Rio Arriba County (NM) Joins Lawsuit Against US National Forest Service

As an effort to keep grazing permits for local ranchers on federal lands, Rio Arriba County Government has announced that it will join in a lawsuit against the US Forest Service. The County is also currently gearing up to send several of its elected officials, including Commissioner Felipe Martinez, to Washington D.C. as an additional effort to bring the issue before governmental entities on November 29.

Rio Arriba County Attorney Ted Trujillo, unveiled the County’s plans to locals at a public meeting held on Friday, November 4 by Commissioner Martinez, at the County’s Rural Events Center in Abiquiu. According to Trujillo, among the issues being faced because of land restrictions are: the increased catastrophic forest fires due to over growth; the 18 percent reduction of grazing opportunities on the area-stockmen; the negative economic impact on local agricultural communities; and the extinction of the Hispanic and Native American ranchers who have run livestock on forest lands for generations and who economically depend on this grazing to keep their ranches operating for present and future family generations. “Reading the legal document is an emotional experience,” said Trujillo. “People must realize that this is an economic, cultural, traditional and livelihood issue.”

Speakers at the public meeting included representatives from Rio Arriba County, the Northern New Mexico Stockman’s Association, Senator Jeff Bingaman’s Office and the National Association of Latino Ranchers and Farmers (correction: National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association) from Washington D.C. Each guest declared how much the importance of the issue resounded with the citizens of Rio Arriba County and agreed that keeping access to these lands was a basic right worth fighting for. “Hispanic and Native ranchers and farmers of New Mexico are distinct. Not only have these lands been under our ownership for generations, but they have been kept alive by our hands, our language, our traditions and our hearts,” said Commissioner Martinez. “We have something here that is beautiful and unless we fight for our rights, we will lose it.”

Additionally, the Rio Arriba County Planning Office has taken steps to recommend policies to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which suggest that due to a lack of representation, service and accountability, the Hispanic/Native American Ranching population in Rio Arriba County has suffered economic hardship and the diminishment of its customs and traditions. Recommendations include: the implementation of a historic cultural sensitivity policy; the observation of a social justice requirement during management and decision-making by the

Forest Service; regional-based resource management to promote custom; increased funding for minority communities that depend upon and utilize the forest resources; working with local Hispanic/Native American land claim commissions to maintain historical land significance and a recommendation of Hispanic/Native American representation on all boards and commissions within the USDA.

Among the other plaintiffs joining the suit are: Jarita Mesa Livestock Grazing Association, Alamosa Livestock Grazing Association, Sebedeo Chacon, Thomas Griego, Michael Pena, Juan Jiron, Diego Jaramillo, Gabriel Aldaz, Arthur Rodarte, Carlos Ortega, Horacio Martinez, and Alfonso Chacon, all ranchers and permittees from communities from within the El Rito Ranger District of the Carson National Forest. Other potential plaintiffs may join the suit at a later time.

-Erika L. Martinez, November 2011

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