Ranchers win again





Environmentalists in New Mexico plan to follow a trend set in Idaho and Oregon: taking the state to court after having bids for state grazing permits rejected. They charge that the land office is discriminating against them and violating state law by not managing state land for maximum profit.


Forest Guardians and the Southwest Environmental Center submitted bids for nine state permits totaling over 4,000 acres. Members of the two groups say the bids were aimed at protecting damaged riparian areas.


After ranchers matched most of the competing bids, the state stepped in and rejected eight of the environmentalists' offers on the ground that the applications were for partial leases, breaking up whole leases. Kevin Bixby, whose Southwest Environmental Center will file suit, sees that as an excuse: "The problem was environmental groups got involved, and they didn't want (us) in the process." With environmentalists disqualified, the ranchers will only have to pay the amount they did before the bidding struggle - an average of 60 cents per acre, and less than half what environmentalists were willing to pay.


Ed Moreno, a spokesman for the land office, says while it looks as though ranchers are favored, the agency is "favoring good, sustainable usage practices. We did look for evidence of abuse, and it just wasn't there."


*Warren Cornwall