The Otero County Commissioners in New Mexico recently voted to allow Sheriff Benny House to open a gate that will allow a rancher's cattle to have access to the Agua Chiquita creek that has been gated up by the U.S. Forest Service.
The 2-0 vote authorizes the sheriff to break federal law and allow cattle on 23-acres of land owned by the U.S government, which locals claim is owned by the rancher.
"We are reacting to the infringement of the U.S. Forest Service on the water rights of our land-allotment owners," Commissioner Tommie Herrell told Reuters. "People have been grazing there since 1956."
The fenced off area includes the habitat of the meadow jumping mouse, which will be listed as an endangered species in June. The U.S. Forest Service does not want cattle to damage 23 fenced acres that includes the Agua Chiquita creek, which is important to the mouse.
“The Forest Service has no right to appropriate water under New Mexico law,” Blair Dunn, an attorney for Otero County, told the New Mexico Watchdog.
“This is part of a larger issue,” added Dunn. “There’s a big, strong push, which comes from the White House, to push grazing, and oil and gas uses off federal ground. This incident here is just another example.”
“We’ve provided reasonable access to the water, even if there is a water right on these sites,” U.S Forest Service spokesman Travis Moseley told KVIA.
Sheriff House has no plans to break federal law.
"I want to wait and give the U.S. Attorneys' Office a shot at getting this thing resolved," stated House.