Federal land management agencies need to find new direction
In response to a letter from Corbin Newman, regional forester, U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region dated June 21, 2011;
The article can best be described as a “feel good” statement wherein the regional forester (read it carefully) is appealing to everyone to help out.
Almost all of his suggestions can only be described as self-serving, misleading, misguided and the same rhetoric and policies, which created the conditions which have led to the destruction of our forest resources by the Wallow Fire in Arizona and New Mexico.
This kind of thinking has led to the destruction of millions of board feet of timber, which will be lost forever.
After spending in excess of $60,000,000 on the Wallow Fire, the regional forester states, “We need each of you to take personal responsibility to stop fires from starting.”
Several days ago, I spent two days in Springerville, Ariz., at the Rode Inn and El Jo motels with my brother, Gary Kiehne, who participated in the evacuation from his home in Eager and was asked to evacuate our motels, which were full of fire crews, helicopter pilots, electric power company personnel, slurry crews and others.
Below I relate to you a recent June 20-21 visit to Quemado, Luna, Reserve (my home town) and our Fitzgerald Ranch north of Apache Creek, N.M.
It was a sad experience to enter Catron County in southwestern New Mexico and to observe, first hand, the results of the Wallow Fire, which began in southeastern Arizona and is now burning hundreds of thousands of acres.
On Monday, my wife, Cherie, and I met a couple in Quemado for lunch after observing all the smoke plumes increasing in intensity from Socorro to the Wallow Fire, across the St. Augustine Plains, to the small community of Luna, where we visited on June 21, after spending the night at the Centerfire Bog Ranch with the owner, Craig Heimberg.
The night sky shone with stars forever and the flames of the nearby fire were the reason Craig had prepared to protect his improvements with his own equipment delivered from Phoenix.
Forest Road 19 from Luna going north became the battle line with everything west of Forest Road 19 still subject to some future expansion of the fire.
We spent the afternoon, east of State Road 32, touring the Cańon Del Buey Ranch, which is for sale by the owners who have made their living on a livestock grazing allotment for about 82 years.
The ranching families in that area have had to live alongside the mismanagement of the Gila National Forest and the Apache Sitgreaves Forest.
The sight of the devastation on the H-V Ranch, the Centerfire Bog Ranch, the Hulsey Ranch, the Laney Ranch and many, many others which we were unable to see from my suburban, reminded me of a letter written by Emil O. Kiehne, now 89-years young, to the Forest Service on Feb. 8, 1979. His vision and predictions have definitely become true in spades.
An incalculable cost for generations will be left for the locals to ponder. Long after those thousands of contact firefighters, slurry bombers, caterers, Forest Service officials, porta-potty handlers, stand-by equipment operators, etc., have left the old timers, the displaced loggers watch the burned-up ponderosa trees, pinon and cedar covered acres continue to be managed for the benefit of the endangered species.
My father, Emil O. Kiehne, strongly believes that “Lo que es to todo no es de nadie,” i.e. “That which belongs to everyone belongs to no one.”
My father also believes that, “We are over protecting the forest into self-destruction.”
He believes that the U.S. Forest Service and BLM policies together with other federal and state land management agencies are misguided and result in mismanaged resources.
If you listen to the interviews on TV of the BLM managers and the U.S. Forest Service managers, they will justify their policies and suggest a larger fleet of aerial planes, appropriations and vehicles are needed.
The saddest and most telling scene we observed in Reserve was what we named “tent city.” Located at the Catron County Fairgrounds, I was in tears taking pictures of contract personnel, huge catering trucks, idled bulldozers, dozens of water trucks, young men and women in fire-fighting garb, green and yellow and red in color. Many seen along the fire line north of Luna told me they were from Utah, Idaho and southern California. All were elements of contract employees spending hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money…for the expanding Wallow Fire.
On the tour, I stopped to visit several ranching families who were in a real panic over the past weekend in the Centerfire Bog, Centerfire Creek, Trout Creek and SA Creek areas of the Gila.
Several beautiful homes have strung fire hoses around their homes and scraped fire-lines as best they could to defend their homes from the pending onslaught. Some of the families included the Laneys, the Pattersons, the Heimburgs, the Hulseys and many others.
In Reserve, the airport area was occupied by unknown personnel. The fairgrounds was literally an overnight “tent city” with portable showers, hand washing apparatus, truckloads of supplies, caterers with cushions plus hundreds of vehicles and trash haulers.
I was quizzed by the female guard in a U.S. Forest Service uniform asking, “May I help you?” The tone of her voice told me that I wasn’t welcome, but I didn’t let her stop me from looking at the buildings where I had shown calves, hogs and sheep as projects for our 4-H Club and FFA Chapter from 1959 to 1963 when I attended Reserve High School.
When the fairgrounds were started more than 50 years ago by a local committee of parents, ranchers, merchants and loggers, none would believe that the facility has been occupied by a foreign invasion of unfriendly people from southern California and all over the west.
I noticed where one fire crew of four or five people chose to cut the barbed wire fence to get into Bishop Canyon instead of using a wire gate only 200 feet away! Can you imagine the quantity of trash and destruction of personal property which will occur?
I was so disappointed and mad at the way the federal lands are being managed that I chose not to visit the U.S. Forest Service Office in Reserve. I had already visited the Quemado office, where I obtained the latest version of the Wallow Fire map showing where more than 500,000 acres were burned.
The permanent residents of Catron County and southeastern Arizona deserve better than what is being done to them by the government officials.
My father also believes that “Now is the time to transfer responsibility for the management of the Gila and Apache Sitgreaves Forests away from the Federal Agencies.” After all, they have not only screwed it up, but they will still get paid their wages, benefits, time and a half and vacation time with no accountability. Since they are now in charge, they will not change what they do or admit that they are culpable.
It is time for a major change. I repeat, it is time for a major change.
My father believes that the Gila Forest assets (indeed all U.S. Forest Service acreage) including grazing, logging, recreation, hunting and mining, should be owned and managed by the local residents and the private sector and transferred into private hands on some equitable basis determined by the elected county commissioners.
The federal land management agencies will fight to protect their entrenched bureaucracies and will be concerned about their jobs and retirement benefits.
In order to be fair, let’s pass a law or ordinance which allows federal land agency people to retrain for private sector jobs and continue receiving their pay rolls for up to three years. They can simply turn in their uniforms, vehicles and badges and deed their land, buildings and firefighting equipment to the counties. No more per diem or appropriations will be needed because they can choose to stay home or relocate out of the area.
This plan would add millions of acres to the tax rolls, help balance the federal budget, create thousands of private sector jobs and benefit from a similar movement and economic boom that occurred when the Homestead Act started in 1862.
The smoke-filled valleys, the mountain communities and the vacation homes (hundreds of which have been burned) will be stark reminders that it’s time for a long needed change.
It’s very sad that it has taken the environmental conditions, which has led to the destruction, for the average resident to wake up and see what needs to be done.
My father and mother, Emil and Beverly Kiehne, may not live to see these necessary policy changes. After all, they are now 88- and 89-years old and they pray every day for the necessary changes to happen before other Wallow-like fires occur.
Max L. Kiehne is the founder and associate broker of Centerfire Real Estate in Los Lunas. He is a lifelong resident of New Mexico. His family’s history traces their involvement in ranching in New Mexico back to 1884. Max was raised on a ranch near Reserve, N.M. Max graduated from Harvard College in Cambridge, Mass., in 1968, and then returned to his beloved New Mexico.
Corbin Newman’s op-ed was published in the Albuquerque Jounal on June 22, and in El Defensor Chieftain’s July 6, edition.