Protesters gathered in southern New Mexico last weekend, hoping to attract national attention to the federal government’s refusal to allow cattle critical access to water.
County commissioners told the crowd that the rights of citizens are “being trampled” by the U.S. Forest Service and other federal departments that claim authority over “public land.” In response to the Obama administration’s abuse of power, county leaders have pled with Congress to intervene on their behalf.
"We've got the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the BLM [Bureau of Land Management], the Forest Service coming in here dictating terms to us and we're tired of it; we're pushing back," said rancher John Bell, as reported by news channel KVIA.
In a letter sent to their congressional delegation, the county commissioners wrote that the federal government has habitually exercised tyrannical control over western lands, depriving the people of their otherwise unalienable rights. They invited the lawmakers to last Saturday’s rally in Alamogordo, as well.
"Otero County has taken a strong stance to try to protect our citizens and their rights," the letters read. "To date, the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Justice have been unwilling to even reasonably compromise to de-escalate the situation and to work cooperatively.”
"This appears to be an uncompromising example of government bullying," the commissioners added.
The ABC News affiliate spoke with Representative Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) regarding the ranchers’ complaints.
"The courts have said the water belongs to the rancher," said Representative Pearce, ABC-7 reports. "It's a drought. Rancher needs to get his water to the cattle. He's gotta walk across 23-acres of forest service land. They've fenced him off to where he can't do it. And that's an abridgment not only of the constitution but also of the court findings."
Although invited, Governor Susana Martinez did not attend the protest, but through a spokesman she indicated that she is “concerned” when federal interference affects the state’s economy.
“The governor values the rights of Otero County residents and ranchers to speak out against recent actions taken by the federal government to fence certain lands,” spokesman Enrique Knell told the Associated Press. “The governor understands county residents’ vested interest in protecting the lands that sustain their livestock, families and property.”
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Photo of Otero County Cattleman's Association President Gary Stone near a fence Weed, New Mexico, blocking a small creek where the ranchers' cattle drink water: AP Images