Sep 30 2019

The Rural Cleansing Bounds Forward … and Steals Christmas!

by Caren Cowan, Executive Director, New Mexico Cattle Grower’s Association
Read this article & more in New Mexico Stockman Magazine

Rigniting a dormant war, the Wild-Earth Guardians (WEG) took a huge step forward in their ongoing battle of rural cleansing in New Mexico and Arizona in mid-September when they filed for and got an injunction against any work in all the forests in New Mexico and one in Arizona.

The case is based on the Mexican spotted owl and it has been ongoing for 25 years. However, the injunction announced on September 20, 2019 taking effect on September 23 was a complete shock to those depending on the forests for their livelihood and even the basic necessity of heat and cooking needs in countless high country homes. Many communities are depending on firewood gathering to keep their homes warm and their families fed.

The public outcry has been so great that the WEG is now claiming it was never their intension to stop firewood gathering and have apparently already asked the court to revise the order to allow firewood gathering.

But what about Christmas? The National Christmas Tree was supposed to come out of the Carson National Forest and hauled back to Washington, D.C. along with 70-plus trees to decorate the White House and other federal buildings

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham had announced earlier in September that a New Mexico 4th grader would be lighting the National Tree. The Governor and the Carson National Forest had put together an essay-writing contest for New Mexico fourth graders as part of the celebration of the 2019 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, which will come from the Land of Enchantment. The contest winner was supposed have the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to join the Speaker of the House of Representatives in lighting the 2019 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.

Fourth graders from around the state were invited to participate in the contest, writing about why they love New Mexico’s forests and public lands in line with the theme of the 2019 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, “Delivering Enchantment!”

At press time the status of the National Tree is one of numerous questions New Mexicans and others are asking. It appears that no Christmas trees will come out of forests in New Mexico this year.

But these are just two of the issues created by this WEG litigation. New Mexico’s timber community was just beginning to rebuild itself after slews of litigation lasting decades. Few if any of those small businesses and family will be able to survive a shut-down of months or more. Literally thousands of rural jobs will be eliminated… again.

Then there is fire. New Mexico got by pretty well this summer with no catastrophic fires. This cannot help be, at least in part, to the forest management that has been taking place over the last several years.

Other states haven’t been so lucky this year… and New Mexico won’t be able to continue this way when thinning, clearing and other forest management projects.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is not without fault in this debacle. The claims that let the WEG get the injunction were based on the inability of the agency to get their scientific work done on Mexican spotted owls in the forests.

On the other hand Judge Raner C. Collins, Senior United States District Judge in Tucson, may not have the scientific background to understand the implications of his actions. I remember several years ago sitting in Judge Collins’ courtroom when the USFS put up a map showing a huge area in Northern Arizona bleeding into New Mexico that was black.

The USFS told the judge that there were no owl packs in all of the marked area. The judge looked like someone had slapped him and demanded to know why not? The answer was simple. That was one of the huge fires that did so much damage in the region. The owls, like many other species of wildlife, perished in the fire.

The final court order requires that the USFS and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) must reinitiate a formal Section 7(a)(2) consultation as required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and formulate superseding Biological Opinions (BiOps) that conform with the terms of the Order. The consultation must also reassess the jeopardy analysis and the effect of Forest Plans on the recovery of the Mexican spotted owl.

Most, if not all, forests in New Mexico are in the midst of redoing their forest plans. There is not yet any time line on the creation of a new Biological Opinion.

The public outcry against the WEG and this injunction has been admirable. Everyone needs to keep up the good work. The Congressional delegation is home on a two-week recess. The only way to lobby judges is through the media. Letters to the editor in Arizona and New Mexico publications are certainly in order.

Meanwhile back at the ranch…

The USFS is busily working to meet the demands of a notice of intent to sue (NOI) filed against the agency on July 17, 2019. This is another Groundhog Day nightmare for ranchers with grazing allotments along riparian areas in New Mexico and Arizona.

More litigation…

There was tremendous joy in most of the West and other places that have been plagued with land-use restrictions as a result of the ESA when new regulations out of the U.S. Department of Interior on critical habits designations and other issues. These regulations were the result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating that the designation of critical habitat must be only where there are known critters living.

Seems like common sense, right?

Not so for at least 17 state attorneys general — including the New Mexico Attorney General — who are suing Interior over these new regulations that took effect on September 16, 2019.

Here is another place to make your voice heard loud and clear with letters and letters to the editor.

Mexican Jaguar

Oral arguments were heard in the 10th Circuit of Appeals in late September on the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ case against the critical habitat designation for the Mexican jaguar in New Mexico. While it may be difficult to understand why this habitat designation would be opposed.

