The tradition of the grazing of sheep and cattle in the Southwest was introduced by Spanish settlers in the late 16th Century. The practice of grazing is traced back to the Castile region of Spain, where while the ranching frontier was not vast, locals established a system which included grazing sheep and cattle to ensure animals were fed and nourished without depleting the land.
The tradition of an open range in New Mexico has been significantly important over generations to ensure locals could use their resources to maintain their livestock. Currently, over 13.5 million acres of public lands throughout the state of New Mexico are utilized for agricultural grazing allotments.
In the last Congressional Session, Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) proposed the Wildlife-Livestock Conflict Resolution Act. This legislation would’ve directed the Department of the Interior (for public land), and the Department of Agriculture (for National Forest System land) to accept the donation of any valid existing leases or permits authorizing grazing on such lands in New Mexico.
This legislation was met with a fight from citizens who felt making this law could change and threaten the landscape of agriculture in New Mexico indefinitely. The legislation did not pass in the 2022 session.
Currently, there is a big push from various agricultural groups to voice their opposition against reintroducing this bill in Congress for the current session. Additionally, the Taos County Commissioners have been in communication with Senator Heinrich’s office to voice their concerns with the legislation.
A petition has been signed by many area organizations, associations, businesses, and individuals who similarly oppose this reintroduction. Some local groups who signed the petition include the Big Wheel Farm (Costilla),
Llano Community Acequia Association (Questa), Johnson Ranch (Costilla), and the Questa Economic Development Fund (Questa).
The petition, reads in part, “Congress established multiple use mandates for BLM and USFS lands under which the agencies have significant flexibility to manage land in the public interest. They do not and should not, however, have the authority to permanently assign or remove a particular land use. Such a decision forever precludes future options for agencies, local communities and the public. These lands belong to all Americans and the power to determine their use in perpetuity should not be vested with agency personnel, individual permittees, or special interest groups.”
A spokesperson for Sen. Heinrich’s office says there are currently no plans in place for the legislation to be reintroduced in Congress. Sen. Heinrich is currently conducting stakeholder meetings to listen to his constituents and determine how to proceed.
In response to the opposition, Sen. Heinrich issued a statement to the Questa del Rio News, which reads, “I’m focused on preserving the New Mexico we all love and call home. For me, that includes making sure that families who have held grazing permits for decades can continue to call those lands home. And it also includes finding ways to reduce conflicts between ranchers and wildlife, so ranchers can continue their way of life and wildlife species like big horn sheep and even some predator species have the space they need to roam. Before making any decisions about whether to reintroduce the legislation from the last Congress, I’ve committed to hearing from the community through a series of conversations planned over the next few weeks — I want to listen to the community to make sure they are the key to what we do next.”