This article covers the public input and the result of the Wildlife Services contract, as well as links to articles on the status of Gila Regional after the commissioners voted.

By Mary Alice Murphy

[Editor's Note: This is part of a many-part series on the Grant County Commission work and regular sessions July 17 and 19, 2018.]

Public comment at the Grant County Commission regular meeting began after commissioners heard the May Gila Regional Medical Center report, which can be read at http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/45619-grant-county-commission-hears-grmc-report-and-a-bond-redemption-request-before-vote-on-hospital-status-071918 

Comments made by residents of Grant County centered on two topics—the potential decision of the commissioners to sell or not sell the hospital and comments on the Wildlife Service contract, which was up for renewal on the agenda.

First to speak was Tom Manning. "I'm asking for maintaining local control of Gila Regional Medical Center. I have heard that the prospective buyers would lose interest, but I think the buyers have seen that the hospital is moving in a positive direction. The new administration has not been given enough time to improve. We can consider selling in the future. I ask you to consider retaining ownership of the hospital."

Janet Wallet-Ortiz said she was vehemently protesting against Wildlife Services. "It's déjà vu not so long ago against changing the Cancer Center. Now we're calling to keep the hospital local. The trustees are working long, hard hours. The trustees and the commissioners need to work together. You can be the Commission that saved the hospital, not sold out. Gila Regional can thrive under the current administration. I want to keep the hospital from being sold. Some commissioners want to put it into the hands of a corporation, who will drive it into the ground. The County Commission should release Juniper Resource and put the results into the community."  She got down on her knees and begged: "Please save our hospital."

Steve May said Gila Regional Medical Center was nothing but professional. "I have an option for you. Put a question on the ballot to raise the tax by a 1/8 of one percent to go into a fund for hospital projects. Let the voters decide. I've been told you can raise about $600,000 a year, and you could choose to sunset it in five years or 10 years, with the money controlled by the commissioners. I think the voters would approve it to save the hospital."

Melvyn Gelb noted that for the past dozen years, many rural hospitals have closed. "I'm still in favor at the time of keeping Gila Regional independent. Lifepoint has deep pockets and could help. But the disadvantage is that if Gila Regional Medical Center were to go under, the community, if the hospital is still ours, could fight to keep it. I read that Lifepoint is not doing well financially. That guarantees they won't close the Duke University hospital, but they will close rural hospitals."

Wendy Phillips said she agrees with what has been said. "People are pretty clear. We need to keep trying. It doesn't make sense to go against the community." She added that she also supports others' position on Wildlife Services. "I'm not against UTVs, but I'm worried about noise pollution in town and the county. All vehicles make too much noise now."

Irene Gonzales said people are very much against the sale of the hospital. "A company will make money, but they won't care about the hospital. We have an excellent CEO. People call her, and she gets things done. If you sell, it's for money, not for people who are sick."

Kelduyn Garland said she sways both ways. "I saw what happened when outside corporations bought nursing homes. It became all about the bottom line. Take the suggestion of a mil tax. People need to put up or shut up. I ask you to give the new administration a chance to further develop the hospital and succeed. You can always sell."

Sunny McFarren noted that she was in hospital administration at a very large hospital in the Northeast. "The vice president asked me to check what happened when non-profits sold. I found out that 1) prices increased 6 -20 percent; 2)20 percent of the employees were laid off; and 3) a number of programs were disposed of, such as advocacy and hospice, which is already gone. I am concerned that would happen here. I'm also concerned about bringing in strategic planning.  Lot of doctors and nurses would not come if it were a for-profit or some would want to leave."

She continued and said the Chamber of Commerce asks retires when they are coming in what they are looking for. The majority say they like a free-standing not-for-profit hospital. "In 2002, the commissioners listened to the public and decided not to sell. No one has mentioned how much money would come in if it were sold and how it would be spent. I'm concerned it would be a decision made behind closed doors. Please do not sell. Give Taffy and her crew time to make it a very viable community-owned hospital."

Dennis Martin said he had lived here for about one year. "The big attraction for us was the hospital. The level of care depends on how stable and safe jobs are. Yes, there is turnover under local control, but it would be worse, if sold."

Dustin Hammond said he was "very moved by what people have to say. Elders are not always given respect. Not a single person has spoken for a sale. It's important to the entire community. As part of the younger generation, I am in support of it remaining county-owned."

Glenn Griffin was the first to speak mainly about Wildlife Services. "What you are proposing to do is give a blank check to the Wildlife Services officer. I've never seen a report. You should approve Commissioner Browne's proposed amendments and demand an accounting of how the money is spent. I've had two dogs trapped, one right next to the CDT. Grant County no longer needs to be a third-world country. That's why we don't need trapping and poisoning."