We are not sure when to expect a final ruling from the court, but there is cautious optimism.

Not only is there no water or riparian habitat in southern New Mexico for the jaguar, but they are one more predator in an area already overflowing with predators. Additionally, restrictions placed on land owners and users to protect the jaguar would inhibit management of other predators. Does that make sense?

Establishing a pattern

As I write this, there is a trend emerging. Society, whoever that is, wants more Mexican wolves, Mexican spotted owls, Mexican jaguars, Mexican garter snakes… and who knows what else. Shouldn’t these species be concentrated in Mexico???

Stricter Mileage Rules

According to Governor Lujan Grisham in an Albuquerque Journal article, New Mexico will adopt stricter vehicle emissions standards by the end of next year that would go into effect in 2022.

In July, Lujan Grisham signed on to the Clean Car Promise with 23 other governors in the bipartisan U.S. Climate Alliance. The statement criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to reverse nationwide vehicle emissions standards that were enacted in 2012. The EPA’s proposed changes would set a standard of 37 mpg for new vehicles. The Obama-era standard was 54 mpg by 2025. The governor said the proposed rollbacks threaten to “rob New Mexico” of a chance to reduce air pollution.

The state’s new standards would be stricter than those now required by the federal government and would come into play earlier than the regulations under Obama.

New state rules would apply to cars beginning in model year 2022 sold in New Mexico. The proposed changes are expected to increase the average fuel economy to 52 mpg.

ELD Delay for Livestock Haulers             

On September 26, 2019 the U.S. Senate passed a short term spending bill to keep the government open and running until November 21, 2019.  As long as the President signs it before midnight on September 30, 2019, the government stays open, and very importantly, the livestock ELD delay stays in place until November 21, 2019.

What happens after November 21st remains to be seen, but the ELD delay language in the House package and in the Senate Transportation, Housing & Urban Development bill that has passed out of subcommittee. If the government were to shut down, the ELD delay would remain.

As usual, there are a lot of uncertainties with the budget. This delay provides more time to work on flexibilities to Hours of Service.

New Overtime & Exempt Rule

Two years ago you were advised to prepare for a new overtime rule that was pulled in the final hours. The Department of Labor revised

The salary threshold for an exempt employee is currently $23,000 per year, but as of January 1, 2020 all exempt employees will need to make at least $35,568 a year. This rule also modifies annual compensation for highly compensated status from $100,000 to $107,432. Nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments can account for up to 10 percent of that salary threshold.    

(Exempt:  salary staff that aren’t eligible for overtime. Non-Exempt:  staff paid on an hourly rate and are eligible for overtime pay)

What do you need to do?

  • Identify all exempt employees making less than $35,568 a year.
  • Take a look at how many hours those employees tend to work.
  • Your options are then to increase their salary to $35,568 a year, or change their status to non-exempt and pay them an hourly wage. Realizing that anytime they work more than 40 hours in a workweek you will need to pay them overtime.
  • Make sure to research what your state threshold might be, if it is more than the federal amount of $35,568 you will need to pay the higher salary.

If you would like to read more about this new rule, here is the link to the Department of Labor.

Food Facts From: Is it really possible that plant-based  foods such as the Impossible Whopper are healthful?

by Registered Dietitian Cara Rosenbloom, President of Words to Eat By,

Plant-based foods are purposely formulated to mimic animal-based foods, so plant-based milk is enriched with calcium and vitamin D to mimic cow’s milk, while veggie burgers are rich in protein and made with iron and zinc to imitate beef. But they aren’t always made to reduce the presence of less-healthy nutrients. Sometimes, the processed plant-based food will have more sodium than the processed animal-based food, and sometimes the animal food will be higher in calories or saturated fat. And vice versa. So, it’s sort of a tie. Consider this: A Burger King Whopper has 660 calories and 980 mg sodium, while the virtuous vegan version has 630 calories and 1080 mg sodium. Not much of a difference, right?

Plant-based ultra-processed products such as these are formulated to taste like the real deal. Thus, consumers can feel virtuous or principled for choosing plants over meat without sacrificing too much flavor. But is there any value to plant-based products that have been crushed, extruded and shaped into facsimiles of the foods they are replacing? Let’s look at that question through several lenses — considering nutrients, how processed the food is and how producing the food affects the planet.

Using the term “plant-based” on fast food labels is just another attempt by marketers to re-brand junk food. True plant-based eating doesn’t mean opting for an Impossible Whopper in the drive-through or scrambling up some 15-ingredient “egg alternative.” It means a diet that includes nourishing options such as black beans, broccoli and brown rice. We’re always looking for some magical way to eat junky food and achieve health. Don’t be fooled by this plant-based pretense.      

Source: New Mexico Stockman, October 2019