Ranchers across the West watched intently as the federal government prosecuted a Nevada ranching family for leading armed militia standoffs over cattle grazing on public land. Last month, the case against Cliven Bundy and his sons collapsed and now they’re calling on other cattlemen to defy federal grazing rules and regulations.The question now is whether – or if – that will resonate among scores of other ranchers who rely on federal public land to graze their cattle.
A visit to the mountains in a remote corner of southern New Mexico may offer a glimpse into the more mainstream heart of the industry.”It’s rugged country, a lot of it is not accessible any other way than horseback,” says rancher Gary Stone as he looks across the lush forested plateau of the Sacramento Mountains.At 9,000 feet above sea level in places, the mountains tower over the brutal deserts of White Sands and the sprawl of El Paso, Texas, below. This island of grasslands and forest has long been coveted by ranchers and loggers. Families like the Stones trace their ancestors here to the days of homesteading, long before Congress gave control over it to the U.S. Forest Service more than a century ago to regulate it.