."
She said she teaches the "wolf trunk" and environmental sciences programs of the Gila Conservation Education Center to children all over the area. "I teach respect for all God's creatures." She said she was recently informed by a student about the program, Yukon Man, on the Discovery channel. When she tuned in, she said: "It's atrocious. It's teaching people to fear animals of all kinds. It starts with a man smashing a wolf with a tree trunk. Wolves don't attack people. I don't know why he was smashing them with tree trunks. There was even a statement that a wolf might eat one of the kids. Why are we scaring people? I've studied human psychology for many years. I have an interest in what makes us tick. Fear brings fight, flight or freeze. When you let fear dictate, the reaction can be deadly. Fear is also not good for business. In 2011, 91 million visitors visited the outdoors, earning $3.8 billion in New Mexico, with hunting, fishing and wildlife watching."
In new business, Alliance president Gabriel Ramos, representing the Grant County Commission, said at the last meeting, comments were made to invite the Forest Service to speak to the group about the Travel Management Plan. "We sent a letter to Supervisor Kelly Russell asking her to speak to the group before she makes the final decision. We think the environmental impact statement is flawed. We believe she is not sensitive to our rural needs. We wish for the opportunity to talk about specific road closures. And we said in the letter that the bottom line is we are opposed to any road closures at this time."
Luna County Commissioner Javier Diaz asked that the letter also be sent to U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Gov. Susana Martinez, in addition to having already been sent to Russell and U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce.
Russell Ward, Gila National Forest Silver City District Ranger, said he believed the proper person to meet with the group is Russell. "The Silver City District started working on travel management in 2005." He said he believes the current time frames include a decision in late June or early July. "I think there is time to meet with her. Once the decision is published in the Federal Register, 45 days are allocated for appeals; with 45 days to consider the appeals, then the motor vehicle map will be printed. It is likely that implementation will not be until January."
Ramos said: "It's a shame that so much time, effort and money have been put into the process, and it's so flawed." He said, in reference to the elk hunting portion, "I think it brings in a lot more money than it states. The Forest Service uses its own studies rather than those from the University of New Mexico or New Mexico State University."
Catron County Commissioner Van "Bucky" Allred said he feels that total transparency on the plan was not accomplished, because a lot of roads were left out in the beginning. "It is also circumventing various county laws and will affect us economically. The economy in Catron County takes a beating every time we collaborate with a federal agency on an issue, such as the spotted owl. Our lifestyle has been reduced because of politics and not using science. I feel we need to be in the circle a lot more."
"I don't think a single local government is for this travel management plan," Ramos said. "Eight years it's been going on and the Forest Service not knowing local governments are against it is pretty sad. I think the money could have been used in other areas. I think lawsuits are in the works. I hate to include myself in those groups, because it's the way so many groups make a living, but if that's what it takes to keep the roads open for our people, we're all willing to do that. It's about the health, safety and welfare of our residents."
Hidalgo County Commissioner Darr Shannon asked Ward if he were a part of the travel management plan overall.
"The Silver City District has a lot more people than me involved," Ward said. "We started earlier and met with folks such as Alex Ocheltree and other off-highway vehicle folks, but then it became more forest-wide rather than just the Silver City District. "
Shannon asked Ward if he thought it was fair for the southwest area of the state.
"I do," Ward said. "It's probably one of the more complex issues because of the various interests. We have had to take a hard look at the forest."
"We are supportive of the health of the forest," Shannon said, "but we believe that politics is such a part of the process that some voices are not being heard. We do appreciate your effort in coming to these meetings."
"Five, six, seven years ago, I would hear people say: 'The Forest Service won't do that to us," Ramos said. "Well, it's happening. The faith of the people is gone. Only a handful of people took it seriously, but I don't think anyone imagined that our freedoms would be taken away. We thought the federal government was there for us, which it should be, because our taxes pay for it."
"I hear from a lot of people," Catron County Commissioner Richard McGuire said. "Some are for the plan, but they are ones who don't have a dog in the fight. The plan will cause a loss of livelihoods."
Diaz said, although there is no forest in Luna County, many of its citizens enjoy the forest and buy gas and food to go and enjoy it.
