KRWG

Goodman: Let's Focus The Soil And Water Conservation Commission On Its True Mission

May 5, 2019

Credit peter goodman

Commentary: The New Mexico Soil and Water Conservation Commission (NMSWCC) is an obscure group one could easily overlook. The NMSWCC could do us a lot of good. Climate-change makes protecting our resources even more critical; but the NMSWCC seems to think climate-change is a shuck.

NMSWCC is not a conservation group. In appointing NMSWCC commissioners, our previous governor reportedly just rubber stamped a conservative group's suggestions. So NMSWCC is run by ranchers for ranchers. It oversees dozens of soil and water conservation districts around the state, and appoints two of each district's seven board-members. Some districts – like Valencia, in Belen – do great work; but many don't.

 

Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District (DASWCD) board-members represent themselves, their extremely conservative ideology, and ranching interests, but not so much the public. They got elected and re-elected, initially because the public knew little about them, and later by rigging their election process.

 

DASWCD often opposed real conservation efforts, demonized the BLM, and alienated other locally elected officials. When the Las Cruces City Council (unanimously) and the County Commission (4-1) supported the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument, the DASWCD unanimously opposed it and wrote President Obama urging him (purportedly on our behalf) NOT to approve OMDPNM. While some soil and water districts did actual conservation, these folks spent time passing a resolution decrying the county commission's alleged obedience to U.N. Agenda 21 – a well-meaning and generalized global sustainability resolution with no legal force.

 

In 2014, the District asked voters to approve a mil levy to net hundreds of thousands of public dollars to finance District activities. We rejected that in a landslide – although Las Crucens willingly invest in our community and environment.

 

This referendum, and DASWCD's monument opposition, drew public attention. DASWCD conceived, and the NMSWCC approved, an unfair and obviously unconstitutional measure creating four voting “zones.” Zone 4, which includes Las Cruces and more than 50,000 voters, elected one supervisor, while Zones 1-3, with a total voting population under 50,000, elected three.

The U.S. Constitution requires “one-person, one-vote” elections. When a Zone 4 voter, Grant Price, sued, Judge James Martin rejected NMSWCC's argument that it shouldn't have to follow the U.S. Constitution, and ordered it to rescind its approval of the unfair zoning districts. (Full disclosure: with Mike Lilley, I represented Mr. Price in the lawsuit.)

 

At a meeting in Las Cruces, the NMSWCC ignored conservationist candidates and reappointed two ranchers. Several Las Crucens wanted to speak at that public meeting. Chair Dudley Hunt prevented them from addressing the Commission before the appointments were made. Commissioner Charlie Sanchez from Valencia SWCD spoke up against this muzzling of the public – and soon found himself tossed off the Commission by Governor Martinez. In 2017, we elected two conservationists to the DASWCD.

 

Our Governor should appoint actual conservationists to the Commission. Ranchers absolutely should be represented, but they should not control it or continue appointing fellow ranchers (or right-wing ideologues) to local boards. Mr. Hunt probably should not be re-appointed.

 

Our Legislature created this system to preserve New Mexico's water, land, and wildlife for all of us, stressed how important conservation was, and even empowered districts to get around the anti-donation clause when necessary.

Let's refocus NMSWCC on its true mission, by appointing commissioners dedicated to preserving our environment and resources. A fair mix of environmentalists, ranchers, soil/water experts, and others could really do some good.