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  The Gauntlet

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letters, opinions, editorials

re: open letter to Senator John Sapien regarding feral horses in the Placitas Open Space

February 22, 2013
Dear Senator Sapien:

This letter serves to inform you that the Board Members of the Open Space Alliance (the “Board”) acknowledge the need to complete and repair fencing on the 560-acre tract known as the Placitas Open Space in light of substantial damage to the natural character of this land by certain wild horse populations. Therefore, the Board supports Mr. Mike Neas’s efforts to enlist your help, and the help of any other member of the legislature of the State of New Mexico, to secure capital outlay funding for this worthy cause.

The Board’s support of Mr. Neas is predicated on our understanding that he will work closely with the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division and other interested parties to propose and implement a fencing solution designed to protect the Land from unmitigated horse grazing while still preserving essential features of open space. Such essential features include, but are not limited to, conservation and preservation of the land and indigenous wildlife, as well as access for public recreation and education.

As you may be aware, the Open Space Alliance is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to promote public awareness and conservation of open space lands, and to educate the public about the natural, historic, cultural, educational, and recreational aspects of open space areas. We believe that Mr. Neas’s efforts to preserve the Placitas Open Space are consistent with our organization’s purpose.

However, in expressing our support for this cause, we do not express any opinion as to the value or desirability of wild horses in this area, their right to exist, or their proper place. Nor do we express an opinion that the burden of supporting these horses should fall exclusively on lands owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, any Pueblo, or any private individuals. The Board simply recognizes the pressing need to take concrete action which will allow the Placitas Open Space an opportunity to recover from uncontrolled grazing by wild horses.

Very truly yours,
—Sallie McCarthy, Board President, Open Space Alliance
Cc: Mr. Mike Neas; Patience O’Dowd, WHOA (Wild Horse Observer’s Association); Matt Schmader, Superintendent of Albuquerque Open Space Division

WHOA policies delay solutions on horses, threaten public lands

—Mike Neas

San Felipe Pueblo is seeking an Act of Congress to take possession of the “Buffalo Tract”—3,143 acres of BLM land just north of Placitas. Mineral rights would go with the land. As a Sovereign Nation, gravel mining could become San Felipe’s prerogative, no longer at the carefully considered judgment of the BLM and under the watchful eye of the public.

The BLM has said that there might be a “billion dollars” worth of sand and gravel in the Placitas area. In time, as with the BLM, wouldn’t the economic appeal to the San Felipe tribe be overwhelming? San Felipe and neighboring Santa Ana Pueblo (who also wants the land) already mine gravel along  the I-25 east frontage road, next to or near the Placitas BLM property.

While the tribes have promised “covenants” to protect Placitas from gravel mining, the land and covenants would be placed in trust with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). That federal agency is dedicated to the social and economic welfare of the tribes, and as such, has potential authority to modify tribal covenants and release the tribes from their promise not to mine gravel for economic reasons.

In the Wild Horse Observer’s Association’s (WHOA) effort to deal with the ever-increasing wild horse situation in Placitas (over one-hundred horses), they have endorsed the San Felipe Pueblo attempt to acquire the Buffalo Tract. This acquisition would supposedly create a wildlife corridor and wild horse sanctuary to be held in trust and managed by San Felipe. WHOA is aware the Buffalo Tract can support only thirty or so Placitas horses, and claims that when the time comes, San Felipe will take back sixty or so horses. Apparently, inferring that San Felipe would take back what they once referred to as “Traditional Cultural Property” only when in control of the Placitas BLM lands.

In April of 2011, WHOA filed its lawsuit in US District Court requesting the court to order the BLM to manage and protect wild free-roaming horses near and around Placitas in accordance with the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. This would allow the horses a special “wild horse” status. That case has since been dismissed. WHOA has appealed and vows to take their case to the Supreme Court if necessary. It is unclear how long this could take.

In the meantime, the BLM has apparently decided to allow the horses on its land until the WHOA case is resolved. Even if WHOA wins the case, we’re told by the BLM that any “wild” horses they identify will be shipped to holding corrals in Oklahoma. The New Mexico Livestock Board may also refrain from taking steps to control horse population until the case is resolved.

There are numerous mining factions watching all of this play out, while we are distracted and misdirected by the WHOA lawsuit that allows a plan of management by delay. It’s a style that in the end is no management at all and could leave Placitas open to resource exploitation and environmental damage.

The BLM says most of the horses here in Placitas came from the San Felipe Reservation, although San Felipe does not seem to want them. BLM said, in 2004, that San Felipe officials claimed that their horses were “traditional cultural property” and by New Mexico state law could not be moved off of the BLM land. Considering them as “trespass livestock,” the BLM wanted to round up the horses in 2010. The BLM Buffalo Tract was already in such poor shape from the horses, that the rancher who held the grazing rights could not run cattle and refused to pay for his cattle-grazing lease until the BLM fixed the problem. That rancher was also included in the WHOA lawsuit when he tried to round up horses on his personal property.

