The Council of Border Conservation Districts held a meeting in Deming on Monday to hear from a speaker from the American Lands Council. The CBCD joined with a few members of the Southwest County Commission Alliance to host the session.
"We decided to go together to put this meeting in place," Joe Delk, representing the CBCD, said. "We want to develop a relationship, so we can be at the table on federal agency issues. Agencies are required to work with local entities whenever something comes up thatwould impact the local area, but the agencies don't. We want to work in partnership with them. We want to maintain and hold on to what we have."
He introduced Yvette Herrell, New Mexico Representative from Otero County.
"She is leading this effort to bring federal lands rightly under state ownership," Delk said.
"I know you usually have your meetings on Tuesday, but Ken and I are meeting with the governor tomorrow," Herrell said. "The Transfer of Public Lands Act passed in Utah. Using New Mexico dollar statistics from the Legislative Finance Committee, we'll show you what dollars the state is missing out on by having so much of our land in the hands of the federal government. This is an opportunity to use our resources for education. In Otero County, we have two lawsuits with the federal government. Ken and I have been all over the place in the state.
"This is not a partisan issues," Herrell said. "It's a commonsense solution."
Delk then introduced Ken Ivory, Utah state representative. "We need to pass the hat to help Ken with his expenses," Delk said. "Ivory drafted the bill and passed it in Utah."
"This is a critical time," Ivory said. "We live in times that are getting 'adventurous.'
"It's not about being angry," he said. "It's about restoring balance. The numbers are out of balance. We have a role in this government."
He alleged that many citizens just let Congressional leaders take million dollar retirements and "we're never going to ask them about it."
"We also do that with our liberty," Ivory said. "Nothing else is more important than to understand the heritage of this country, which is unprecedented in world history.
"The right to and control of property can help us be prosperous and be accountable to our supreme creator," Ivory said. "The competing system is centralized. Ours has been on the scene for only a blip of time, but we're responsible for it."
He said he collectively makes three calls and sends three letters a week to Congress. "I'm frustrated, because I think: 'Why don't you see it and why aren't you doing something?'"
He said he realizes there is no way for Congress to manage itself.
"I began to work within the state," Ivory said. "That's why I got involved in the State House. I gave up a thriving law practice."
Ivory said he could talk about the issue of the states regaining their sovereign lands from the federal government for weeks and semesters.
The website www.americanlandscouncil.org has many resources, showing how states east of the "federal fault line," have more than 95 percent state-controlled land, whereas those to the west, including New Mexico and the states to its north and west have less than 50 percent state-controlled land, with the vast majority of the land in many of the states federally owned and controlled.
After the American Revolution, the new country needed funding to pay off its war debt. The nation decided to sell the western lands to raise taxes, and use the trust proceeds to pay for the war.
He gave an extensive history of how early states kept their land, and how in 1828, a group of "western states," including Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida persuaded the government to return their lands by refusing to take no for an answer.
"Upon being admitted as a state, the federal government promised all new states that it would 'extinguish title' (i.e. transfer away title) to all public lands. For all states east of Colorado (and for Hawaii), it has honored this promise," according to the American Lands Council website.
Ivory and others believe now is the time for the western states to band together to recover their birthright of state-owned land from the federal government, as promised in the Constitution and in states' enabling clauses.
He cited case law and individual states' enabling clauses as reasons the states own the land and not the federal government, which promised to extinguish title to its lands to the states.
"We start with the base that Congress can only do what is constitutional," Ivory said. "The government does what it can to amass power as long as it can. Congress is only supreme in the things that the Constitution set out for it. The states are supreme in everything else."
Andrew Jackson was a strong proponent of states' rights, especially when he vetoed a land bill by Henry Clay.
"It's been done before, as in 1828," Ivory said. "It's the same rationale and the promises are the same.
He cited four myths:
• You gave up title to the land;
• You can't manage these lands;
• These lands belong to "all of us"; and
• This is unconstitutional.
Using New Mexico statistics, he pointed out that out of federally owned lands, the state receives $5 per acre, but out of state and private land, the state gets $45 per acre.
Ivory said in the matter of land management, his state receives letters from the Forest Service that it has no money to manage its lands. "The land is public land, but no tax notices are sent to the Forest Service."
An audience member asked if a state accepts Payment in Lieu of Taxes, does that mean it has lost its right to the land.
"It means in lieu of your sovereign rights to this land," Ivory said. "PILT is on an annual appropriation basis. In the eastern part of the U.S., they call it western welfare. Yes, you would have to agree not to accept federal dollars."
As New Mexico numbers proved, if the state rejects PILT and regains its sovereign rights to the land, it would stand to benefit nine-fold.
Ivory posed the question of what would happen to the U.S., if China ceased buying U.S. bonds? "The problem is real, and the solutions painful."
"We have the resources, if we have the will," he said. "The U.S. imports rare earth minerals from China, but we have the largest deposits of rare earth minerals in the world, if we could access them. Imagine the jobs, the educational opportunities, if we had the same sovereignty as other states east of us."
In showing the map of the divide of the federally controlled land states and those with state-controlled lands, he said it is similar to where disastrous wildfires have broken out in the past few years.
"We need to set a deadline of Dec. 31, 2014, for the federal government to extinguish its title to public lands in our states," Ivory said. "Just like in 1828, we won't take no for an answer."
He said the Utah bill had taken national parks, national monuments and wildernesses off the table. "Lands that are public lands will transfer to the state as public lands… managed by local governments for multiple use and sustainable yield of Utah's natural resources."
Ivory said to the extent lands are sold, 5 percent would go into the state's permanent fund for education, and 95 percent to the federal government to pay public debt. "That is a disincentive to sell the land."
"It's been done before," Ivory reiterated. "The promise is the same, and it is the only solution big enough."