Frontline News: Livestock Removed From More Streams In NM

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Tue Sep 22 20:19:30 EST 1998

                                        F O R E S T   G U A R D I A N S
                                              FRONTLINE NEWS
                                             Friday, September 18
                                        <<<<____NO. 33____>>>>

New Mexico BLM agrees to fence 40 miles of stream, prepare riparian
management plans

All State Reviews Must Go Through Governor Johnson's Office

Forest Guardians called most "pugnacious and effective" environmental group
in NM.

<><><><><><>MORE BELOW<><><><><><>


The New Mexico Bureau of Land Management will remove livestock from more
than 40 miles of stream and will also complete riparian habitat management
plans in four different regions as a result of a settlement agreement
signed on 9-10-98 with Forest Guardians. The agreement stems from a lawsuit
filed in May 1996 which addressed the BLM's failure to comply with the
Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit also alleged the BLM needed to
re-analyze land-use plans that - in light of the listing of the
Southwestern willow flycatcher - clearly did not provide adequate
protection of riparian habitats. The riparian habitat management plans, to
be completed within two years, could provide additional protection of
riparian habitats above and beyond those streams to be excluded as a result
of the settlement agreement. Among the streams to be excluded from
livestock grazing are more than 8 miles of the Santa Fe River southwest of
the City of Santa Fe. Other streams in New Mexico to be fenced include
portions of the San Juan River, the Rio Puerco, the Rio Cebolla and the
Santa Cruz River. Forest Guardians was represented in the case by Steve
Sugarman of Santa Fe.


New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson has established a process to censor state
environmental agencies that seek better protection of federal and state
lands. As of July 1998 all environmental review documents and comments
bound for federal agencies from state regulatory agencies must now pass
through Governor Gary Johnson's office. In early September the Lieutenant
Governor's office clarified the new policy, stating that the governor's
office - not the agencies with staff skilled to address environmental
protection - will actually prepare the final "state response" to all
federal agency actions. A dangerous and possibly illegal precedent is being
set by the Johnson administration. State agencies such as Game and Fish are
already underfunded, understaffed, and time limited, the Governor's
directive will further shorten deadlines resulting in lower quality
reviews. By channeling documents through the Governor's office the
agencies' ability to represent wildlife interests in accordance with state
and federal laws will be compromised and may inhibit the public's ability
to access government documents. A further risk is that environmental
reviews for especially controversial projects such as developments and
resource extraction may be censored for the final "state document."


Confrontation as Conservation
A New Mexico environmentalist is pugnacious - and effective
Wednesday, September 16, 1998
David Holmstrom
The Christian Science Monitor
Santa Fe, NM

Talking about freshwater sturgeon ignites Sam Hitt. He changes from being a
calm, tenacious environmentalist to a kind of Carl Sagan gusher when he
describes the vanished fish and its habitat.

"You can't believe what an artery of life the Rio Grande was at the turn of
the century," Mr. Hitt says, sudden awe lifting his voice.

He leans across the table. "And the sturgeon, this eight-foot-long fish,
used to swim up from the Gulf of Mexico all the way to Espanola," he says.
The town of Espanola, N.M., is about 1,500 miles from the gulf.

Hitt's enthusiasm and historical understanding of this changing landscape
have helped create an environmental group, The Forest Guardians, that is
arguably New Mexico's most pugnacious and effective. "We are established as
people who can stop projects, and change policy," says Hitt, the group's

By demanding adherence to federal laws, The Forest Guardians halted all
logging in 11 national forests for eight months, stopped livestock grazing
along specified riparian areas, forced the Environmental Protection Agency
and New Mexico to set water quality standards for rivers, and leased
grazing land from the government to keep livestock away from streams.

No friend of ranchers

Hitt's actions, which have angered most cattle ranchers in New Mexico, the
logging industry, and many government agencies, are aimed at preventing
further degradation of forests and rivers, as well as stopping extinction
of local species.

