Ranchers hopeful Otero County Sheriff can unlock USFS gates

Ranchers hopeful gates will be unlocked soon

ALAMOGORDO, New Mexico - Ranchers in Otero County, New Mexico, will have to wait until Monday to see if commissioners pass a resolution that would allow the sheriff to unlock newly installed gates on the Agua Chiquita.

The water supply for livestock in the area is between Sunspot and Timberon. The U.S. Forest Service recently installed new fencing and locked gates to protect what they call a riparian area.

"It's not about watering cattle, it's not about grazing fees, it's not about the things that you hear. It's about simply, our constitutional rights and what America stands for," rancher Odie Prather said.

Cattle ranchers in Otero County say the USFS is blocking off access to the Agua Chiquita, a small stream in the Sacramento Mountains that's dependent on how much precipitation the area gets.

"If you can get control of the water and the rights, then you can get control of the people. We're facing a tyranny right now," Prather said.

"This is the federal government encroaching on rights that they don't have," County Commissioner Ronny Rardin said during a meeting on Thursday morning.

County commissioners are taking the ranchers side on the issue, and tried voting Thursday to allow the sheriff to remove the locks on the gates.

But the resolution vote had to be pushed back until Monday.

Forest Supervisor Travis Moseley says his staff have done nothing wrong, and fencing has been in the area since the 1990s to protect the creek, its bank and wildlife. He says the newly reinforced fencing is on Lincoln National Forest land, not private property.

"I will continue to try to work on specific resource issues on the ground regardless of these broader disagreements of interpretation of law," Moseley said.

A water gap, or spacing in the fencing, allows some cattle to get in and drink. But to some, that's not enough, and the fight will continue.

"The bureaucracies in Washington D.C. are dictating what goes on in areas they've never set foot on," Prather said.

Otero County Commissioner Susan Flores and Moseley say they both understand a resolution will take some time. ABC-7 will continue to stay on top of this story and bring you any developments.

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