New Mexico plots criminal charges against feds in land fight

(Washington Times) -- New Mexico ranchers are plenty mad over the U.S. Forest Service’s refusal to open a gate blocking their cattle from reaching water, but all sides say they are working hard to avoid an armed showdown reminiscent of Nevada’s Bundy ranch skirmish any time soon.

But that doesn’t mean a resolution will be easy or that the pressure on the local officials at the center of the clash is any less.

And still standing are the metal fences and locked gates along the banks of the Agua Chiquita, put up by the Forest Service to keep local cattle out. The federal government says the fences are merely replacing long-standing barbed-wire enclosures protecting a vital wetland habitat.

Otero County officials say they’re exploring possible criminal and civil sanctions against federal agencies after failing to reach an agreement with federal stakeholders. The ranching community is also reaching out to Congress to step in on behalf of cattle owners.

“It’s time for a congressional inquiry into this and probably a committee hearing somewhere in the West to deal with this, because it’s not just here. It’s Utah. It’s Nevada. It’s what’s going on in Texas,” said Albuquerque attorney Blair Dunn, who’s representing Otero County in the matter.

The Otero County Commissioners released a statement late last week saying they were “frustrated and disappointed by the inability of the USFS to work cooperatively in any meaningful way” after federal officials refused to budge at a meeting called by the U.S. attorney.

“It was very frustrating for the sheriff and the county commissioners to go all that way, have that meeting in good faith, and nobody in that room from the federal government ever had any intention of compromising,” said Mr. Dunn.

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