Fed Land Grab Again Catron sheriff may try to block cattle shipment By JIM OWEN Daily Press Staff A confrontation may be looming in the Gila National Forest between federal officers and the Catron County Sheriff's Department. Sheriff Cliff Snyder has vowed to prevent the shipment of Diamond Bar Allotment cattle from Catron County, despite a court order calling for impoundment of Kit and Sherry Laney's unauthorized livestock. The 7th Judicial District attorney responded with a threat that federal marshals will arrest sheriff's officers who interfere in the action. The Forest Service has an agreement with the New Mexico Livestock Board to take the cattle to an auction barn in Los Lunas, according to Andrea Martinez, public-affairs officer on the Gila. The director of the board was not available this morning to confirm there is an agreement. In a Feb. 5 letter to Snyder, District Attorney Clint Wellborn said the board has been "working with the Forest Service to assure compliance with New Mexico laws regarding inspections of cattle that are being seized." Martinez said her agency does not plan to begin rounding up the cattle Wednesday, as previously reported. "It was scheduled tentatively for mid-February, and we are still shooting for that," she told the Daily Press this morning. "We expect a snowstorm tomorrow; (Forest Road 150) is already muddy." Public access to the road and the allotment will be prohibited, beginning Wednesday morning. The closure order will be lifted when the impoundment is completed. Martinez stressed that private-property owners in the area will be allowed to use Forest Road 150, which extends from New Mexico 35 to Wall Lake. Snyder signaled his intentions to block shipment of the livestock in a Feb. 4 letter to area federal employees, federal contracted employees, and state and county officials. The next day, Wellborn called the sheriff and followed up with a letter. "I would caution you against interfering with the extension of this order," Wellborn wrote. "If you or your department should attempt to intervene, you risk the possibility of being arrested by federal marshals and held in contempt of court and possibly jailed and/or fined for violation of the order." Snyder has not returned calls from the Daily Press to confirm whether he still plans to try to stop the cattle shipment. Martinez reported that forest officials have not heard from Snyder. She said she hopes the sheriff will back down. In his letter, Snyder wrote: "I am not disputing the fact our Forest Service has a valid court order to remove the cattle from Forest Service lands. I do not have the power vested in me to determine if, indeed, they are Forest Service lands. I believe that is left to the courts. I believe where the problem lies is the shipping of cattle after they are gathered." Snyder cited several New Mexico laws governing the possession, hauling and selling of livestock, from which he concluded: "These cattle cannot be shipped and sold without being in direct violation of New Mexico state statutes." Snyder wrote: "As I see this situation, the federal government is asking me to ignore my duty under state law. I believe this puts me, my department and the county in a position to be liable under state law. The federal government will walk away when they are finished, leaving me to face the liability alone. "I cannot, in good conscience, ignore my oath of office or the liability of the county," he added. "I intend to enforce the state livestock laws in my county. I will not allow anyone, in violation of state law, to ship Diamond Bar cattle out of my county." Forest officials have consulted with the New Mexico attorney general's office regarding the impoundment, according to Martinez. "We need to work within the law and enforce the court order," she said. "We want to conduct the impoundment with efficiency and safety for everyone concerned." A forest law-enforcement officer declined comment on the controversy. Federal courts ordered the Laneys to remove their livestock from the allotment, about 85 percent of which is in the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Area. The ranchers have argued they are entitled to surface rights on the allotment because of their historic use of the parcel, predating creation of the Forest Service and the wilderness area. http://www.thedailypress.com/NewsFolder/02.09.1.html Laneys say they won't oppose the removal of cattle By JIM OWEN Daily Press Staff Ranchers faced with having their cattle impounded say they will not physically oppose the action, but that county law-enforcement officers should. Gila National Forest officials announced last week they will gather and remove unauthorized livestock from Kit and Sherry Laney's Diamond Bar Allotment, beginning Wednesday morning. In an e-mail message the Daily Press received this morning, Kit Laney wrote that he and others at the ranch are "not dangerous." "Please be assured the Laney family will never act in a manner that physically harms another human being," he said. Laney continued: "We have chosen to leave the defense of our livestock in the hands of local law enforcement. We feel we have been able to convince them that, within the boundaries of state law, they have the legal authority to protect our livestock from impoundment and ourselves from harm." Catron County Sheriff Cliff Snyder was not available this morning to comment on whether he plans to oppose the impoundment. Gila National Forest officers also could not be reached. Laney criticized the agency's plan to close Forest Road 150, and prohibit public access to the allotment during the impoundment. "The Forest Service only has the authority to close roads to protect the public from road problems, weather problems or forest fires," he wrote. "There are none." Laney added: "The implication is the public may need to be protected from me. Word went out (Sunday) morning that I had threatened people involved in planning the impoundment. I want to assure everyone I did not threaten anyone, and I will never raise a hand to physically harm anyone least of all, someone doing their job." According to Laney, Forest Service personnel told him one reason for the road closure and "increased USFS law-enforcement personnel" is that "people who want our cattle off the land" may have made threats against the ranchers. "If this is so," Laney wrote, "we expect the USFS to pass this information on to either the Grant or Catron County Sheriff's Department; they have the jurisdiction to investigate these incidents. The sheriff needs to be able to conduct an investigation into these allegations to see if they are real." In a news release last week, forest officials wrote that the area's closure "provides for public safety, protection of property and minimizes public activities that may interfere with the gathering and removal of livestock." The action will prohibit entry along the forest road to forest land between Wall Lake and the south rim of Rocky Canyon (north of Mimbres). The 147,000-acre allotment, and a number of forest trails, also will be closed to the public for an indefinite period. Private-property owners will be allowed to travel to and from their land in the area. Maps of the closed areas are available at district ranger offices. Federal courts have ordered the Laneys to remove livestock from the allotment, about 85 percent of which is in a wilderness area. The ranchers contend they are entitled to surface rights on the Diamond Bar because of their historical use of the allotment, predating the Forest Service's creation.