Groups Lobby Federal Agencies to Combat Illegal Grazing in Valles Caldera

More than a hundred cattle are currently grazing illegally in the Valles Caldera National Reserve in the Jemez Mountains. Environmental groups say three federal agencies must take action to remove these cows and prevent them from returning.

WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project and Caldera Action have filed a notice of intent to sue the National Park Service, US Forest Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service, alleging the agencies have failed to protect endangered species from livestock impacts. They say illegal cattle grazing has been documented since at least 2017.

“Livestock trampling the riparian areas of this protected land has gone on for too long, with federal land managers doing too little to stop it,” said Cyndi Tuell, director of the Western Watersheds Project for Arizona and New Mexico, in A press release. “It is frustrating that the Park Service is breaking its promise to New Mexicans to protect the natural resources of Valles Caldera and has allowed this situation to fester for more than five years. Species on the verge of extinction like the Jemez Mountain Salamander need quick action, not agency dragging their feet.

Livestock come to the grasslands of the Valles Caldera from nearby pastures in the Santa Fe National Forest. The four plots identified in the filing have several permittees who graze cattle there. They include the Youngsville, Coyote, Mesa del Medio, and Cebolla-San Antonio subdivisions.

Valles Caldera National Reserve was established in 2000 after the government purchased the land from a private owner. The legislation creating the reserve allowed the continuation of grazing in a managed way to protect the resources.

“We have worked for years with others to bring the Valles Caldera into the national park system because the park service has the highest land protection standards of any federal agency,” said Tom Ribe , executive director of Caldera Action, in a press release. “We trusted they would protect the Caldera from all sorts of possible damage. They closed the majority of the reserve to cattle grazing, but then looked away as cows swarmed the vandalized and damaged fences. We don’t know Not sure why management isn’t responding to this blatant intrusion.It’s not in accordance with Park Service policies.

There are two areas within the national reserve where grazing can legally take place. These areas are fenced and have storage tanks. The number of cattle allowed in the two grazing areas varies from 67 to 273 animal units per month depending on the availability of fodder. An animal unit is defined as a cow and her calf.

At least three endangered species could be harmed by livestock, the groups say. These include the Jemez mountain salamander, meadow jumping mouse, and Mexican spotted owl. Livestock could harm these species by disturbing riparian habitat, including through increased erosion and clearing of vegetation through grazing.

One way to keep livestock off the reserve is to rebuild the fence, which is over 100 years old in some places, said Madeleine Carey, southwestern conservation manager for WildEarth Guardians. NM policy report.

“There have been a few intermittent attempts over the years to repair sections, but we would like to see the whole fence rebuilt,” she said.

Because there have been reports of a permittee cutting the fence, Carey said it should be replaced with a pipe and cable fence which is harder to cut.

When the grazing season began in May, volunteers from advocacy groups visited the northern fence that separates the reserve from national forest lands. According to a press release, much of the fence lay on the ground and some parts had been cut.

The groups say vandalism, falling trees and the aging condition of the fence allow cattle to access the preserve despite efforts by the park service to replace miles of fence.

Replacing it with pipes and cables would be an expensive undertaking, Carey acknowledged. She said it could cost between $2 million and $3 million for the north fence alone.

Additionally, she said the terrain makes it difficult to build fences. Some areas are only accessible on foot. Horses aren’t even an option for these areas due to the terrain and what Carey described as incredibly dense, high-altitude coniferous forest.

Another option is for federal agencies to herd cattle and keep them in pens at owners’ expense, Carey said.

She said both methods will likely be needed to fix the problem.

The roundup would accomplish what she says advocacy groups are primarily focused on: getting livestock out of streams and grasslands.

When livestock graze in riparian areas, it can cause banks to collapse, Carey said. Livestock cause the soil to channel and compact, she said.

When these things happen, the riparian zone loses some of its functionality and, at the same time, water quality deteriorates, Carey said.

The degradation of water quality is only aggravated by the loss of vegetation which would shade the streams. Carey said without this shade, the water temperature rises, which can impact cold water fish.

She said fishermen, hunters, hikers, wildlife advocates and cyclists have all complained about the livestock.

Carey said the most frustrating thing for her is that she feels like there’s a public land user abusing her legitimate grazing rights and it’s diminishing everyone else’s experience.

“It really feels like you’re dealing with a bully, who doesn’t want to be part of the community and doesn’t want to be held accountable,” she said.

Carey said the leadership capacity of federal agencies allows them to deal with complex public land issues such as illegal grazing.

“We’re looking for the park service to have a backbone on this,” she said.

In recent years, illegal grazing on public lands has garnered national attention largely thanks to the Bundys, a Nevada ranching family who engaged in an armed confrontation with federal law enforcement in 2014. after refusing to pay to graze their cattle on public land. Ammon Bundy also led a 41-day occupation of a wildlife refuge in Oregon.

Carey said agency leadership is important in light of these actions and that early enforcement can help prevent problems from escalating.

“Without leadership from the agency on what they expect from their livestock management permits, we live in a culture of anarchy on public lands, which is unacceptable,” he said. she declared.

Carey said the groups wanted the National Park Service to take the lead in efforts to curb illegal grazing, but the Forest Service was included in the notice of intent to sue because the plots where livestock are believed to to graze are on Forest Service land. . She said the Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for protecting endangered species, which is why that agency was included.

She said federal agencies have tried to work with the licensee, but the breeder has been largely uncooperative.

“It was tense for many years,” she said.

Last year, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, questioned Parks Service Director Charles “Chuck” Sams III about it during Sams’ confirmation hearing.
Sams told Heinrich he was committed to finding a way to stop the intrusion issues.

The New Mexico Livestock Board has also had discussions about fencing and livestock trespassing.

Valles Caldera National Reserve declined to comment.

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