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Northern New Mexico ranchers sue U.S. Forest Service

Northern New Mexico ranchers have filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Santa Fe claiming the U.S. Forest Service engaged in a pattern of discriminatory punitive actions, culminating in a 2010 decision to impose an 18 percent reduction in grazing on federal allotment lands, the National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association said in a news release today.

The Jarita Mesa and Alamosa Grazing Allotments, which lie within the El Rito Ranger District of the Carson National Forest, are part of the Vallecitos Federal Sustained Yield Unit, an area of historical land grants designated by Congress for special treatment to benefit the local communities that depend on those lands, the association said.

The complaint alleges violations of the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights and federal environmental laws, claiming that the Forest Service violated its own policies, which recognize that livestock grazing in the Carson and Santa Fe National Forests is “integral to maintaining the cultural heritage and traditional values of the Hispanic people who live in the villages immediately adjacent to the two forests," the association said.

The Forest Service’s 1972 Region 3 policy recognizes that “Forest Service objectives and policies must be altered to recognize and be responsive to the culture and people,” the association added, noting that these policies emerged in the wake of the 1967 Tierra Amarilla Courthouse raid in recognition of unresolved land grant issues where many of these communities are located.

The plaintiffs in the case are the Jarita Mesa and Alamosa Livestock Associations; Rio Arriba County; and a number of individual stockmen on the allotments.