New Mexico ranchers push to graze preserve


Note: in the print edition of this issue, this article appears as a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories, "Corruption and tragic history paralyze range reform on the Navajo reservation."

Northern New Mexico is known for more than fiery red chilis and smoldering mountain sunsets; it's also notorious for skirmishes between its mostly Hispanic ranching community and the U.S. Forest Service.

In June, after a tour of the Santa Fe National Forest, David Stewart, regional director of rangeland management, sent employees a scathing e-mail, reprimanding them for the "most horrible example of grazing administration I've ever experienced."

But when Acting Forest Supervisor Gilbert Zepeda told the 275 permit holders to remove their cattle from 40 allotments in the forest, his announcement was met with resounding protest. "The conquering has never stopped for our community," says Moises Morales Jr., a rancher and Rio Arriba County commissioner. "They took away our winter pasture, our horse permits, they killed our wild horses. Now, we just have crumbs left."

In mid-July, ranchers protested outside agency headquarters in Santa Fe, demanding that officials allow them to keep their cattle on the forest. As a result, the Forest Service put the evictions on hold until the allotments could be evaluated by a group of range specialists and ecologists from New Mexico State University.

Now, ranchers are demanding that officials open the Valles Caldera, an 89,000-acre national preserve in the Jemez Mountains overseen by a private trust (HCN, 12/3/01).

Legally, grazing must be allowed in the preserve, but cows have been kept out until environmental studies are completed. In early August, under pressure from ranchers and county politicians, the Valles Caldera Board fast-tracked its decision. Now, if all goes according to plan, up to 2,000 cattle will be grazing in the preserve by mid-August.

"We're trying to consider the drought and the difficult conditions the ranchers of the region are facing," says William deBuys, chairman of the Valles Caldera Board. "But we can't be the entire solution to the problem. We need to be extra careful not to jeopardize the ecological health and integrity of the preserve."

Environmentalists worry that hasty decisions to allow cattle grazing will not only affect the drought-stricken preserve, but also set a pro-ranching precedent. "This decision is not being made by the board," says John Horning with Forest Guardians. "It's dictated by higher officials within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who are doing everything they can to accommodate the ranching industry on public lands."


Laura Paskus is an intern at NewTowncarShare News.

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details:
  • The Montana Wildlife Federation is seeking a Field Representative to conduct outreach and advocacy on wildlife conservation, habitat protection, and public access priorities across Eastern...
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • The National Parks Conservation Association, the nations leading national park advocacy organization, seeks a Regional Director to lead and manage staff for the Southwest Regional...
  • available in Gothic, CO for 2019 summer season - Manager, Lead Cooks, Prep-Cooks, Dishwasher - at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL). The Dining Hall...
  • Suitable for planting hay, hemp, fruit. Excellent water rights. 1800 square foot farmhouse, outbuildings, worker housing.
  • More information: Search 96076
  • Friends of the Verde River is looking for someone to join our team who has a keen investigative mind and is an excellent communicator and...
  • - Thriving Indie bookstore in Durango, CO. 1800 sf of busy retail space in a 3100 sf historic building. Long term lease or option to...
  • with home on one acre in Pocatello, ID. For information and photos visit
  • The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is seeking a technical partner to develop a land management plan for the 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears Landscape in southeastern...
  • Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • on 3 acres near Moxon. 3 bd/1.5 bath, apt. Views/access to hiking, fishing, wildlife.1-207-593-6312. $165,900.
  • Senior position responsible for the development of all marketing and fundraising strategies to grow the base of philanthropic support and awareness of GSEP.
  • This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research.
  • near Ennis, MT. Artist designed, 1900 SF, 2BR/2BA home on 11.6 acres with creek, tree, views, privacy. 406-570-9233 or [email protected] (Country Homes).
  • Colorado Farm to Table is looking for a full-time energetic, creative Executive Director to lead our team in Salida.