Sunday, April 23, 2017

VOTE for change on the Dona Ana Soil & Water Conservation District Board!

VOTE TUESDAY, MAY 2 in the Doña Ana Soil & Water Conservation District election. 
SWCDs were founded in 1935 as a response to the dust bowl. On April 2, 1935, scientist Hugh Bennett was asking the Senate Public Lands Committee for more money, and getting some opposition – until a huge dust storm swept over the Capitol. 
State and federal laws give SWCDs the power to do real good. Noting that “the land, waters, and other natural resources are the basic physical assets of New Mexico, and their preservation and development are necessary to protect and promote the health and general welfare of the people of this state,” our Legislature charged SWCDs with fighting soil erosion and flood damage, furthering water conservation, promoting use of water for fish and wildlife (as well as human) needs, and conserving and developing the state's natural resources.

Unfortunately, the DASWCD board opposes true conservation measures. They haphazardly try to protect ranchers from any inconvenience, but do little toward the other goals. They opposed the new monument. And wolf reintroduction. One year they spent a portion of their small annual budget to hire someone to oppose a BLM planning document – although they hadn't identified any specific objection to it: as longtime DASWCD Chair Joe Delk said, “There's no telling what's hidden in the nooks and crannies of the words therein.” They even passed a resolution on Agenda 21, a well-meaning and idealistic wish-list put out by a U.N. Agency, favoring sustainability and better economic opportunity for all. It's nothing mandatory, but gets used to create fears that local governments will swear fealty to UNESCO or something. 
The DASWCD also uses an unconstitutionally unequal voting scheme to keep the board from fairly representing us.

By contrast, in Belen we wanted to watch birds. Before dawn, we snuck into a great wildlife refuge on the outskirts of town. Later we realized Valencia County's SWCD was responsible for not only the refuge but a visitor center and education programs! There too, the chairman is an old rancher; but he understads the importance of conservation, to everyone. Our SWCD could have that kind of meaningful impact too.

The May 2 election involves two board seats. 
Zone 4 (City of Las Cruces) contains most of the district's population. Environmentalist Craig Fenske opposes land-developer Kent Thurston, whom the current board would like to see elected. As a county extension agent in Washington, Fenske worked closely with SWCDs on education. He says he first learned of SWCDs “as a child from my grandfather, an Iowa farmer and an early adopter of conservation practices.” Thurston has a record of pushing the County's Extra-Territorial Zoning Authority to allow higher-density residences on his land, not one of pushing conservation.

Zone 3 includes Talavera, Las Alturas, and points South (East of Highway 478). Kevin Bixby is challenging Chairman Delk. Bixby, founder and CEO of Southwest Environmental Center, has a long and thoughtful history of caring about our environment and acting to protect it. Delk has written that that “environmental cartels” seek “to elevate a secular spiritualism while suppressing and diminishing the presence and importance of Christian men and women.” He envisions SWCDs as “a bastion of conservative leaders” to oppose those “environmental cartels.” 
Delk says he's “a child of an all-powerful God,” but ignores the Biblical idea that in giving us this marvelous world God directed us to be faithful stewards of it.

Bixby advocates “simple, cost-effective things like rainwater harvesting and tree-planting” to help people and the environment. 
Please take time to vote for a more balanced and conservationist board that truly represents us.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 23 April 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website [] and on KRWG's website; and recorded (and modified) versions of these columns air on KRWG Radio on Wednesdays at 7:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m.]


Anthony Municipal Complex, 820 Highway 478
Chaparral: Betty McKnight Community Center, 190 S. County Line
Las Cruces: Dona Ana County Government Center, 845 N. Motel Blvd.
Las Cruces: Good Samaritan Village Social Center, 3011 Buena Vida Circle
Las Cruces: Sage Cafe Community Center, 6121 Reynolds Drive
Mesquite: Vado/Del Cerro Community Center,  180 La Fe Ave.

