On September 2, 2014, the Isleta Tribal Council discussed the ongoing problem with protection of the Tribe’s range land. Several tribal members that own cattle use the Tribe’s land to graze their cattle. Last year, this Council learned that cattle were starving and dying because there was no grass for the cows to eat. Grass was not growing due to the drought.
Also, many of the tribal members that use the Tribe’s range were failing to feed their own cattle by taking hay bales to the range. One of the reasons that the cattlemen are failing to take hay bales to the range is due to the fact that each grazing pasture is shared. This means that several people could have their cows in one pasture. For example, if I own cows, my cows would not necessarily eat the hay bales that I took to the range because someone else’s cows would get to the hay before my cows.
Anyhow, cows were dying on the range from starvation. The Council became very concerned because there was a serious threat that disease could spread due to the carcasses rotting out in the open. And, the cattle owners were failing to properly dispose of their dead cows.
Additionally, the Council received reports from experts advising the Tribe that it was necessary to remove the cattle from the range to allow the land to recover from over grazing. Failure to remove the cattle would result in the land losing all vegetation and becoming a wasteland. Despite the recent rain, this remains a serious threat.
So, last year, the Council determined that it was necessary to protect the Tribe’s land by requiring the cattle owners to remove their cows from the range. At that time, Governor Torres advised the Council that he would take care of the problem and he also issued a directive to the cattle owners to remove their cows.
A very small handful of the cattlemen complied. Most, simply refused to honor the Council’s decision for removal of the cattle along with the Governor’s directive. Governor Torres took no enforcement action against the cattlemen that disregarded the order to remove their cattle from the Tribe’s land.
Several of the council members were frustrated and “fed up” because the cattlemen refused to remove their cattle. And, Governor Torres was doing nothing to enforce the decision to protect the range from overgrazing.
Eddie Paul Torres, as the Governor, has a duty to enforce the laws and policies of the Pueblo because he is the Executive officer of the Pueblo. The Isleta Tribal Constitution states:
“The duties of the governor shall include the following: To direct and administer the civil affairs of the pueblo in conformity with applicable ordinances, procedures, and policies enacted by the council.” Isleta Const. art. IV, §5(a).
Governor Eddie Paul Torres became irritated with the Council’s discussion and he declared that he was not going to enforce the Council’s decisions about the range. He told the Council, why don’t you bring them all in [the cattlemen] and, you can tell them what you want! Essentially, Torres was daring the Council to bring in the cattlemen to speak to them directly.
Council member James Abeita told the Governor, that the Council has a duty to protect all of the Tribe’s resources. Abeita then read the following from the Tribal Constitution:
[T]he powers of the council shall include: To otherwise manage and control the lands and resources of the pueblo for the best interests of the pueblo. Isleta Const. art. V, §2(l).
Council member Abeita said, “it doesn’t say, for the best interests of the cattle owners.” We have an obligation to protect the land for all of the Tribe, for everyone.
Governor Torres said that he is “fed up” with the problem just like the Council. He said that he had a meeting with the cattlemen and they are ready to “lynch” someone. Governor Torres then stated that with the recent rain that there is no longer any problem with the range. He said that the grass is growing very well.
Council member Joseph “Cougar” Lucero explained that it was necessary to give the grass that is now growing an opportunity to mature and develop seeds. This would allow the land to recover by the grass reseeding the overgrazed land. Lucero said, the land would then allow all of the other “small animals” to live. He was concerned that allowing the cattle to remain at the range would not give the land an opportunity to recover because the cows would eat the grass before it could reseed the land, which would cause the range to become a “wasteland”.
At times, the discussion became heated. Nevertheless, the Council will address the issue once again because there was no conclusion on how to enforce the Council’s decision to protect the Tribe’s range land.
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By Christopher Abeita