The governing body of a rural county in southern New Mexico threw down the gauntlet against the Feds this week in another land use dispute, voting to defy the U.S. Forest Service by granting local ranchers access to a watering hole for cattle that the Forest Service had gated and declared off limits.
In a 2-0 vote, the Otero County commission agreed to authorize the county sheriff to open the disputed gate, clearing the way for approximately 200 cattle to venture into a 23-acre area the Forest Service had, for years, quarantined to protect a natural spring and the meadow jumping mouse, which inhabits the area.
“We are reacting to the infringement of the U.S. Forest Service on the water rights of our land-allotment owners,” Otero County Commissioner Tommie Herrell told the Reuters news service. “People have been grazing there since 1956.”
“The winds are blowing, we’re in a drought. Sacramento Mountains are dry. So whatever water source these animals can find, they have to be able to get to it,” fellow commissioner Susan Flores told KVIA news earlier this month.
A Forest Service supervisor told KVIA that both parties in the dispute had remained civil in their disagreement so far, assuaging present concerns that the land-rights battle will take on the acrimonious tenor of the Nevada dispute involving Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management.
“We all recognize that there are different ideas and value systems at play here,” Travis Moseley said, “and I respect that.”