SANTA FE, N.M. — Nearly half of New Mexico’s Legislature is stepping into the fray between ranchers and the federal government over the fencing of watering holes on national forest land to protect an endangered mouse found in three western states.
The 50 lawmakers say the government has overstepped its authority and is trampling private property and water rights.
They sent a letter to State Engineer Tom Blaine, asking that he use his authority as New Mexico’s top water official to stop the U.S. Forest Service from limiting access to springs, streams and other riparian areas.
Blaine announced today that he has ordered his staff to investigate the complaints from ranchers.
Blaine says New Mexico continues to be concerned with federal mismanagement of public lands and effects on farmers, ranchers and their livelihoods. He says he’s committed to working with lawmakers and local communities to ensure access to needed water.
The Forest Service first began ordering closures and installing fences to protect mouse habitat in 2014 on the Santa Fe and Lincoln forests. Some of the contested areas are in the Jemez Mountains, including along the Rio Cebolla.
The mouse also is found in Arizona and Colorado, and federal wildlife officials recently set aside nearly 22 square miles in the three states as critical habitat.