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Forest Service Sues Over Otero Lands

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LAS CRUCES — The U.S. Forest Service has filed a lawsuit against the state and Otero County over management of forest lands, after the county passed a resolution last year saying it intended to begin following an 11-year-old state law on the issue.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement the U.S. Constitution forbids New Mexico and Otero County from supplanting federal policies on land and fire management.

The legal action filed Feb. 7 followed efforts by the Forest Service and U.S. Attorney’s Office to legally satisfy the concerns of Otero County commissioners about mitigating fire risk due to extreme drought conditions in the forest.

“However, the United States Constitution forbids New Mexico and Otero County from supplanting the federal government’s land and fire management regime with its own state- and county-specific policies that disrupt the numerous interests the federal government must balance when developing and implementing fire management plans,” the statement says.

Otero County Commissioner Ronny Rardin told the Alamogordo Daily News the state law allows local officials within Lincoln National Forest to manage the forest when there’s a danger of wildfires.

“We followed all the rules and regulations,” Rardin said. “We told (the federal government) what we were doing, and they didn’t like it.”

Rardin welcomed the effort to clarify the rules.

“They want to go to court and get a judge and challenge to see if it is legal,” Rardin said. “We couldn’t be happier that this is going to be answered.”

The lawsuit seeks a declaration from the court on whether New Mexico Senate Bill 1 and an Otero County resolution are pre-empted by federal law and therefore unconstitutional. The case is expected to be heard in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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