While much of our land in Placitas is already in desperate shape, much of San Felipe land east of I-25 is like a dust bowl. There is almost nothing on San Felipe land for the horses to eat, thus the migration south to Placitas. Free roaming horses may increase in numbers at around twenty percent per year. If the WHOA case were to drag on for only four more years, and nothing is done, our Placitas horse population could climb to two hundred or more.

WHOA acknowledges the problem of overpopulation by seeking authority to administer PZP contraceptives. Unfortunately, the New Mexico Livestock Board (NMLB) cannot grant WHOA that authority to administer contraceptives because WHOA neither owns the horses nor has a legal place to keep them.

The free ranging horses are destroying both public and private lands, stripping the vegetation, and causing our once pleasant landscapes to look like barren over grazed ranch lands. We have watched passively while WHOA delays a solution and controls public opinion with disinformation regarding the benefits of “wild” horses. These policies, along with feeding and watering the horses, have imposed a corral without fences upon public and private lands in our delicate high desert.

WHOA should drop their lawsuit. It unwittingly allows for extreme harm to both public and private Placitas land. Public safety issues, inevitable cost, and the eventual damage to the horses themselves worsens with every new foal.

There are ways to deal with these problems as a community. We absolutely must find a credible solution for the roving horses. Placitas horseman Marty Clifton is working with State Senator John Sapien in an attempt to get the state to purchase and manage the Buffalo Parcel for public recreation and sanctuary for about thirty horses. Other horses can be humanely relocated.

I urge Placitas watchdog groups—the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association (ES-CA) and the Las Placitas Association (LPA)—to stop ignoring the horse issues and scrutinize any possible federal transfer of the Buffalo Tract to tribal ownership. Placitas residents with reservations regarding this transfer and/or the horse population should contact ES-CA, LPA, WHOA, and our local, state, and federal representatives.

re: should communities have no choice?

There is a problem brewing for the residents of the Algodones in the Centro de Algodones commercially zoned district, which has a requirement that all businesses close at 9:00 p.m. William Baldwin, owns three bars in Albuquerque (Stoneface Tavern, Horse and Angel, and Billy’s Long Bar) in large commercial areas compared to what Patrick Trujillo, the County Attorney, called that “piece of dirt” in Algodones. Mr. Baldwin has requested permission from the Sandoval County Planning and Zoning Division to extend the hours of his proposed business to 2:00 a.m.

Baldwin plans to include an 8,900 square foot combination full-service bar and liquor store, in this zone which is immediately adjacent to Interstate 25 at Exit 248. This freeway exit/entrance has no lighting and this bar/liquor store will be only one tenth of a mile from the nearest residence and also from I-25. The Planning and Zoning Division denied his request, so he appealed it to the Sandoval County Board of Commissioners, and the decision was sent back to the Planning and Zoning Division due to new information which had become available. 

 Residents of Algodones have submitted petitions against having this business here. They are told that the current zoning laws will allow it, and the burden of proof as to whether this business will be detrimental to the health and safety or our community is on us. Not only will it create more problems of alcohol abuse, but just as importantly, residents will be affected by the noise between 9:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. so close to their homes.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, Mr. Baldwin has had his license suspended in the past for an accident that caused three deaths; as a result, he had to pay a $4,000 fine, install sophisticated surveillance equipment, hire off-duty police officers, and have his employees trained in not giving inebriated people more liquor.

The Planning and Zoning Division of Sandoval County will make a decision on extended hours for this establishment in a public hearing on February 28, 2013, at 6:00 p.m. in the County Administration Building at 1500 Idalia, Building D, off highway 528. If you see this as a possible problem, the Algodones Neighborhood Association invites and encourages you to add your voice by attending this public hearing.

—Nonnine and Mary Oberg, Algodones Neighborhood Association

re: bikes in wilderness

As long-time forest users of FR445 (Loop Road), we’ve seen a big increase in recreational use over the past few years, particularly by mountain bikers. A proliferation of unauthorized mountain bike trails—not sanctioned nor built by the Forest Service, plus new unofficial parking locations and enlargement of older parking locations—are of concern.

This area, formerly used primarily by mostly Placitas residents is now being publicized and promoted on mountain bike websites and blogs. While the majority of bike users are courteous to hikers with their dogs, not all are, and the Sandia Ranger District is aware of the situation and shares concern.

In 1997, the Bernalillo Watershed was designated as an RNA (Research Natural Area) by the State of New Mexico. This means that the land within the Loop Road is a protected RNA area according to the State. This also means that users cannot modify the environment, threaten nor impair this research study area. Additionally, it provides guidance to prohibit recreation use if degradation results. There are other aspects to this ruling. There is also a New Mexico Statewide Natural Resource Assessment (NRA), which the Sandia Ranger District uses to make management decisions on its Federal lands, including the FR445 Loop Road area. New Mexico State has tried to put in writing strong measures to protect forest areas, including the Loop Road area. The Forest Service is trying to honor this.

