By Johnny Mestas
There has been much to say recently about grazing leases on what is now a national monument. My relationship with the Bureau of Land Management goes back for generations, as my family has grazed cattle on these lands and the partnership between families and the BLM in New Mexico has been substantial and beneficial to both parties.
Over the years we have been through drought, times of excessive moisture, abundance and scarcity. Our partnership as cattle growers with the BLM has taken on many faces, we have had to be at different times, the one who takes from the land, and other times, the one who gives back. Through the years relationships between cattle growers and BLM have been stable and built on integrity. So why should the designation of a national monument change what has taken years to build? It shouldn’t. The Rio Grande del Norte is a good example of how the interests of many users of public land can continue and, in fact, become more secure.
There are those who say protection of public land means that the current uses have to be sacrificed in order to make way for new uses. If the interests of traditional users of the land like cattle growers, hunters, fishermen, fuel wood and herb gatherers are made part of the proclamation of the new monument, the way I see it is that my rights as a cattle grower have just been strengthened. If the land is protected in perpetuity, then so are our rights as traditional users.
There are greater threats to our using public land than governmental oversight and management. There are some of our lawmakers in Washington D.C. and in our own state who would like nothing better than to sell all public lands to willing buyers. Who might these willing buyers be, developers from other countries, people or international corporations who could care less about our families in New Mexico who have used these lands for generations?
I see great value in maintaining and enhancing my relationship with land management agencies and just as much value in protecting what belongs to all of us, our public lands. These lands serve the hunter and the environmentalist, the cattle grower and the consumer. These protected lands provide an economic engine for communities surrounding them. Protecting these lands from development and overexploitation gives those from metropolitan and overpopulated areas a place to reconnect to the real world. A grazing lease on a national monument is in no way a threat to my family and our way of life. Conversely, it provides a level of security that could last for generations to come.
Johnny Mestas is a grazing lessee in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.