The Southwest County Commission Alliance heard a presentation on the an effort to restore federal lands to state ownership and discussed resolutions at its meeting Wednesday, Oct. 24, in Hidalgo County.

During public input, Walter "Ski" Szymanski of Grant County said a couple of meetings ago, he had requested a resolution on civil discourse, and asked if the alliance had yet considered it.

Donna Stevens, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance director, encouraged the alliance to build a website, where minutes, agendas and resolutions could be posted. She thanked the alliance for providing copies of the minutes at this meeting.

"You discussed critical habitat for the jaguar at a recent meeting, and I heard someone say that all of Hidalgo County was included," Stevens said. "I was curious, so I went home and researched it. The critical habitat includes only the Peloncillo Mountains.

"I have also extended an invitation to you come with me to visit some of the roads in the Gila National Forest that have severe erosion, are dead ends and are redundant to other roads," Stevens continued. "I would like to show you these roads."

She said UGWA is interested in the protection of Gila National Forest streams. "I urge you to be responsive to all of your constituents, not only the ones who voted for you, on your stand to be against any road closures in the forest. There will still be 3,300 miles of roads, enough to drive from San Diego to Maine."

"The minutes have always been available," Grant County Commissioner and alliance chairman, Gabriel Ramos said.

"I just spent a month in the Gila National Forest, and it was wonderful," he said.

Luna County Commissioner Javier Diaz said he was trying to get a resolution out of the alliance backing the Arizona Water Settlements Act and keeping the water in New Mexico. The issue will be placed on the next agenda.

The 2004 AWSA allocates to the four-county region of Grant, Luna, Catron and Hidalgo an average annual 14,000 additional acre-feet of Gila Basin water and $66 million for water-related projects and up to $128 million for construction of a diversion project. The state of New Mexico must inform the U.S. Secretary of the Interior by the end of 2014, whether it intends to use the water allocation.

"There are numerous projects to keep the water from going to Arizona," Diaz said. "In my county, we are seeing the water table going down drastically, because we are not seeing rains and good snowpack."

High B. McKeen, Catron County commissioner, pointed out "water's pretty important. We have wells going dry up our way."

Diaz said he was bewildered at why the alliance had not addressed the issue.

Ramos said: "We need to look at thinning the forest to keep the watershed healthier."

McKeen said when he was a kid, "we had water in all the streams."

In old business, the alliance members heard the reading of a letter of support for Congressman Steve Pearce's proposal in HR 4334, a bill to establish an Organ Mountains National Monument, while rejecting the portion called Desert Peaks.

Alliance members approved sending the letter.

Discussion then centered on possible action about the Catwalk National Monument. The Catwalk, above Glenwood, on Whitewater Creek, was removed after the Whitewater-Baldy Fire this summer, to protect the downstream residents from possibly catastrophic flooding, due to the denuding of the watershed by the fire and the probable build up of debris behind the structure.

"All of the discussion has aroused the public," McKeen said. "The Forest Service reopened the picnic grounds."

Russell Ward, Silver City District Ranger, said because the Forest Service understands the concern of lack of tourism, it got the day-use portion open. He said Glenwood District Ranger Pat Morrison was looking at incremental steps to getting the catwalk put back, "but I haven't heard anything on funding. Some of the smaller bridge pieces that were taken out whole can be put back. Some of the larger parts at the upper end were cut into pieces."

Ramos suggested a letter be written requesting the timeline for restoring the Catwalk and to encourage putting it back.

In new business, Darr Shannon, Hidalgo County commissioner, gave a presentation on the American Lands Council, which educates the public that the lands in western states that are under federal control should be in the hands of the states to be put into production to support education in the states. Utah has passed a law to take their lands back from the federal government, as promised by the federal government prior to creating states. Some federal lands, such as military installations, are exempt from the push, but national forests are not exempt.

A map on the http://www.americanlandscouncil.org/1828.html shows that most federal land is located in states that include the Rocky Mountain states and those westward of them, with eastern states having regained in their control lands that had been taken "temporarily" by the federal government.

In the 19th Century, the policy of the federal government was to sell any public lands held by it to the states upon achieving their statehood. Around the turn of the 20th century, the federal government changed its policies to control and preservation of the public lands.

From http://www.csgwest.org/annualmeeting/documents/CSGPublicLand-Barrus.pdf:  October 10, 1780 To resolve a dispute about claims to the western lands and to pay the debts from the Revolutionary War, Congress passes a Resolution affirming that it will hold title to western lands only “to create new states” and to pay the national debt “and for no other use or purpose whatsoever."
From President Andrew Jackson's veto of the 1833 proposed bill: “I do not doubt that the real interest of each and all of the States in the Union, and particularly of the new States, is that the price of these lands shall be reduced and graduated, and that after they have been offered for a certain number of years the refuse remaining unsold shall be abandoned to the States and the machinery of our land system entirely withdrawn. It can not be supposed the compacts intended that the United States should retain forever a title to lands within the States ....”
From 1803-1912, the enabling acts of all new States contained the same requirement for States to disclaim right and title to unappropriated public lands and the federal government’s promise to eventually “extinguish title” to them.
The 1934 Taylor Grazing Act was an act providing for management “pending final disposal of the lands.”
Much more information can be found through searching www.americanlandscouncil.org and www.csgwest.org.
Four myths are being promulgated about the push to restore public lands to the states:
1)    The states gave up the titles to public lands;
2)    The states are not capable of managing the land;
3)    The land belongs to all of us; and
4)    It is unconstitutional.

"States are separate and distinct sovereigns and sometimes, they need to act like it," Shannon quoted from one of her sources.

She said Utah passed the bill, because the Utah educational system was pushing it to have more funding to educate the state's students.

Shannon had handed a copy of her presentation packet to the alliance members.

"It is a disservice to the public for us not to be able to get a copy of the packet," Szymanski protested. "I encourage the alliance to make free copies. I will make a public information request. Obviously, the alliance does not want the public to have copies."

Shannon was trying to interject that Hidalgo County is a poor county and that its policy is to charge citizens for copies of documents.

Ramos said he would have copies available at the Grant County Administration Center.

The next article will conclude the discussion on resolutions and county commission comments.

Live from Silver City

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