« Return to this article

Know the West

Partnerships are already improving public lands

  Dear HCN,

While we take no exception with the New Mexico State Land Department in awarding the lease for several tracts of state-owned lands to the Forest Guardians and Southwest Environmental Center (in compliance with state law), we are concerned by some of the statements made by John Horning (HCN, 11/25/96).

Mr. Horning characterizes the Rio Puerco as the "most grossly overgrazed watershed in the Southwest," and indicates that its riparian areas are "trashed." While such incorrect and unsubstantiated statements make for colorful news reporting, they misrepresent the situation.

The BLM, a 15 percent landowner in the entire Rio Puerco watershed, manages approximately 80 percent of the lands in the headwaters of the Rio Puerco, including some adjacent to the state lands recently leased by the Forest Guardians and the Southwest Environmental Center. For the past four years, the BLM has worked with many others to heal the impaired Rio Puerco watershed. The results of these efforts have been substantial and impressive.

Many miles of riparian area have been fenced, reseeded and recovered. Local residents and ranchers have worked cooperatively with environmental groups in successful riparian recovery projects. Livestock operators in the upper watershed are reducing the impacts of grazing through a variety of management techniques. During the period of drought we experienced in New Mexico earlier this year, ranchers in the Rio Puerco watershed voluntarily suspended grazing on BLM-managed lands.

The BLM also convened an Interagency Work Group. Using a solid scientific approach, that group compiles and analyzes watershed data to support and address best management practices in the area.

Kevin Bixby, Southwest Environmental Center, notes in the HCN article that he "would like to enter into cooperative agreements with ranchers to share management of fragile riparian areas. Ranchers would get title to all fences and improvements, and would profit from a healthier functioning ecosystem ..." We applaud Mr. Bixby's vision and foresight.

All of us who have witnessed successful ecosystem conservation and recovery efforts know that developing a partnership among users, agencies and interest groups is the only sure way to sustain healthy lands.

Michael R. Ford

Albuquerque, New Mexico

The writer is Albuquerque district manager of the Bureau of Land Management.