For five years, 15 livestock watering tanks planned for the Diamond Bar grazing allotment in New Mexico symbolized a fight over cows in America's oldest wilderness (HCN, 5/2/94). Now it appears that the stock tanks may never be built.
In a precedent-setting decision in
February, Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas' office ruled that
congressional grazing guidelines for wilderness don't allow
construction of "a substantial number of new improvements' in a
wilderness. This overturned a 1995 Gila National Forest decision
authorizing 15 earthen impoundments for Diamond Bar rancher Kit
Laney in the Gila and Aldo Leopold wilderness
Although the proposed water holes were
meant to move cows uphill from degraded rivers and streams on the
227-square-mile grazing allotment, environmentalists contended the
tanks would degrade upland areas by causing more cattle pressure on
The Diamond Bar ruling clearly favored
wilderness values. The chief's reviewing officer, Sterling Wilcox,
said that grazing was not a "historic use" under the Wilderness
Act, and grazing does not require "equal consideration" to the
resource needs within a wilderness.
This makes it
harder to build large watering tank developments in wilderness and
easier for Forest Service officials to reduce cattle numbers when
the land is in bad shape, agreed Forest Service official Dave
Stewart, Arizona State University law professor Joe Feller and Bill
Worf, a retired Forest Service wilderness chief who now is
president of the Montana-based Wilderness Watch
Susan Schock, director of Gila Watch, the
Silver City group that led the fight against the tanks, was pleased
by the decision. "These guys in the Gila National Forest tried to
convolute and manipulate the Wilderness Act. They tried to kowtow
to the cattle industry," she said. "But the chief caught them and
slapped them down."
Bill Myers of the National
Cattlemen's Beef Association said the decision was another step
toward carrying out what he called the environmentalists' agenda to
get livestock off public lands.
whipsawed," said Myers. "On the one hand, they're getting livestock
out of riparian areas. On the other hand, you can't construct new
watering facilities away from them. That begs the question: Where
will the livestock drink?"
Gila National Forest
Supervisor Abel Camarena has 180 days to rewrite his 1995 decision.
Rancher Laney says Thomas' ruling, if upheld, would spell
bankruptcy. He says he can't survive on 300
He told the Associated Press that if forest
rangers come to impound his herd, "they better bring a gun. I'm not
going to go. They will plant me here." But he added, "We will do
everything we possibly can to avoid that type of confrontation
because that gains nothing."
The writer works in