Although it hasn’t reached Bundy levels of attention, leaders of a rural southern New Mexico county are bravely pushing back against a federal land grab of their own.
In Otero County, New Mexico, the federal Forest Service has fenced off a 23-acre section of land, preventing a rancher’s cattle from getting to a watering hole located on the tract.
Earlier this week, the county commission voted unanimously (with one commissioner absent) to empower the sheriff to open a gate, making a way for the cattle, some 200 in number, to get to the water. “We are reacting to the infringement of the U.S. Forest Service on the water rights of our land-allotment owners," Otero County Commissioner Tommie Herrell told Reuters. "People have been grazing there since 1956.”
As it did in the case of Cliven Bundy, the federal forest gestapo insists that the presence of the cattle threatens the “delicate ecosystem” along the Agua Chiquita that is home to the meadow jumping mouse.
Given the fact that this area of the state has been suffering under extreme drought conditions for over a year, ranchers in Otero County are particularly angry at the government’s ham-fisted attempt to exercise control over the site of the spring, effectively killing their cattle. “The winds are blowing; we’re in a drought. Sacramento Mountains are dry. So whatever water source these animals can find, they have to be able to get to it,” county commissioner Susan Flores told television station KVIA news earlier this month.
“The Forest Service has no right to appropriate water under New Mexico law,” Blair Dunn, an attorney for Otero County, told New Mexico Watchdog.
As is indicative of the whole of the Obama administration and its disdain for the rule of law and state sovereignty, the Forest Service claims the fences were erected in the 1990s and the Agua Chiquita creek runs through land owned by the federal government.
“We’ve provided reasonable access to the water, even if there is a water right on these sites,” Forest Supervisor Travis Moseley told KVIA-TV.
As for the mice that are supposedly being driven out by the thirsty herd, their presence isn’t exactly well known among locals.
"I’ve never seen one of these mice, and the Forest Service claims they caught one last year,” Commissioner Tommie Herrell told Reuters.
Forest Service spokesman Mark Chavez told Reuters that the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse was expected to be listed as an endangered species in June. That would endow that 23-acre tract with the all-important “critical habitat” designation.
Some residents of the rural county hope the feds force their will upon the ranchers. “The job of the Forest Service is to balance uses for the greatest good for the greatest number of Americans, not to provide subsidized grazing to welfare ranchers,” WildEarth Guardians posted on its Facebook page May 6. WildEarth Guardians are the self-proclaimed protectors of “the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and the health of the American West,” according to their website.
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