Commentary: On Thursday, June 15, the New Mexico Soil & Water Conservation Commission will meet in Las Cruces and appoint members to the State's soil and water districts, including the Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District.
In May, we elected two new boardmembers to DASWCD. There are five elected members, four of whom must be resident landowners. The Commission may appoint two more, who need not be landowners or live in the district.
Seeking reappointment are ranchers Steve Wilmeth and Dudley Williams. Two other candidates, Dr. Roger Beck and Dr. Kurt Anderson, have extensive qualifications in conserving and managing water. (A fifth candidate, Myles Culbertson, is former Livestock Bureau executive director.)
Wilmeth and Williams bring strong backgrounds as ranchers here. I'm more familiar with Wilmeth. His family has ranched here for at least five generations; a forebear rode with the man who inspired the Joshua Deets character in the Lonesome Dove miniseries. My impression is that Wilmeth has done some smart things on his land to conserve resources. As a rancher and hunter, he knows the land. Ranchers should be represented on the board, and he or Williams ably do so.
Anderson and Beck, however, could bring to DASWCD much-needed experience and capabilities – as well as balance.
Beck was a professor of agricultural economics for thirty years. He spent 2008-2011 as project director of the Afghanistan Water, Agriculture, and Technology Transfer. He has studied “the fragile relationships among land, water, and soil.”
Anderson serves on the Doña Ana Mutual Domestic Water Consumers' Association board, and the Lower Rio Grande Regional Water Planning Steering Committee, and was on the board of the NM Rural Water Association. With the New Mexico Journal of Sciene, he's published annual volumes on our natural resources.
The Soil & Water Conservation Supervisors Handbook offers some guidance: “Desirable qualifications include interest/background in conservation of renewable natural resources, businesses/management experience, and communication skills.” Beck and Anderson have strong backgrounds in conservation, science, business/management, and communications.
The point is to make the DASWCD the best it can be. A Board with varied backgrounds and areas of expertise is stronger than a one-dimensional board. Ranchers should be represented. They bring working knowledge of the land and a special relationship with it; but so should the larger community.
What matters is qualifications and experience. The candidates' political views should be irrelevant. Wilmeth and Williams have strong anti-government views, and opposed the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, while Anderson and Beck supported it. Wilmeth has been an eloquent opponent. Several of the Commission members agree with Wilmeth and Williams. One has said, “I'm totally against the word 'wilderness.' What that capital 'W' means to me is wasteland and wildfire potential, and wrong... It removes us as stewards of the land.”
Whatever one's views, the DASWCD doesn't decide what happens with monuments or wilderness areas. It won't decide how we balance public and private ownerships of land. The Commission's job is to appoint people who maximize the DASWCD's ability to safeguard our resources, as the State created it to do. A more balanced board, whose members contribute a variety of skills and knowledge, can do that best.
Anderson and/or Beck brings a range of contacts, ideas, and familiarity with grants and interagency cooperation. As one Commissioner has acknowledged, S&W districts can do great things by cooperating with other agencies. Cooperation with other agencies is critical, and DASWCD hasn't always done that well. If I were a Commissioner, I'd seriously consider strengthening the board by appointing Beck or Anderson and reappointing one incumbent.
Hopefully the commissioners will do their duty by our community.
[By the way, in the column I didn't urge folks to go to the NMSWCC meeting; for one thing, those guys have to go through annual appointments for all the districts, and swear in board members elect, and do other business. But it's at 10 a.m. Thursday at the New Mexico Department of Agriculture building at 3190 South Espina Street in Las Cruces. If you're knowledgeable or particularly passionate about the DASWCD, go for it! Members of the public can speak -- either (as at local commission or council meetings) when particular items come up or, on more general matters not on the agenda, during general public input, although I think the general public input may be toward the end rather than near the beginning of the meeting.]