- Associated Press - Sunday, July 31, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico’s state engineer says he is caught in the middle of the ongoing tension between ranchers and the federal government over the fencing of watering holes on national forest land to protect an endangered mouse.

The U.S. Forest Service has fenced streams, springs and other watering holes to protect the habitat of the meadow jumping mouse, which is found in New Mexico and two other Western states. The agency has repeatedly defended its actions, saying it has responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act to ensure the survival of the rodent.

New Mexico State Engineer Tom Blaine said those fences are now blocking streams ranchers depended on, The Albuquerque Journal reported (https://bit.ly/2aCUq4i).

Blaine said Wednesday at an Economic Forum meeting at Hotel Albuquerque that ranchers have asked him to remove the fences, but he cannot do so.

“But that’s not in my playing field. I have no authority to move fences to make that water available to ranchers who are grazing the land,” he said. “And ranching is a huge industry in New Mexico.”

Blaine said all he can do is pipe water from fenced-off streams to areas accessible by livestock, a step that was not necessary before the mouse was listed as endangered.

“I can make sure the ranchers get the water,” he said. “But environmental issues are becoming more and more constraining on projects. It takes longer and longer to get things done.”

Beyond the time constraints, Blaine said policing water use in one of the nation’s driest states can be tricky. In New Mexico, water claims are prioritized by length of time they have been held. Sometimes older water users’ allotments have to be sent past junior rights.

“When you have to send water past junior users to service senior users, people don’t understand,” Blaine said. “They say, ‘Well, there’s water there.’ “


Information from: Albuquerque Journal, https://www.abqjournal.com

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