New Mexico is a curious mixture of old and new. There are ranches that encompass hundreds of miles that have been in existence for 200 years, Apache, Navajo and Hopi Indian Tribal lands, cutting edge Sandia and Los Alamos Laboratories (of atomic bomb fame), along with oil and gas industries.
New Mexico land is divided up into federal, state, tribal and privately owned land. There is a dizzying number of agencies involved in the management and regulation of non privately owned real estate, with federal land comprising the majority of it.
The most visible and controversial agencies include US Fish and Wildlife, US Forestry division, Bureau of Land Management, the Environmental Protection Agency, NM Dept. of Fish and Game, as well as those regulating mining and oil operations at both the state and federal level.
As time has passed, as with many bureaucracies, there has been mission drift and overreach of various agencies resulting in both legal battles and historically, actual range wars. This has been further complicated by special interest groups, such as environmental activists, ranching and farming advocacy groups, Native American groups and oil industry advocates having conflicting interests and livelihoods at stake.
There has been a long history of battles over water, grazing rights, land disputes and open range laws, which still exist in New Mexico. More recent battles are over environmental issues relating to listing endangered species, designation of wild lands areas, which means extremely limited access to those lands and disputes over proper forestry management affected by severe drought conditions for the past several years.
Last year, the proposed listing of the Sand Dune Lizard on the endangered species list and the resistance of the US Forest service to emergency clearing of federal forest lands near the Cloudcroft area in Otero County resulted in direct conflict between local and federal agencies.
The proposed listing of the lizard primarily resulted in numerous rallies and demonstrations between environmental groups, the ranching industry and the oil and gas industry. Local law enforcement agencies primarily maintained order during the more heated town hall meetings with representatives, both state and federal, engaging in a territorial tug of war on behalf of their constituents demands.
The issue over emergency forest management in Otero County was notably different. While the forest area owned by the Apache tribe was regularly and selectively logged under the direction of biologists hired by the tribe, the forest area managed by the US Forest Service had shut down all logging and clearing activities.
Due to the continuing drought and the ongoing threat of catastrophic wild fires through a populated area, Otero County had been petitioning the US Forest Service to properly manage the area for emergency drought conditions. When that failed, the county voted in June, 2011 to develop an 80,000 acre emergency plan and implement it on one acre of land to demonstrate to the US Forest service an appropriate management of the forest during such emergency conditions.
The forest clearing event was scheduled for September 17, 2011 and was coordinated with US Congressman Steve Pearce, representing Southeastern New Mexico, including Otero County. It was to be a public affair, including activities celebrating the logging industry, which had been devastated due to US Forestry Service shutting down logging activities. When the US Forest Service received word of the planned clearing, they threatened to arrest anyone cutting any tree.
In concern for the fire safety issues he observed and the complaints he’d received from his constituents, Otero County Sheriff Benny House advised the US Forest Service that he would arrest any federal agent making an arrest and charge them with kidnapping.
He had ordered the SWAT team to be on site and stand by during the ceremony. While I was unable to confirm, it has been alleged that he had also refused to sign a Cooperative Law Enforcement Agreement, allowing federal agencies to perform their activities without obtaining authorization from his office first. This has been a measure other Sheriffs utilized as well, including those in other states.
Congressman Steve Pearce volunteered to cut the first tree, with US Forestry agents observing from a distance. The rest of the ceremony proceeded without incident and no one arrested on either side. The battle is far from over, though. It is currently being fought in the courtroom, rather than the tense stand off similar to visions people have of the Old West gunslinger days.
An interesting side note to this event is that Congressman Steve Pearce utilized a constitutional provision preventing the arrest of members of Congress for misdemeanors while Congress was in session or while traveling to and from Congress. I have no doubt this led to considerable heartburn for the US Forestry Service.
While some individuals and groups have long been concerned over and involved in constitutional battles, over the past three years, it has come to the forefront in mainstream public discussions. Various special interest groups, including government agencies at every level, have vested interests in promoting their version of what the US Constitution means and whether its provisions are relevant.
In light of these battles, having sworn an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution and the concerns of citizens regarding police activities and government overreach, time spent studying the founding documents would be well spent. Being conversant and knowledgeable of the founding documents, including both the federalist and anti federalist papers, as well as the historical context, provides an additional tool to respond to citizen concerns when it inevitably arises.
Juli Adcock began her career in law enforcement with the Escambia County Florida Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy until she was injured in a riot situation. She transferred to Judicial Security and retired in 1998. Juli pursued career advancement training with an emphasis on officer survival, interviews and interrogation. She worked with a local Rape Crisis Center and in victim’s advocacy, complementing her college course work in psychology. She currently resides in New Mexico and is an instructor with The Appleseed Project (www.appleseedinfo.com). The Appleseed Project is a rifle marksmanship clinic teaching the fundamentals of firing an accurate round downrange every 3 to 4 seconds, out to 500 yards, as well as American history. She has trained military personnel at White Sands Missile Range who are certifying as Squad Designated Marksmen. Juli instructs basic handgun skills to new gun owners in preparation for responsible personal gun ownership and the Concealed Carry class for the State of New Mexico. She can be reached at [email protected] or through Law Enforcement Today.