Farmers, oil and gas producers, landowners and concerned residents crowded the Chamber of Commerce Tuesday for a town hall meeting held by Congressman Steve Pearce about the federal lesser prairie chicken listing.
Some of the attendees filled the room and stood in the hallway to hear from Pearce, representatives of New Mexico Game and Fish and the Bureau of Land Management.
Many asked questions concerning what affects the recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listing that designated the bird as threatened would have on the livelihood of county landowners.
“People are expressing deep concerns about this listing that has occurred. I tell people their concerns are deeply validated,” Pearce said. “When you look at the timber industry when they listed the spotted owl as endangered now … 85 percent of the timber industry is gone. It’s out of the country now. The same thing has the potential of occurring here.”
Pearce said he was deeply disappointed with the federal listing of the bird, announced last month. He said the agency’s state director Dan Ashe confirmed the decision was made in response to a lawsuit filed by environmental activists and it was not based on science.
“(Ashe) said we had to move now because of the lawsuit. I’m sorry, but we should not be determining the future of industries … the future of agriculture, the future of New [auth] Mexico, the future of education of New Mexico, because oil and gas pays so much for the entire state … we should not be burying those on the threat of a lawsuit.”
When Pearce asked Ashe what he used to make his decision, he said he did not have to consider economic factors.
“He said, ‘I don’t have to consider jobs, I don’t have to consider economic factors when I consider a listing,’” Pearce said. “A government that will tell you that … that they don’t have to consider how people make a living, how they feed their families, when you’re considering a decision this big, is a government that has become too arrogant, too removed from the people and forgets that we, the people, run the government.”
Considering recent events in southern Nevada, when cattle rancher Cliven Bundy clashed with the federal law enforcement over Bureau of Land Management grazing rights, Pearce said people are starting to say enough is enough.
“I think this is a time for alarm,” Pearce said. “I think it’s a time for us to be respectful, but it’s a time for us to express our opinions. If you’re watching what’s going on in Nevada, there can be fingers pointed on both sides. But the thing that can’t be discounted, is that people showed up from around the country saying, no more. Enough is enough.”
The country experiencing unsettling times right now, he said.
“We’re seeing executive orders replacing what should be done legislatively,” Pearce said. “We’re seeing more power gotten by the judiciary, by unelected judges sometimes. We’re seeing power by the presidency that was never intended. I’m seeing Democrats, Republicans and independents alike saying it’s time for us to all sit down and consider where we’re going.”
Those who attended asked several questions about the candidate conservation agreements they could enter into and have agree to with the FWS. Representatives Chuck Schmidt, Roswell Field Office Manager of BLM, and Grant Beauprez, lesser prairie chicken biologist with NM Game and Fish provided information. Doug Lynn, of Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management in Carlsbad, was on hand to answer technical questions about how to file for the agreements.
The FWS was invited to the town hall but declined to attend, Pearce said.
To date, 60 ranchers and 40 oil and gas producers had signed agreements, Lynn said. He is still processing some of those agreements.
“If you are enrolled, you can go ahead and do business as usual,” he said.
In New Mexico, some 4 million acres are enrolled in agreements. Those who have signed the agreements can walk away from them without penalty in the future, Lynn said. The deadline to file for an agreement is May 2.
State BLM has spent $7.5 million to restore lands back to original habitat, Schmidt said. Those lands have included 132 legacy roads and well pads operated in the 1960s. The agency has replanted native vegetation and pulled out miles of power lines. They have installed fencing and provided water. The agency has 23 more projects on the books with approved funding.
Pearce encouraged residents to remain vigilant and aware of the situation and to reach out to his office with concerns.
“You’ve got 200 or more species coming in behind. That’s what’s going on,” Pearce said. “Know that this is a big game and you’re one piece of it. The laser beam is pointed at each one of you in this room right now. It is a huge battle and one for the heart and soul of the county, and one for prosperity. One for our future generations and one for the American way of life. It’s one that we’re fighting for.”
Rancher Robin Dunn shared a quote by William Penn that she had read several times in the past few weeks.
“‘Right is right even, when everyone is against it. And wrong is wrong even when everyone is for it,’” Dunn said. “And I think in Nevada, I think that’s a prime example of what you’re trying to bring home to us today. The line has been drawn in the sand and we need to go with what is right, no matter what anybody says.”