County to rally for water, property rights in West

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 31, 2014 at 5:49 pm •  Published: May 31, 2014

A crowd gathered in southern New Mexico on Saturday to bring attention to disputes between rural residents and the federal government over access to water and public lands in New Mexico and across the West.

Otero County leaders said people's rights are being trampled by the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies. They have asked for a congressional hearing, and their supporters invited Gov. Susana Martinez and other elected leaders to the rally.

Saturday's gathering in Alamogordo is the latest salvo in a battle over access to the Agua Chiquita, a small spring-fed stream on the Lincoln National Forest outside of Alamogordo. Forest Service officials in the region said the decision to fence off nearly two dozen acres of wetland habitat around the spring was made a decade ago to protect what is considered to be a unique area within the forest.

Now, with drought taking its toll, the spring has receded and what water is left is beyond reach of the cattle.

While Martinez did not attend Saturday's rally, her spokesman said earlier this week that the governor is always concerned when decisions made at the federal level affect the state's economy.

"The governor values the rights of Otero County residents and ranchers to speak out against recent actions taken by the federal government to fence certain lands," spokesman Enrique Knell told The Associated Press. "The governor understands county residents' vested interest in protecting the lands that sustain their livestock, families and property."

Knell said Martinez expects all sides in the dispute to find common ground and a solution that doesn't negatively affect the state's rural economy.

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