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For Immediate Release, September 13, 2011

Contact: Cyndi Tuell, (520) 444-6603 or ctuell@biologicaldiversity.org

New Mexico Congressman Steve Pearce Incites Vigilantes to Destroy Public Lands

Otero County Plans Renegade Logging; Catron County Bulldozes San Francisco River

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— Incidents of vigilantes tearing up public lands — including the unauthorized bulldozing of 13 miles of the San Francisco River by Catron County — are on the rise in New Mexico following calls from U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) for counties to seize control of federal public land.  

Field visits by Center for Biological Diversity staff and a letter to Catron County from the Forest Service confirm that Catron County officials in August trespassed across private land to bulldoze 13.5 miles of the San Francisco River on the Gila National Forest. The river is designated critical habitat for the threatened loach minnow; the bulldozed section includes an inventoried roadless area downstream of Reserve.

In a press release dated Aug. 3, 2011, seven days before the bulldozing incident, Pearce highlighted the fact that sheriffs in counties that patrol the Gila will not enforce roadless rules or the Forest Service’s “travel management plan,” which manages off-road vehicle use. The only federal response from the Obama administration has been a multiagency tour of the area and a letter from the Forest Service to the county. 

“Public and elected officials should not be encouraging or engaging in vigilantism on private and federal public lands,” said Cyndi Tuell at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This radical anti-environmental agenda is as dangerous and misinformed as it is out of touch with Americans’ public-lands values.”

At an August town hall in Eager, Ariz., Congressman Pearce urged counties to take control of all the land within their boundaries, including federal public land. Pearce, who was called a “Tea Party rock star” by the White Mountain Independent newspaper reporting on the event, praised New Mexico and Oregon counties for “taking control,” including the Otero County sheriff who threatened to arrest any Forest Service staff interfering with the county’s logging on national forest land. Pearce’s own legislation, H.R. 1202, would exempt national forest logging from all environmental laws.

On Sept. 17 Pearce and Otero County officials plan to begin logging on the Lincoln National Forest under a plan approved by Otero County that forgoes U.S. Forest Service policies and approvals on national forest land. Congressman Pearce has applauded the plan and has vowed to fell the first tree. 

“Violation of private property rights by local government and destruction of public lands that belong to all Americans are behaviors that should be condemned by public officials, not encouraged,” said Tuell.


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