Arizona’s Undeclared War
Illegals, Wallow, and Horseshoes
The Desperate Need for Market Driven Management
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
In 1882, civilized immigrants to the Southwest tended to pick the less hazardous climes of Arizona than the lawless vistas of New Mexico. The Lincoln County War in New Mexico would reaffirm to the United States and the world that stories of outlaws and Indian wars made good pulp fiction, but solid citizens should consider more unthreatened destinations. A picture of the future, though, might have given those early day settlers pause for such a short term assumption. At least New Mexicans would learn that lawlessness would remain pure in form and intention.
The evening news
From the news this week, it was clear that Arizona is on its own to resolve the issues that are ravaging its resources and decimating its civil union. Its border is the most dangerous border in the world, and two of the fires burning in the state are the first and third largest fires in state history. One of those fires, the Horseshoe II Complex in southeast Arizona in the Chiricahua Mountains, was likely started by illegal aliens.
The common theme of the debacle is the fact citizens of Arizona have little private dominion. Government controls the state. It controls their lives. Government, in one form or another, owns 85% of the state. As private citizens, Arizonans have always had to fight to control their destiny, and the smoke being created and blown eastward out of their state is more than symbolic. It represents the turmoil their dominant landlord, the federal government, has imposed on their existence.
The federal land agency conundrum
In exchange for promises by the federal government in 1976, the eleven western states agreed to allow public lands to be managed on the basis of retention rather than disposal. Within the scope of the promise, the DOI land agencies were required to manage the lands with primacy of eight equal values. Those values were scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resource, and archeological. What the Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service elected to do was to unilaterally expand and emphasize ecological and environmental over all others.
Congress added to the feeding frenzy by designating federal Wilderness on the border. That was all warm and fuzzy until the drug and human smuggling industry found the doors unlocked into American sovereign lands through those Wilderness areas. The smuggling forces found expanded opportunities in the undefended corridors of lands managed in de facto wilderness style by the agencies through their ecological and environmental value preferences.
The United States Border Patrol found how difficult it was to control the results of those decisions. That agency not only faced the efforts of the drug and human smuggling industry, it faced the antagonism of the land agencies in their preferential value missions.
The United States Forest Service was well into its own management evolution before the DOI agencies adjusted their value policies. For over 80 years, it has been enforcing policy that is contrary to natural forces. It started with fire suppression in the ‘20s.
By the ‘40s, the agency was demonstrating tendencies that would evolve into confrontational relationships with historic stakeholders. The effort to eliminate sheep grazing from forest allotments gained traction that same decade.
By 1968, stakeholder relationships were so bad Congress took action with the agency for its interpretation of the Wilderness Act to eliminate cattle grazing. They were instructed to rewrite their grazing manual to strengthen that demand.
Today, the logging enterprises of the greater Southwest are almost a thing of the past. They exist largely around logging allowances stemming from reservation timber sources and or fire scavenging. They are gone because of environmental overload management.
The natural disconnect
When asked what caused the Wallow Fire, the Forest Service indicated an unattended campfire. The fact is the fire danger in Arizona and across the West is the result of the ongoing and cumulative effect of massive fuel buildup. Fire has been suppressed and historic private enterprises that effectively reduce and remove dangerous fuel supplies have been vilified, suppressed, reduced, and evicted from federal lands. The total elimination of grazing with complexity (sheep and goats), the dramatic and systematic reduction of cattle grazing, and the wholesale elimination of logging have consequences. When these methods of fuel reduction are reduced or eliminated in the face of natural fuel expansion, large fires will and do occur!
Back to the promises
It would be easy to harp on the federal government to make good on all of the promises originally intended by Congress, but why should Arizona citizens or any citizens for that matter believe that forthright actions would be undertaken to follow the law? What is needed is not in place.
There is no market force to assure a balanced management relationship. The real answer is more fundamental, but for too long nobody would dare hope that such changes would occur. The approach heretofore for citizen defense would simply be to defend stakeholder assault one incident at a time, and hope for the best.
All of government, however, doesn’t treat stakeholder relationships as cavalier as the federal land management agencies do. State Land offices (SLO) exist with the clear mission to insure revenue derived from the actual productivity of state trust land.
In a rare glimpse of the chasm that exists between the approach of SLO and the feds, the Arizona SLO representative at a border agency meeting recently stood and spoke to the crowd. He indicated he was alone in representing his state, and, as one of less than a dozen employees of the state that were charged with the oversight of over nine million acres of state trust lands, his office couldn’t afford to send more than just him to such an event. His simple statement was, “Our state depends on our stakeholders for assured revenues. In order for us to be successful, our stakeholders must be successful. We support them in their endeavors, and they, in turn, support us.”
He said more in a few words than two hours of testimony from other agencies. His message was clear to all who understood the world outside of government. Relationships exist in the private world on the basis of trust. The landlord in a private relationship is assured of success only if the tenant is successful. The tenant is only successful when he is allowed to shape his business foundation and surroundings to assure his own success. Such a relationship occurs on an ongoing basis between SLO and private stakeholders.
It doesn’t occur, though, between federal land agencies and stakeholders and it doesn’t occur between federal land agencies and the United States Border Patrol. The land agencies are insulated from any mutually beneficial, market driven relationship with anybody.
The smoke is billowing
As we hear the code talk and the need for more assets, it is citizenry who must face the real world. They are the ones funding the expanding wildfire fighting industry that has stripped them from their historic relationship with the land, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Reengaged historic stakeholders could fill vacant roles with efficiency and effectiveness and rural communities could benefit. Primary goods and services long absent from those lands could again be produced.
By mutual need, the states have demonstrated sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships with their citizens. With the budget debacle facing every Western state, it is time to recover a higher degree of self determination. It is time to either fix the federal land agency problem or to transfer the management of those lands to the states. Based on it current efficiency, Arizona would have to add 41 employees to its SLO to replace the thousands of counterparts manning the federal positions. Does anyone want to compute the total savings that would create? The other states would gladly join that cavalcade!
In order to alter the course that has taken place, Western states must find, elect, and field leaders who recognize the insanity that has been heaped upon our landscape and is being manifested in the scourge of Arizona. Something must give and it can no longer be the citizens and the communities that have been altered and debilitated by the federal actions that are destroying the very resources they are pledged to protect.
The current events also remind us there is an overlooked value that should be added to the Declaration of Policy of the management of these lands. That value is the promise of national security on our borders. That value must take precedent over any and all values. Without it . . . failure is assured.
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “The community/ agency relationship is a dilemma. In fairness, the agencies have faced the problem of environmental laws that have rendered their jobs impossible, but the missions must still reflect the sovereignty of Americans who have been dismissed from priorities.”
COMMENT: Wilmeth and I are riding the same trail here.