"It directly affects our county," Allred said. "How do we fix lost roads and dispersed camping? We will lose 4,000 miles of roads. Every mile lost hurts us economically."
Ward said recently he saw some maps, which he believes are posted on the Internet, which shows how much country is open and within half a mile or mile of roadway. "There is not a lot of red, which is land that is more than two miles from a road. I encourage you to look at the site, and if it is not up, I will send the maps to Gabe."
"It came up at a meeting in Glenwood," Allred said, "concerning other problems such as the Catwalk. Your Internet sites and your information are horrible. It's just like the information about the Catwalk being open coming out two days before Memorial Day. People make plans ahead of time. I'm not bashing you, but you need to let the District 3 people know about the lack of information."
"We need to accept responsibility and do a better job," Ward said. "This past weekend (Memorial Day), we had between 1,200 and 1,500 people come to the Catwalk. With the word out earlier, it could have been 1,700."
Allred, again referring to the Catwalk, said the county has been hearing the same cookie-cutter responses since September. "What is hardest for me to swallow is that we asked Region 3 over and over to let us be involved in the decisions on the Catwalk. And we weren't, and now our communities are catastrophically affected economically—every business in Glenwood. We asked to be involved. We were told by Ms. Russell and Mr. (Francisco) Valenzuela that we would be involved, but we were completely left out of it. That makes it hard for me to face people daily when they come to me and say; 'Allred, what are you doing?' What's going on? Our county governments need to be included for the health, safety and welfare of our people."
"I know of some buses of school kids that were turned around, so they didn't get to see the Catwalk," Ramos alleged.
"I brought a copy of the close order and what's open," Ward said. "We have a contract out to test the bolts to make sure they are stable. The Catwalk is open to the octagon. Then the rest of the way to the end, there is still work to do."
Ramos asked why if the bolts were there before, "why all the concerns now and why all the studies before it is put back together?"
"It creates that much more mistrust," Shannon noted. "We believe the Forest Service doesn't want the Catwalk and doesn't want anyone there. President Obama and his wife are on health kicks, but where do people go, if you shut the forest down?"
"Please pass this on to Mr. Zepeda," Allred said. "The octagon is not part of the extravaganza. Why the BAER team proposed taking the Catwalk out is because it posed a threat to the people downstream. Catron County was at meetings and recommended leaving it alone. It's cheaper to repair than to tear it out. We were told it would be two or three years before the bridges were back. That is unacceptable. We were also told that on July 1, in preparation for the monsoon season, the Catwalk would again be closed down. To Mr. Zepeda, instead of closing from July to October, which will completely wipe out Glenwood economically, which is what the two previous fires did, we have a timeframe at the head of the canyon. It would be an hour or two before a flood got to the Catwalk. We could develop people in the canyons with radios to do a headcount of those in the canyon. People can only go to the Gold Dust Trail The rest is closed because of trail assessment. You're basing closing on a meteorological survey. We don't get bad floods. Look at last year's floods; they were in November. October and November are typically when we get 100-year floods, so the meteorological example is flawed."
"We haven't heard the Catwalk will be closed," Ward said. "It will only be closed during forecasts for heavy rain."
"That's not what Ms. Russell told Ron Morsbach of Congressman Steve Pearce's office," Allred said. "She said it would be closed.
"I think we could do better with common sense," Allred continued. "If a storm cell is over the Catwalk, shut it down immediately, and no one in town would gripe. God forbid we lose any person, but someone on the mesa could be monitoring the weather, and a couple of people in the canyon with radios and a bit of training could evacuate people quickly. And we could have a pretty good summer for our businesses."
Ward said he would take the suggestions back. He also said the new regional forester, replacing the acting forester Zepeda, would be Cal Joyner, who would be on board in July.
"If you take this message back, what happens?" Shannon asked.
Ward said he takes it directly to the supervisor, Kelly Russell. "I tell her this is what I heard. Then it's in her hands. I'm just responsible for the Silver City District. There have been some powerful messages today. I hope she will be willing to meet with you on the travel management plan."
Ramos suggested again sending letters about the TMP and the Catwalk. Shannon said it would be the third time the group has written about the Catwalk.
The meeting continued on other topics, which will be covered in future article(s).