Editor's Note: the is the final part of the public lands forum hosted by the Republican Party of Grant County on Thursday, Oct. 24. This article covers the questions and answers given after the presentations.
Peter Burrows, who served as moderator, kicked off the questioning with a question of his own. "How do the three Democratic candidates for governor of New Mexico—Attorney General Gary King; Senator Linda Lopez; and Senator Howie Morales—stand on this issue?"
Rep. Yvette Herrell, one of the speakers and who carried a bill on the issue last year, and will carry a bill in the next session to form a task force on the issue, said she did not know their positions, but "I think our governor is open to the idea and understands the bigger picture. She has told me she will put it on her call."
Paul Gessing, Rio Grande Foundation president, another speaker, said the governor controls the 30-day agenda. "I encourage you to contact her early and often."
Gerald Schultz, representing Resource Conservation and Development activities in the state, asked Gessing: "Is it true that 90 percent of the wealth is in 15 percent of the hands?"
"No one is talking about privatizing lands," Gessing replied. "This is just to devolve the public lands from the federal government to the state government.
"Instead of burning all the timber, we would harvest it," Gessing continued. "Instead of leaving the oil and gas in the ground, the production would benefit education. The state would do the maintenance of what are now federal lands to benefit the state."
Alex Thal, Southwest Center for Analysis owner, who was also a speaker, said since the early 1990s to the 2000s, the timber harvesting industry has been destroyed. "Look at Catron County and Reserve. Reserve had $10 million circulating, supporting 150 jobs. The money generates spin off. The average salary at the time was $12 an hour, when the minimum wage was $3 an hour. Unskilled workers could do the job. We want to be exporting these products. Timber harvesting would revitalize our small communities."
Tyler Brown, resident, said he wanted to be a devil's advocate of sorts.
"McKeen said a dozen rules had come about based on his experience," Brown said. "How will state politics play in this issue? Will special interests have the same effect as they do on the federal government?"
"Government is better, when it comes closer to the people," Gessing said. "We just had a government shutdown. Monuments and national parks were shut down. Carlsbad Caverns is a major revenue generator for that part of the state. If the state controlled it, it would be more likely to stay open.
"Would it be perfect?" Gessing continued. "Absolutely not. We know New Mexico government is not perfect."
"The land can't go to the land commissioner," Herrell said. "That would be too much power for one person. The task force will work on that issue. I think it would be less easy for special interests to get in the back pockets of local officials."
Gessing said in Washington D.C., the big environmental groups have big buildings right across from the Congressional office buildings. "They love having everybody together in one place."
"By having state-owned lands, you get the federal government out of the way," Thal said. "Ninety-nine percent of the lawsuits under the Equal Access to Justice Act are lawsuits on endangered species.
"State-owned lands would eliminate the funding of litigation," Thal continued. "The Equal Access to Justice Act funds all the radical groups."
Harold Bray, who worked with the National Resource Conservation Service for many years, said he worked only with private landowners. "We had fewer employees throughout the whole state than the Forest Service has just on the Gila National Forest.
"Ninety-plus percent of landowners are better stewards of the land than the feds," Bray alleged. "Not that there aren't good federal employees."
Hugh B. McKeen, Catron County rancher and one of the speakers, said: "Harold, you're one of the good guys. It used to be, you drove a white pickup, you were OK, but not if you were driving a green pickup. Have you noticed the Forest Service is now getting white pickups?"
Russ Howell of Luna County said: "These wide open spaces look like they and you are free, but you aren't. Now they want to put the Mexican gray wolf into Luna County, but we have no water or food for them."
"The federal government makes rules that are so hard," Howell said. "I'm a volunteer, but the environmentalists are also paid employees, like the federal employees. Let's get involved. We don't need more wilderness study areas."
Herrell said, according to the bill she has proposed, if the area was not a wilderness area before 2012, it would not count, "but, of course that is not set in stone.".
"Will roadless areas be transferred?" McKeen asked. "A whole big portion of Catron County is roadless. They circumvent Congress and the roads can't be used. There is a road up the river in a roadless area. You can no longer drive into private land. A man who used the road to access his private property was threatened by the Forest Service. They can just up and call it roadless at will."
"Could Areas of Critical Environmental Concern be rolled over so New Mexico could designate the use?" Thal asked. "I encourage that in the bill writing you not exclude them. The environmentalists, by administrative fiat, can make an area roadless. They don't raise to the criteria of wilderness."
McKeen said the Forest Service wanted to buy the land belonging to the man, who wasn't allowed to access it. "They paid cash. The feds use whatever means to force you to do what they want you to do."
"I have to hand it to the new supervisor, Kelly Russell," McKeen said. "She seems to understand."
"We should also be aware of the attempt to make the Organ Mountains a wilderness," Gessing said. "The Green Chamber says it would be a revenue generator.
"We won't get where we want to be overnight," Gessing continued. " This will be a struggle of us, our children and maybe our grandchildren."
Linda Pecotte, Republican Party of Grant County chairwoman, thanked Gessing, who drove from Albuquerque; Herrell who came from Alamogordo,;McKeen from the Glenwood area; and Thal, Grant County resident.
"I encourage you to get the county commissioners involved," Pecotte said. "We will help any way we can, by letter writing or calls," she said to Herrell and Gessing.