Updated 03:09 AM EDT, Thu, May 23, 2019

Hispanics Claim Infringement on Native Land Rights in New Mexico National Forest

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A recent ruling by the US Forest Service (USFS) to restrict the use of motor vehicles in a national park has some Hispanics in New Mexico angered by what they see as an encroachment on their livelihood.

"The recent decision by the U.S. Forest Service to ban motorized vehicles on more than 100,000 acres of land in the Carson National Forest (mostly in Taos County) will be devastating for thousands of Hispanic families in northern New Mexico who depend on cutting firewood on these lands for their families to stay warm in the cold winters," wrote A.M. Martinez in an opinion piece in the Hispano New Mexico Web site.

Martinez notes that there are several Hispanic communities in the area, and that firewood is the only regular source of heating for most of the homes in these communities. Historically, he says that they have always gathered their firewood in the area outlined in the US Forest Services recent change in policies.

"The Hispanic families and communities in northern New Mexico will still need to cut firewood no matter what, so it seems that the Forest Service decision to ban motorized vehicles on 100,000 acres is really meant to intentionally hurt the Hispanic families and communities who have lived in northern New Mexico for the past 400 years," Martinez concludes.

Martinez says that 90 percent of the Carson National Forest was stolen from Hispanics, and that the US Forest Service and environmentalists in the area have a history of pursuing an anti-Hispanic agenda.

However, the USFS says that the restrictions are necessary to protect the environment and habitat for native wildlife.

"The amount of cross-country motorized travel that occurs on the district is unknown; however, use in the northern part of the district is greater than in the southern portion," reads a preliminary study by the USFS. "It is also common during the firewood season for wood gatherers to drive their vehicles directly to the dead trees and downed woody material they want to remove. Motorized travel on unauthorized routes also occurs."

The USFS claims that there is still ample opportunity to gather firewood in the area, as the restrictions only apply to cross-country travel by vehicles.

"The Camino Real RD currently has approximately 152 miles of designated road and six miles of motorized trail with a specified 300-foot corridor, where motor vehicle use is permitted for the purposes of camping, parking, and firewood gathering," the report reads.

In his decision on the restrictions, dated Sept. 27, Forest Supervisor Juan E. (Buck) Sanchez specifically states that he intended to preserve the ability to gather wood in the area, declining an alternative that had been set forward to remove the 300-foot corridor for motor vehicle use along allowed roadways.

"I did not choose alternative 2 because historic activities that require motor vehicle use, such as fuelwood gathering and motorized recreation, would be substantially impacted," Sanchez wrote.

As for the stealing of land. The USFS did cite the issue in its report, stating that "during the Mexican Period, members of the early Hispanic villages joined together to petition for community land grants from the Mexican Government. Both the earlier Spanish and then Mexican land grants would be the center for later conflicts and controversies for years to come - a situation that is still the focus of ongoing difficulties in northern New Mexico."

The issue remains a hot local topic in the area of the Carson National Forest, but perhaps it is an issue that can cool off a bit when the temperatures get warmer in the Spring.

"For this Winter, nearly all Hispanic families have already cut their firewood, but for next Winter things will be extremely difficult for thousands of Hispano families in northern New Mexico," Martinez said.

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