"He's too radical," says Caren Cowan, director of the New Mexico Cattle
Growers Association. "His agenda is that he wants all the cattle gone, so
there is no compromise, nowhere to go from there."

In fighting for the environment over the last 25 years, Hitt has been
publicly vilified, physically threatened, and hung in effigy by those who
disagree with his conclusions, and his environment-before-all-else position
on issues.

He wants people to know how biologically rich the old Southwest used to be.
His message: Realize how far we have declined, and let's stop the slide on
all environmental fronts.

"We even had a fresh-water eel that came up all the way from the Gulf," he
says. "Now basically because of overgrazing, levees, and pollution, the Rio
Grande is dying." A handful of government and university reports confirm
that view in varying degrees.

Like many other activists, Hitt began his efforts alone, at the kitchen
table. Almost 30 years go, he spotted a small notice in a newspaper. The US
Forest Service intended to spray an insecticide over thousands of acres to
control spruce budworm. Hitt was appalled. "We started networking at the
kitchen table," he says of his effort then while living near the Colorado
border and working in a rural energy assistance program.

"It was lots of phone calls and people saying, 'You should talk to
so-and-so,' " he says. "We were getting the science of the issue out to the
public, showing the ineffectiveness of the spraying program."

A turning point came with a phone call he received from a regional Forest
Service official in the middle of the night. "He told us we were right,
that the program was crazy, and basically wrong. This was after two years
of being told we were wrong."

Hitt and friends failed to get court injunctions several times over a
six-year period. But they did learn the transforming power of media
attention. A group of Girl Scout mothers, of their own volition, decided to
join the protest because of potential birth defects attributed to the
chemical used in spraying.

"At 4 in morning the Girl Scouts in their uniforms sat down in front of the
spray planes before they went up," says Hitt. "TV cameras were there with
lights. It was front page everywhere. Within a month the program was gone."

After that success, Hitt, now married with three children, formed an
ecological pest management company. "I had a pretty good business going for
a few years helping growers and other businesses avoid [the use of]

But his next involvement, in a protest in the early 1990s to stop logging
of old-growth timber in the Elk Mountain area, eventually led to the
formation of The Forest Guardians and ended his business career.

It took former New Mexico Congressman Bill Richardson to bring Hitt and the
logging company together and hammer out a solution. The lumber company
exchanged the old-growth timber at Elk Mountain for 20 million board feet
of young timber in a different location.

"We got a tremendous amount of media coverage," says Hitt, who by then was
part of a nucleus of confrontational activists, "and we basically we went
on to stop logging in three areas." After that, organizational efforts sort
of "snowballed." Large amounts of unsolicited funds arrived from people and

Today seven staff members, including Hitt, guide The Forest Guardians with
a $413,000 budget. Membership is close to 2,500, with a 12-member board of
directors lending support.

Next fight: water in the West

The Guardians' main legal focus now, says Hitt, is on suing the federal
government and six states over water compacts that stretch back to the
1920s. "We want a new Magna Carta for water in the West that protects
endangered species and ecosystems," he says.

The water compacts, created long before environmental laws, divided up the
Colorado, Rio Grande, Pecos, and other rivers by allocating the amount of
water each state has to deliver downstream to its neighbor.

"We are facing the consequences of those decisions," says Hitt, "because
there is little water left for the rivers. Urban run off, agricultural run
off, grazing damage, and toxic metals have befouled and changed the rivers."

To some environmentalists, Hitt dares to do what others may only think.
"Sam doesn't back down," says David van Hulsteyn of People for Native
Ecosystems in Santa Fe. "He has his facts. I've never known him to make a
claim and then say later, I was wrong on that. He may be a little more
confrontational than others, but I sometimes wish I were more

John Horning
Watershed Protection Program
Forest Guardians
1413 Second Street
Santa Fe, NM 87505
505 988-9126
505 989-8623 fax

** End of text from cdp:headlines **

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