Given the growing use and some abuse by illegally-poached, mountain-bike-trail builders, the Sandia Ranger District is currently taking an active, positive role by initiating a Placitas Area Trails project. Public input and a scoping process will start up this spring. The intent of the project is to devise a management plan for a Placitas area trail system that successfully balances the diversity of recreational uses with the unique natural resources such as special grasses and plants to be preserved. They are already surveying and posting the Sandia Mountain Wilderness boundaries, removing bike jumps, conducting maintenance and stabilization on the Strip Mine Trail, posting additional information about the prohibition of bikes in the Wilderness, and working to reduce the creation of additional unauthorized trails by posting signs at the entrances.

We want to protect this special area from further damage, so when the public meetings are held in a few months, please attend. If you want to voice your concerns now, contact the Sandia Ranger District at 281-3304.

—Chris Huber, Placitas Trails

re: Mount Taylor Quad finishers

We would like to send our congratulations to Maya Ramsay and Jennifer Davenport for completing their second Mount Taylor Quadrathlon on February 16. Both competed as soloists for the past two years. They biked, ran, skied, and snowshoed their way to the 11,301-foot summit of Mount Taylor, and then turned around and did it all again, back down to the town of Grants, New Mexico, at 6,500 feet, covering a total of 44 miles. You are an inspiration to those of us who love to climb mountains. Cheers to you both! You rock!!!

—Diane and Piers Ramsay, Placitas

re: new sign in front of Ranchos de Placitas

“Tombstone tantrum”—Sure glad Mr. Priester’s opinion is “humble.” It also must be quite singular. In contrast to its garish predecessor, the new sign is clear, legible, dignified, and appropriate to the neighborhood and landscape.

—Susan Collins, Once again proud to be living in Ranchos de Placitas

re: give us a sign

Have to tell you: I loved Gary Priester’s comments on our sign at the entry of Ranchos de Placitas. We, in the front sections 1, 2, and 3 took a vote of residents and voted to keep the old sign. But the back section never took a vote and from what the rumor mill said, some other people took charge. Not very democratic, not to mention rather rude, to do to one of their residents (artist Gene McClain). Our vote did not count, I guess? Not sure why? Perhaps because we are only 120 owners in our area and they have over four hundred in sections 4 to 7. I want to tell Gary how much some of us appreciated his comments.

—Judy Clymer, Ranchos de Placitas

re: near death of a salesman

Dear friends back east,

Thank you for the photos of the two snowpersons you created in Central Park. I suppose it was inevitable that you would place them in a pose that was simultaneously lewd, bawdy, salacious, and obscenely acrobatic. Yet, the sculpture was artistically done, and successfully reminded me of certain good old days. It’s a pity there wasn’t a prize for “most shameless” in this competition.

I should not speak of art, however, due to a most embarrassing experience recently suffered while seeking to make a few dollars on some of my own artistic creations. Perhaps you recall from past visits that Placitas has a lovely gallery containing a wide array of artistic treasures produced by local talent. When I learned that they purchase, or take on consignment, worthy art from Placitas residents, I paid a visit to the gallery owners—a congenial, welcoming, married couple. I brought along a shoebox of “samples” from my own artistic past (albeit limited) hoping to make some money.

When I explained the purpose of my visit, the couple was eager to delve into my box of art objects, most of which I created in my extreme youth. My sad experience began when I chose to display my dried pasta necklace, followed by the little round chunk of plaster bearing my kindergarten handprint.

As they examined my noodle jewelry, I agreed that there are a great many dried pasta-based necklaces around, e.g. macaroni necklaces made by grade school children, but not many as old as this (mid-1940s) and even fewer which so generously employ the larger manicotti noodles in their basic structure. And fewer still that have a gnocchi clip-on enhancer.

After a humiliating minute of total silence, they suggested I incorporate materials such as silver, brass, copper, gold or platinum along with semi-precious stones such as turquoise, lapis, or onyx. Perhaps a silver chain rather than white cotton string? Etc. Etc. When I asked them where I should stick my pasta, they gave one another quick, wide-eyed looks, shielded their faces with their hands and stared at their feet. I started to feel discouraged.

When they examined my round plaster piece displaying my childhood handprint, they expressed curiosity about “…the little bulgy node near the edge.” I told them that was the thumb. If that was the thumb, they asked why there were six additional fingers clearly showing. I then informed them that I had been jostled by a fellow artist during the course of this difficult, exacting process, causing my hand to slip. Couldn’t they sell it as an arty indicator of childhood polydactylism?

They examined the long-ago portrait I did of my baby sister, using a mixed media of crayon, pencil, and chocolate milk. To make a sad story short, they simply argued as to whether this was a painting of Winston Churchill or a Shar Pei. I slowly withdrew the item.

With a phony smile, I thanked them for their “appraisal,” and we parted friends. That evening Patrick Cat and I shared a very quiet pasta dinner. It was a first for the old fellow.

—Your Friend, Herb

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