Andy Payne said he liked the idea of a tax for the hospital. "If we keep the hospital, it would give us options, but if it's gone, we won't have it." He also addressed the Wildlife Services contract. I hear the County Commission job is a thankless one, and I want to thank you for your services. At The Volunteer Center, I see people with needs—for food, transportation, housing, mental health services. Do we know the benefits of how Wildlife Services spends your money? You need to get verified reports on what's done with the money. Stop it for a year. You can renew it next year. Use the fees for other needs."

Joe Saenz said as an outfitter, he depends on wildlife. "People employ my services in the wilderness area. New Mexico is a killing area. This county destroyed the Apaches, and now they are destroying the wildlife. I'm rather new to the political system. I understand you are here to save us. I live next door to a wildlife reserve. You are killing native species."

Donna Stevens said the last time the renewal of Wildlife Services came up, it was just renewed. "I'm very glad this time it has been brought to the public's attention. My dog was caught in a trap. He was on a leash in front of me. He was not hurt too bad, and I don't know if the trap was set by Wildlife Services, but they are not accountable. They are killing thousands of non-targeted species, and there is no evidence that it is helping livestock."

John Bever said: "If you're going to trap predators, how about trapping some of my rabbits and deer?"

Joanie Connors said she was representing the Great Old Broads of the Wilderness. "I oppose the renewal of the Wildlife Services contract because of the lack of accountability. We support tourism, hiking, fishing, riding and camping, not trapping or poisoning native species and local dogs. It also adds poison to eh environment. You should not renew it without amendments."

Carol Fugagli listed four actions that need to be taken. "My mission is to address accountability and transparency." The four were 1) ask for a quarterly report; 2) allocate funding for more appropriate uses, because natural resources is part of the contract. Get rid of non-native species, such as feral cattle, which are destroying 25 riparian miles. I have an ongoing conversation with the Forest Service on the feral cattle destroying the riparian areas. It keeps the riparian areas from absorbing the high water, which is fast, fierce and dangerous to public safety. I think using the Taylor Grazing Act money would be a win-win to the Forest Service and would benefit the environment; 3) ban the sodium cyanide bombs. They are non-selective, nor are the M-44s; 4) ban leg-hold traps. They, too, are non-selective."

She cited a National Geographic article, entitled: 'Killing Africa." It stated that since 2012, 6.1 million members of native species have been killed in Africa.

April Lee said on May 2, 2013, "my dog suffered a horrific death. He was poisoned. We had been hiking and it was either the Wildlife Services that put out poison or another entity. Wildlife Services is an opaque organization. I didn't know who to report the dog's death to. Between 2012 and 2017, 42 dogs died in New Mexico as a result of poison or trapping. Who do we report to? If coyotes are determined to be predators on cattle, more coyotes are killed. Then next year's litters are larger. I am 100 percent vehemently opposed to renewing the contract. Before signing the contract, you need a well-documented account of what they do."

Diane Maughan asked the commissioners not to sign the contract. "Use local services to manage predators. Hiking is my sport. I'm afraid to go out there. I want to be safe. I care about our ecosystem. Wildlife Services does nothing to maintain a healthy system. I've been appalled to hear the lack of accountability, but I demand accountability. I care about our taxpayer dollars. Don't sign the contract. It's a blank check. I would rather it be reimbursement."

Bever spoke again. "Traps and poison kill indiscriminately. I know people who would take care of predators for nothing. I don't know why you're paying someone."

Katherine Schmidt came back to the topic of the hospital. "I think the community is very upset. See if taxpayers are willing to pay for the hospital" And on Wildlife Services, she said: "I am opposed to indiscriminate poisoning and trapping. I hike by myself with my three dogs. I'm scared I could get a dog out of a trap. Renewing the contract may benefit a small minority of the public—ranchers. Many ranchers are managing cattle on public land responsibly. It has been proven that predators are beneficial to the environment."

Paul Slatterly said he agreed with had had been said. "I'm glad you have heard details on the hospital. I don't know how they've been doing it. I give it two years."

Melissa Amarello of Advocates for Snake Preservation said: "While the hospital is important, many people relocate here for the abundance of public land. I'm appalled to hear that Wildlife Services is right in my backyard. I ask you to cancer this contract. My city-slicker nieces and nephews could get hurt with the bombs and traps. Lethal taking is ineffective and expensive. I would like to see the contract at least amended by Browne or Carol. Form a working group."

Candace Breen-Lee said she is happy to have the services of the hospital here. "Keep it independent." On the topic of Wildlife Services, she said "it knocked me over that taxpayer dollars were going to predators. Catron County evidently got more reports than you do."

Hammond said he's pretty sure if he set traps it would be illegal. "If it should happen that a child is killed, you would be accomplices."

