Thursday, July 3, 2008

People For Preservation of Our Western Heritage Catches Praise

By Rebecca Powell, 7-03-08

Part of an ongoing series about the Doña Ana County Wilderness Debate. For more on the debate and the proposals, see A Biased Observer of the Doña Ana County Wilderness Debate, For Some, Wilderness is Simple, Pearce Submits People’s Proposal to the House, and More Than a Yes or No to Wilderness.

Jim Scarantino, a respected journalist and former executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, praises the efforts of People for the Preservation of Our Western Heritage on Heath Haussamen’s NM Politics site. He highlights the group’s commitment and their home-grown roots.

The ranchers I know are an independent lot. They do not form groups, organize, or launch campaigns. They like open spaces, devoid of people. Informing the public on what it takes to ranch or its importance is not on an activity they relish or perform with any regularity. That a group of ranchers with ties to the local business community managed to overcome their natural inclinations to broadcast their message and form a large coalition of supporters may herald a new day in land conservation.

A commenter here said the people of Dona Ana County do not have the right to dictate what happens to the land surrounding their community. He said federal land belongs to us all. It is a romantic, compelling notion that has basis in law and fact. But, there is an aspect about land that goes beyond law, beyond notions.

The land you have walked, the land you have watched change over years and seasons belongs to you in an elemental way. People thousands of miles from Las Cruces may have a stake in these lands, but it is not an emotional stake. They have not mourned droughts, fires or floods. They have not watched the wildflowers bloom at the base of the Organs.

HR 6300 was not born in an office in Washington D.C. or Denver, Colorado. It was born from the minds and hearts of those who have walked the land and worked the land. They have an emotional and financial stake in this debate. Some will claim that makes them biased, purely self-interested, and I would reply, of course—we all are.

We live here, We play here. The Organs, Robledos and Dona Anas mark the boundaries of what we consider “here.” We all have a self-interest in their future. To assert that those for wilderness designation have less of a self-interest because they do not benefit financially from the lands is to say realtors, developers, business owners, and wilderness activists do not profit from the existence of the mountain ranges. It is to say that the surroundings of Las Cruces do not influence anyone’s decision to move here, that no one but the ranchers has a job predicated on their existence.

It is our self-interest that makes this a debate worth having.

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