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Know the West

The heat is on

  Forest Service officials are under intense political pressure to reverse a decision ordering most of a rancher's cows from the 227-square-mile Diamond Bar allotment on the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness areas near Silver City, N.M. (HCN, 5/2/94). The agency told ranchers Kit and Sherry Laney to move 90 percent of their 660-cow herd off the allotment until Aug. 30 to avoid long-term damage to the grassland. That triggered an alternate rancher proposal from staffs of New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Joe Skeen, to keep up to 500 cows on the Diamond Bar and move the rest to a neighboring allotment. Gov. Gary Johnson and the Farm Credit Bank of Texas, which holds the Laneys' mortgage, have written letters to the Forest Service on their behalf. Environmentalist Susan Schock of Silver City's Gila Watch said, "The cowboys' senator and congressman are pushing a proposal that would sacrifice wilderness areas to protect a bad rancher." Domenici denied he was taking sides. "There must be a way to grant a permit without driving the ranching business into the ground or causing irreparable damage to a beautiful area," he said. A final decision is expected shortly, but Wilderness District Ranger Sue Kozacek in Mimbres, N.M., acknowledges politics can't be kept totally out of the case. "The higher up you go, the more political it becomes."

*Tony Davis