Robert Grossman said he respects and appreciates the process. "Populace sentiment is growing. Every day, I wake up to respect and coexist in nature. When elders are at a loss to deal with troubled youth, we bring them to nature. I honor the process and thank you as liaisons to civility. Oh, and I'm willing to pay more in taxes for the hospital."

Lee (unintellible last name) said he opposes the contract with Wildlife Services. "I have a puppy that often goes where it wants to. I ask you all to consider not renewing the contract."

Garland spoke again. "I totally agree that it is poor business practices to give money to a group without accountability. Do not renew it this year, get accountability and then perhaps renew it. We are the invaders. Mother Nature has balance. We are grossly culpable of throwing it out of balance. We have to take responsibility ourselves. Adopt Harry's amendments. I haven't read it, but I've heard good things. Do not give money indiscriminately without accountability."

Chris Moeller said he thinks the contract has been rubber-stamped in prior years. "I'm not sure how the ranchers keep getting it renewed. I appreciate your listening to us on this issue. I work with kids in the wilderness. A dog was trapped. It was a trauma to the kids. We got it out, but animals chew their legs off to get out of traps. The pain it inflicts it terrible. Wildlife Services is a bad name. You could take out cattle to help the ecosystem."

Alyssa Shaw, organizer with WildEarth Guardians, said she has collected 42 letters reiterating what the folks have said at the meeting. "Please do not renew until you have looked at it in more depth or at least looked at the amendment, not to include traps or poisoning. It would be better to prioritize non-lethal methods and the account for the uses of the money."

Robert Fischoff said he found that small farmers and ranchers don't make use of the contract. "Only the largest ranchers use it. It doesn't make sense to benefit only a small minority. I oppose the renewal. We humans have been asked to take care of this planet. On the local level, what is the best way we can take care of our planet."

The commissioners went into executive session. Upon return to open session, they voted. Visit http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/45608-commissioner-comments-prior-to-vote-on-grmc-status-071918 and http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/45577-breaking-news-grmc-to-remain-independent for the commissioner comments and the decision.

After the vote, Commissioner Brett Kasten asked that the Wildlife Services contract be brought forward in the agenda, so that those concerned could hear the outcome of the commissioners' discussion on the issue.

The agreement discussed is the work and financial plan between Grant County and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services (APHIS-WS).

Browne asked for an amendment that in order to maintain good standing with Grant County and be considered for contract renewal, Wildlife Services shall provide timely quarterly reports on their activities and use of funds to the cooperator.

County Manager Charlene Webb said she believed quarterly reports were something Wildlife Services could do. The amendment was accepted unanimously. 

Browne presented the second amendment to require no billing of any quarter's services before the cooperator receives corresponding quarterly reports to detail activities, including species caught, relocated or killed, number of animals killed and by which method and manner used, number of confirmed depredation events and livestock and property losses and iteming its use of funds before the County will make payments related to the contract.

Webb said she wasn't sure they could provide exact statistics, but "I know they can provide enough to make reports."

"I was assured we could get the best information they can give," Browne said.

"I have an issue of not funding, if we don't get all this information," Kasten said.

Browne recommended adding the words, unless infeasible, before the method and manner used. "I will follow up with them."

Commissioners approved that amendment also.

The other two amendments, which were combined, but not approved, called for requiring at least two non-lethal methods to be implemented before lethal control is considered. The amendments also called for banning the foot-hold, body-gripping or any other lethal traps, snaring devices, toxicants, including sodium cyanide and compound 1080, calling-and-shooting, denning or aerial control on public lands in Grant County.

Commission Chairman Billy Billings said his experience with Wildlife Services is different from what people said. "There is not mass indiscriminate lethal taking. A bear was in a tree at a neighbor's. It didn't do anything and the next morning, it was gone."

"To the question about who to call in the case of a pet, I would call Game and Fish first," Billings said. "They might then call Wildlife Services. The bear was magnificent. But there are instances where animals are dangerous. And it would be much worse, if ranchers were vigilantes."

He noted that Brandon Jones only kills coyotes that are confirmed to be killing livestock. Billings said the dollars come from taxpayers who through the Taylor Grazing Act pay fees on leases on BLM land. 

He said he did not believe fladry would work. "It might keep birds off the porch. Range riders are not practical. If a ranch has 100 head around here, it's about 1 per 64 acres. We would have to hire dozens, hundreds and they would be ineffective without a gun. I don't question your sincerity, but I know they won't work. You lumped trapping in with Wildlife Services. I, too, question trapping as a method of catching individual animals."

The contract agreement was approved with the two amendments.

[Editor's Note: It is the plan of this author to complete the rest of the business of the lengthy agenda in one last article.]

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