OPEN 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Note: Only Zones 3 and Zone 4 board-members are up for election this year: 

ZONE 3 is the area south of Highway 70- between Highway 478 (west) and the county line (east)
ZONE 4 is the City of Las Cruces.

There's no question about the responsibilities the DASWCD is intended to take on:

New Mexico Statute 73-20-26, "Legislative determination; purpose of act.", provides:

A.   Considered and resolved by legislative determination, it is declared that:   

(1)   the land, waters and other natural resources are the basic physical assets of New Mexico, and their preservation and development are necessary to protect and promote the health and general welfare of the people of the state;   

(2)   the improper use of land and related natural resources, soil erosion and water loss result in economic waste in New Mexico through the deterioration of the state's natural resources; and   

(3)   appropriate corrective and conservation practices and programs must be encouraged and executed in New Mexico to conserve and develop beneficially the soil, water and other natural resources of the state.   

B.   It is declared to be the policy of the legislature and the purpose of the Soil and Water Conservation District Act [73-20-25 through 73-20-48 NMSA 1978] to:   

(1)   control and prevent soil erosion;   

(2)   prevent floodwater and sediment damage;   

(3)   further the conservation, development, beneficial application and proper disposal of water;   

(4)   promote the use of impounded water for recreation, propagation of fish and wildlife, irrigation and for urban and industrial needs; and   

(5)   by the application of these measures, conserve and develop the natural resources of the state, provide for flood control, preserve wildlife, protect the tax base and promote the health, safety and general welfare of the people of New Mexico.   
Nowhere does the foregoing limit the group's charge to "supporting rancher's, whether or not the ranchers' activities promote conservation."  Nowhere did the Legislature invite the group to oppose most or all legitimate conservation proposals.

[Below, I'm reprinting Mr. Fenske's emailed announcement of his candidacy.  It's gratifying that he has actual experience working with soil and water conservation districts to help them fulfill their real functions:
[Fenske Campaign Announcement:]
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I am delighted to announce I am a candidate for the Dona Ana Soil and Water Conservation District.  After the last election I committed to get involved and take action at the grassroots.  “Think globally, act locally” runs through my head and I decided this is a great way for me to “act locally”. 
I first learned about Conservation Districts as a child from my grandfather, an Iowa farmer and an early adopter of conservation practices.  As a county extension agent in Washington State I partnered with the local conservation district on education projects.  As the coordinator for Keep Las Cruces Beautiful for the City of Las Cruces I started the Tree Steward program, lead recycling education programs in Las Cruces schools and partnered with the community to organize cleanups and neighborhood beautification projects.  I am eager to apply my experience with our local conservation district to improve our quality of life in the Mesilla Valley.
In other parts of the country and even New Mexico, conservation districts are doing great things: 
  • La Ciudad SWCD in Bernalillo County, for example, has programs to promote backyard tree planting, stream restoration, master naturalist training, and rainwater harvesting.
  • In the Valencia SWCD the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area has been put into a permanent conservation easement with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services Wetlands Reserve Program for restoration and protection of the area. The VSWCD views the area as an excellent opportunity for conservation education for Valencia youth as well as drawing on ecotourism to bring an added economy to Valencia County.
But not here. Our conservation district has taken a different approach, choosing to squander its limited resources passing meaningless resolutions against things like the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, wilderness and Mexican wolves, while doing absolutely nothing to help people in our community care for our land and water. 

The election is Tuesday, May 2.  I've attached a flyer with details about where and when to vote, and a map showing the district boundaries.

I am asking for your support: 
  • If you live anywhere within the Las Cruces city limits (Zone 4), you can vote for me.
  • If you live in Zone 3 which includes Talavera, Las Alturas, south Main Street, and Chaparral, you can vote for Kevin Bixby, a great conservation candidate. 
  • Please tell your friends! Alert your networks! Spread the word on social media! Email the attached flyer! 
  • Check out our website:

I mention Joe Delk in the column. An earlier column discusses his apparent violation of the Open Meetings Act in his haste to oppose a government agency, and provides a link to  his comments about "environmental cartels, which can be found  here .
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