Sam Hitt may describe the Christmas candlelight demonstration as a protest against the Endangered Species Act (Green Hate in the land of enchantment, HCN, 2/3/97), but we were protesting the abuse of the act. It was not a wise-use protest. Organizers of the protest were small, community-based logging and grazing organizations. Indo-Hispano members of the wise-use movement and People For the West, as well as environmental activists, were there. There was one mining executive in attendance. The grassroots action protested the idea that urban environmentalists are the only environmentalists and that only they know what is good for the land.
Hitt describes Moises Morales, a member of the 1967 Courthouse Raiders, and now a member of the Rio Arriba County Commission, as a person who whips up crowds with an anti-environmental message. Moises has a long record of environmental activism. He has been a member of the board of directors of La Clinica del Pueblo in Tierra Amarillo for more than 20 years and has been chairperson of that organization for more than 10 years. He authorized the health screening for more than 100 Navajos who were afflicted with different ailments associated with uranium mining in the Navajo Nation. He was a very active participant in halting an effort to mine uranium in Rio Arriba County. He has frequently protested and halted unsustainable logging operations in the forests of northern New Mexico.
Hitt's statement that "wise users' were drawn to the controversy by lazy media that seek to exploit the racial issue is baseless. The media were drawn by the drama of a well-financed environmental organization's efforts to destroy the ability of impoverished rural people who have lived on the land for hundreds of years to eke out a subsistence from the lands that were historically theirs. Sam Hitt himself introduced the race card into the debate. In an interview with the Santa Fe New Mexican, he was quoted as saying that I am a "racist" and an "environmental outlaw" because I did not agree with his position. He insists that a ban on firewood cutting never existed and that if it did, the Forest Service is at fault. The truth is that Hitt and his minions brought the lawsuit that produced the ban, and he refuses to take personal responsibility for his part in an agreement reached between him and the Forest Service.
Hitt also misunderstands the difference between a local community logging enterprise and that of a large multinational known as Hanson PLC. He does not recognize our contribution toward getting Hanson PLC not only out of the Vallecitos Federal Sustained Yield Unit but out of New Mexico. He refuses to comprehend the attachment that the Hispanic and Native American people in northern New Mexico have for the land.
Many of our villages are older than the old-growth trees that stand in our forests. It horrifies him that we would cut down one old tree to save our even older villages. In fact, he would gladly sacrifice all of the villages of northern New Mexico to save one tree, ostensibly to protect the Mexican spotted owl. The problem he encounters with the locals is that the locals are fully aware that not only are there no spotted owls in these forests, but there have never been any.
Sam Hitt describes a plan developed by Luis Torres. This so-called plan is really a feasibility study commissioned by Madera Forest Products under a Forest Service grant. While this project seems feasible, and he did help raise the money to purchase a fuelwood processor, the fact that it is idle and rusting is a legacy of Hitt's litigation that stopped wood cutting that made the $35,000 machine worth no more than its weight in scrap metal.
If this is the kind of help the community is going to receive from the radical environmentalists, we do not need it. Is it any wonder that the community has set its sight on reviving the sawmill that he describes as an old-growth sawmill? This is another misleading statement, because the sawmill in question is capable of milling logs as small as six inches in diameter. Could it be that Sam and company have a different agenda than what they show the community?
They say that they are willing to allow small-diameter logging when in fact they want no logging, no recreation, no hunting or fishing and no grazing on what they refer to as public land. These so-called public lands are community land grants stolen by the Forest Service and the BLM in the early part of the century from the very people who are now losing their jobs and homes as a direct result of the environmentalists' ill-conceived assault on local culture, customs and traditions. While we recognize the Forest Service historically is not a friend to the locals, they are not currently as bad as the self-proclaimed forest guardians, whose elitism, egotism and insensitivity to an ancient way of life has thoroughly alienated these extremists from the community.
The only accurate statement Hitt makes in his opinion piece is that there is an unprecedented alliance between northern New Mexico Hispanics and southern New Mexico cowboys. Recently, Howard Hutchinson, chairman of the Coalition of Counties consisting of 22 New Mexico and Arizona counties, came out in support of Rio Arriba County's stand against portions of the New Mexico governor's welfare plan that would cause poor people to lose their land and homes to the state.
So-called right-wing southern New Mexico ranchers and loggers are taking progressive political stands while the radical environmental community never mentions homelessness, hunger, crime, drug abuse, alcoholism and the many other social ills that affect us all.
I would like to mention that prior to the community taking demonstrations into the streets, we had a series of meetings with Hitt and company. Why did an attempt at coalition fail? It failed because at the very time that we were commencing a dialogue, unbeknown to us, they were filing administrative appeals followed by the lawsuits that led to the logging and firewood ban. Our experience shows that radical environmentalists have their own agenda and have not yet shown that they can be trusted.
La Madera, New Mexico