CLOVERDALE, N.M.—Deep in New Mexico's Bootheel along
the U.S.-Mexico border sits a historic 500-square mile ranch once owned
by William Randolph Hearst. Now called the Diamond A Ranch and operated
by Seth Hadley, a descendant of Anheuser-Busch founder Adolphus Busch,
the large holding that straddles the New Mexico-Arizona border has been
called one of the "Last Great Places" by environmentalists for its focus
on saving wildlife.
But among the canyons of the Peloncillo
Mountains and the serenity of the pinon-juniper woods of the Animas
Mountains, Hadley and neighboring area ranchers are locked in an ongoing
dispute over traditional ranch land usages and access to public lands
and country roads. Smaller, area ranchers accuse Diamond A Ranch of
routinely putting up fences on public land and trying to close roads by
erecting gates with padlocks, a move that on at least one occasion drew
an injunction from a state judge.
They also say Hadley's
focus on environmental concerns, which sometimes result in vast chucks
of land being set aside for wildlife, makes it harder for them to
navigate through the sprawling ranch and keep up with usage rules.
those moves, ranchers say, are slowly changing the way of life in the
Bootheel as areas long visited by hunters, ranchers and originally by
homesteaders are being shut out.
"I think (Diamond A Ranch)
would rather ask for forgiveness rather than ask for permission," said
Judy Keeler, a neighboring rancher who runs an 8,000-acre ranch. "We're friendly with them but it's been an ongoing battle."
A Diamond A Ranch spokeswoman declined to comment for this story.
the two sides are locked in a fight over a fence on Diamond A property
that prevents hunters from parking to hunt in the Coronado National
The disputes between the ranchers and Diamond A also
played out in January when the U.S. Border Patrol announced it would
build an outpost on a plot owned by Diamond A rather than on U.S. Bureau
of Land Management land closer to the border. For months prior to the
U.S. Border Patrol's decision, ranchers had held meetings in nearby
Lordsburg, N.M., signed petitions and wrote letters demanding that the
border patrol build the outpost on federal land closer to the border.
Border Patrol officials have called the unforgiving terrain,
where Geronimo made his last stand, one of the last unguarded regions
between the United States and Mexico. They said the proposed outpost on
Diamond A land made the most strategic sense in battling Mexican cartel
traffickers who routinely travel through nearby mountains with carpet
stuck to the bottoms of their shoes to hide their tracks.
the decision only hardened the belief among some ranchers that Hadley's
influence outweighed their concerns. "I wasn't surprised," said Meira
Gault, 62, who along with her husband, Stephen, 71, operates a 20,000
acre ranch just north of the border. "He usually gets his way."
1993, the Hadley family bought what was then called the Gray Ranch. The
Nature Conservancy included the Gray Ranch on its "Last Great Places"
list, and the Hadley family gave portions to the Animas Foundation, an
environmentally concerned group headed by the Hadley family.
immediately praised the ranching foundation for preserving and
improving the ecosystem of the large ranch and for providing pastures
for nearby drought-stricken ranches in a unique "Grassbank" arrangement
that lets ranchers graze their cattle on the ranch in return for an
agreement never to subdivide their own land.
Diamond A won praises from environmentalists, area ranchers complained
that Hadley bought up smaller ranchs to increase his holdings, and also
would put up fences on public land, regardless of complaints, preventing
movement of cattle.
In 1997, a district judge ordered Hadley
to remove the padlock he put on a cattle gate on County Road 2 near
Cloverdale. Hadley said he owned the road built during the
Mexican-American War, but county officials disagreed and said it was
preventing others from using the public road built by the U.S. Army.
Despite the constant back and forth, area ranchers lament that
the biggest transformation since the Hadleys bought the ranch has been a
discontinuation of annual community events.
families who descended from the area's original homesteaders used to
hold reunions on land now owned by Diamond A. During a recent afternoon,
an abandoned concrete dance floor could be seen among shrubs and grass.
"There used to be events here all the time and everyone
would come together," said Gault. "That just doesn't happen anymore."