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Grazing ban eased by Forest Service

by Elise Kaplan / Mountain View Telegraph | Nov 14, 2013 

After months of grappling with the hotly contested issue, the U.S. Forest Service took the first step toward reinstating grazing on federal land in the Mountainair Ranger District by allowing one allotment to regain full functionality. The remaining allotments are under review by the New Mexico Range Improvement Task Force.

Last June the Forest Service ordered a hiatus on 17 active grazing allotments in the district due to severe drought conditions. The ban set off a flurry of negative r`eactions among ranchers who claim it was enacted arbitrarily and would result in significant financial hardship.

District Ranger Karen Lessard wrote in an email that ranchers had agreed to the possibility of a reduction in livestock and occasional hiatus when they signed the 10-year term grazing permits. A three-year drought in the district had rendered the hiatus necessary, she added.

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., along with many incensed ranchers, disputed the science behind the ban. In August the New Mexico Cattle Growers and individual ranchers circulated a resolution against the “arbitrary non-scientific blanket removal order” to various governmental agencies, including the Torrance County Commission, which adopted it unanimously. The Lincoln County Commission and the East Torrance, Edgewood and Upper Hondo soil and water conservation districts also approved the resolution.

After several months of airing grievances, the ranchers are on the road to regain some grazing rights. In a Nov. 7 press release, Pearce, along with Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham commended the Forest Service for revising the initial decision.

“Reviewing the scientific data and allowing New Mexico’s ranchers to resume grazing on federal land is the right thing to do,” Pearce said in the release. “This is a step in the right direction, and is the product of considerable bipartisan cooperation among my office, the Forest Service, the New Mexico Range Improvement Task Force at NMSU, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, the NMSU Cooperative Extension Service, and the office of Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham.”

Lessard said the decision to reinstate full winter grazing rights to one rancher and limited rights on 14 other allotments was the result of the end-of-growing-season assessments. The Forest Service will continue to make adjustments according to conditions.

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