Rio Arriba County Commissioners passed a resolution Aug. 31 opposing the federal government’s “30 by 30" conservation plan.
The executive order from President Joe Biden directs the Department of the Interior to pause on leases for oil and gas drilling on public lands, as well as offshore. The order states the goal is to give Congress time to reevaluate the process, by which oil and gas leases were issued.
A similar order was passed Aug. 26 by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
The order also said the pause was to counteract the effects of a recent “fire sale” of public lands in which 5 million acres of public lands were sold in oil and gas leases. The pause will also create jobs in renewable energy, with offshore windfarming highlighted as a target renewable and the creation of a Climate Conservation Corps jobs program.
However, the part of the order that the County Commission took issue with was the order to take steps to permanently conserve 30 percent of federal lands by 2030.
The order directs the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture and Commerce, with the heads of relevant agencies, to present a report within 90 days, recommending steps the U.S. should take working with State, local, Tribal and territorial governments, as well as agricultural and forest landowners and other key stakeholders to reach the goal of conserving 30 percent of lands by 2030.
Rio Arriba County voted to not pursue that goal.
The County voted 2-1 to pass a resolution opposing the “30 by 30” plan.
The one vote against the resolution was County Commissioner Christine Bustos who said there are many problems with the resolution, including changes in the resolution’s wording since it was posted on Aug. 27.
Bustos said many of the concerns brought up by the resolution were addressed by either the President or the Governor’s executive orders and that the protections put in place by the orders were to help protect the agricultural and heritage usages of the land. Bustos said that she didn’t think the “30 by 30” program would have much impact in New Mexico.
The resolution states the Commission did not feel federal wilderness designation was an appropriate way to protect the environment.
“The Board firmly and strongly believes that designating lands as wilderness does not assure its preservation, and that wilderness designations leave federal lands highly susceptible to wildland wildfires, insect infestation and disease, all of which degrade the natural and human environment,” the resolution states.
Commissioner Moises Morales said opposition to the “30 by 30” plan had been something that was brewing for over 100 years.
“The people here in Rio Arriba have been taken advantage of because we don’t get any support from the people we put in office,” Morales said. “Our grandfathers begged the people we had in Congress at their time and they died of a broken heart because nothing was done. Now we’re at the end of the line, we’ve got the evidence of how they stole everything.”
The resolution also states that because 53 percent of land in Rio Arriba county is federal land, the well-being of the economy and its citizens were dependent on access to federal lands.
“Many of Rio Arriba County’s agricultural traditions, businesses, industries and citizens are involved in or otherwise rely on the utilization of federal lands and their resources, including the forest products industries, livestock grazing, mining and mineral development, recreational industries, hunting and other outdoor recreation,” the resolution states.
The resolution opposes the preservation of lands in a “natural state,” which is not a term that appears in the executive order, nor does the order specify how the lands are to be preserved, just that the Secretaries are to work with local leaders to come up with a plan for conservation.
The Board’s issues also are the designation of public lands as wilderness, wilderness study areas, wildlife preserves, open space and other conservation land which would restrict access and usage of that land. The Board also wants to continue public land usage for mineral, energy, timber, food and fiber, as well as enhancing usage of public lands and opposing road closures.
The resolution also supports the state of New Mexico’s doctrine of prior-appropriation water rights and opposes federal attempts to prevent water usage. The resolution states the County also supports reducing carbon emissions, but doesn’t support using land preservation for carbon reduction.
“The Board opposes the use of global climate change as an excuse to set aside large tracts of lands as preserves or open spaces to fulfill the “30 by 30” program’s objectives when doing so will both harm the County’s agricultural traditions and economy, as well as not serve the desired purpose (reduce carbon emissions) by making those lands increasingly susceptible to catastrophic wildfires,” the resolution said.
The resolution also states any creation of wilderness designations or other conservation must be done though the Federal Land Policy and Management Act for public lands or the National Forest Management Act for forest lands. Earlier in the resolution, it’s claimed that there is no constitutional or statutory authority for the President or other federal agency to set aside and permanently preserve land.
The resolution also requests that land only be taken from willing landowners who are then paid full market value for their property and usage rights and not through regulatory compulsion.
“The federal government has approximately 53 percent of the land within the County," Bustos said. "New Mexico has a significant amount of undeveloped state, federal and private lands, of which 29 percent is already managed by a federal or state agency,
“Which means that, in federal and private lands, if we already have 29 percent in federal already managed, this would affect another one percent somewhere in New Mexico,” she said.
She is also suspicious of the origins of the resolution.
“I read something called the ‘30 by 30 Land Grab,’ by somebody called 'The American Stewards of Liberty,' which a lot of this is coming from,” Bustos said.“This resolution is the product of a small percentage of residents of Rio Arriba County much of what is included again was in that ‘30 by 30 Land Grab,’ written by that political organization. We have had no public meetings throughout Rio Arriba County to discuss the possible ramifications of this ordinance, as well as the impact to our constituents.”
The American Stewards of Liberty is a nonprofit for the protection of property rights and currently has a campaign to present county commissions with resolutions opposing the “30 by 30” plan.
Similar resolutions to the County’s have been passed in Colorado, with The American Stewards of Liberty’s support.
Morales said there was a lot of land grab history in New Mexico.
“I’m going to go back to the year 1905,” Morales said. “In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt stole 33 million acres in New Mexico from all the native customs and cultures. They couldn’t find the maps or the western borders of the land grants so they stole everything.
"Since 1905 ‘til now, every time you turn around, they take something away. They took away our winter pastures. They took away our milk permits. They took away the saddle horse permits. They’ve taken half of the cattle herds away from the native culture.”
Morales said ranchers were frustrated that endangered wildlife was given more protection then ranchers and that he didn’t trust the protections in the Governor’s order because of her performance when she was a U.S. Representative.
“They don’t wanna see us in the forest. They don’t wanna see us anywhere. That’s the whole issue,” Morales said. “But then you’re not explaining everything. Nothing has been done. The Governor came out with a report in the paper, but she doesn’t protect us, she doesn’t protect our sovereignty. Where was the Governor when we asked for help when she was in Congress? There’s a lot of issues that have happened.”
County Manager Lucia Sanchez said she recommended the resolution because the federal government wasn’t managing the lands it did control.
“I think this resolution as imperative, so that we continue to be stewards of the land.
And if you look at the federal government and their presence in Rio Arriba county, there’s a lot of coordination, consultation and cooperation that still needs to be had,” Sanchez said. “I was in those frosted areas this weekend. They’re trashed. There’s zero enforcement by federal and state agencies. There’s mattresses, household trash and automobiles. These forests, they’re not being managed right now. They are the headwaters and that’s a big concern. Committing together as a group is going to be imperative with these federal land agencies.”
Sanchez said that she hoped the resolution would start dialogue between the state, federal and local agencies.
“I recognize that because of the world impacts of climate change, we are in this vicious cycle of fire and flood. These winds that we’ve endured for the last year and half are of drought and because of the drought, a storm event of just 12 minutes can wipe out an entire community. We’ve seen that and the stress of the public roads with the sediment,” Sanchez said. “So I definitely think this starts that conversation for us to work. This really opens that door for dialouge to improve management throughout the state.”
Commission chairman James Martinez said that he felt the acts of conservation were better handled by the residents of the county.
“Listening to our residents and their concerns, our farmers and ranchers, our stockmen, our hunters, our fishermen and others, they are the best to preserve and conserve our lands,” Martinez said.