By Jo Anne Blount for the Beat
On the wolf, Grant County signed a memorandum of understanding with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, regarding their proposal to put more wolves into Arizona and New Mexico. "Grant County Commissioners have a duty to look out for the health, safety and welfare of the residents and believe having a 'place at the table will help them do so, even though ranchers have expressed concern over this action," Southwest County Commissioners Alliance Chairman GRant County Commissioner Gabriel Ramos said.
Catron County has refused to sign, contending that it is a bogus agreement. Commissioner Bucky Allred wants the federal government to respect the impacts caused by wolves, pay for them and financially make up for the losses incurred. In the short term a reimbursement fund would mitigate some depredation effects. It has been estimated that since January, about $150,000 has been lost by the cattle industry due to wolves. If, as one alternative proposes, 150 wolves are put in each state (AZ and NM), leading to the agency hoped for population of thousands, and if the coyote-like Mexican Gray Wolves breed with larger gray wolves to produce a 250-pound wolf, the impacts will be greater and realized throughout the targeted counties, with Catron most impacted having about 90% of them. Catron County Commissioner Glyn Griffin said that it is criminal to put habituated wolves, not wild wolves, into areas where they are threats. The Mule Creek vicinity will most likely suffer the first effects in Grant County.
Catron County was instrumental in the withdrawal of the New Mexico Game and Fish Department from the wolf program because of dishonesty by employees, and maintains that position. "Right now there are more than 80 wolves with not enough staff and infrastructure to manage them," Allred said. "If NMDGF comes back in they will embrace the Federal dollars to manage wolves, and help the program."
Allred reported that the Cattle Growers met at the Blue Front Café Monday, April 28, for the purpose of taking input and determining how to move forward on the FWS proposal. The consensus was to parallel the actions decided upon at a similar input meeting held in Winston. The determination was "no wolves." The course of action was to get as many alternatives submitted as possible in the next two weeks.
He said he would also like a multi-county effort to have Governor Susana Martinez retract the MOU signed by Gov. Bill Richardson which, was a cooperative agreement on the reintroduction efforts.
The commissioners agreed that the Agency should analyze the economic impacts of wolf reintroduction, put money towards true conservation and preservation of peaceful species.
In new business, there was discussion about the breakfast meeting between U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and Commissioner Ramos, as well as the telephone conference between Heinrich and Commissioner Allred. On crucial issues, such as the wolf program and keeping motorized forest access, there is no agreement. Allred stated that Congressman Pearce procured Federal Highway funds for the Catwalk but the big picture is what the counties will face this summer when fire and flood seasons come. Allred reminded Heinrich of the loss of control of the watershed because of the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire, and stressed the economic losses because of the wolf, but Heinrich only had 45 minutes allotted. His assistant did tell Commissioner Ramos that a response would be forthcoming.
The issue of meeting in the middle with the other side in order to find common ground and keep the area's place at the table was discussed. The Nevada Cliven Bundy ordeal has helped focus attention on Federal actions. It is important to let elected federal lawmakers know where the area residents stand. Mining and timber industries are gone, and the cattle business is threatened. All that will be left is hunting.
Ramos stated that Grant County has been working on grants to help watershed issues. They would like to pinpoint areas for thinning if they can find loggers. The eco-watershed program has a good GIS program to reveal where thinning has occurred and where to improve vegetation type or removal. This will improve the watershed and benefit the safety of residents. Currently Pinos Altos is primed for a devastating fire. The value of water is going up and enough revenues could be generated by users to pay for AWSA projects in the future, according to Luna County Commissioner R. Javier Diaz.
A discussion on resource use talked about scientific estimates. Rocky Mountain Research indicates that there are 37 million board feet that can be sustainably harvested, with no resource damage, in Catron County. If loggers could be assured of the availability of this timber, it would sell, because there is a market for it.
Logging roads and roads to water tanks provide access and fire breaks. They are maintained by the users, not the U. S. Forest Service. If the FS enforced the laws already on the books, the actions of a few wouldn't hurt everyone. Ramos and Diaz both said residents from Grant, Luna and Hidalgo Counties benefit from these roads and can help. too. Off-highway vehicle groups have invested a lot of money , and Ramos wants access to continue. Most users are responsible. It is always the 5% that cause problems for the rest.
Allred said the federal government got $10 million for roads west of Mogollon. There is nothing yet for Willow Creek. These roads provide access for safety, tourism, etc. He is concerned about agencies in Washington D.C., looking for endangered species already burned up or flooded out, while the cumulative impacts are down below and in the local economy.
In other new business, Diaz said that Hidalgo County would possibly get a detention center for juveniles, and that Senator Howie Morales was helping on this for the west side of the state. Charles "Tink" Jackson is now the Luna County manager.
Glenwood District Ranger Debbie Cress said the final decision on the Travel Management Plan would be out, probably in June. It would be released first to the commissioners before the public gets it. Ramos said the only roads that should be closed are ones that affect the aquifer. Catron County is the most impacted by the number of miles closed. They want true collaboration about why roads are closed. Allred said they want the whole process assessed. He is very concerned about the routes that were not included in the TMP analysis and how the plan will be implemented.
Cress said there are two avenues for funds on Mogollon Road-U.S. Federal Housing Administration, and state funds for state and county roads, and ways to expedite work, as was done on Mineral Creek and Catwalk Roads.