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Preservation v Property Rights: The debate to make SE Colorado a National Heritage Area

Turning six SE Colorado counties into a National Heritage Area is intended to preserve the area but others worry they will lose their property rights.

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The idea of turning six counties in Southeast Colorado into National Heritage Areas has sparked a fierce debate in as to whether the status would infringe on private property rights of individuals, or serve the area by promoting tourism and therefore the economy.

An NHA is an area designated by Congress as a place where “natural, cultural and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape,” according to the NHA website. NHAs are supposed to work with the communities they cover to promote heritage conservation and economic development. NHAs receive federal grant money that must be matched dollar for dollar.

The grant money would be used for local projects, and run through a local non-profit organization, which in the case of Southeastern Colorado would be Canyons and Plains, a heritage-tourism organization that has been serving the counties of Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Bent, Prowers, Baca and east Las Animas for more than 10 years.

Although the NHA program is administered by National Park Service coordinators in seven regional offices around the country, an NHA is not interchangeable with a national park.

“Heritage areas are different from national parks because national parks attempt to freeze a moment in time, whereas heritage areas attempt to preserve a way of life,” said Greg Kendrick, National Heritage Areas Coordinator for the Intermountain Regional Office.

For an NHA to be created, a feasibility study must first be completed by a non-profit group, Kendrick said. Once that has been approved, a member of the U.S. Congress must be asked to sponsor legislation to turn the area into an NHA.

A feasibility study has not been begun yet, much less has legislation been written, yet the opposition to the very idea of an NHA has been active since January.

The tension stems from the fact that NHAs are what the website refers to as “lived-in landscapes.” In other words, they overlap with private properties such as ranches and farms, and many people fear that their private property rights are in jeopardy.

Petitions against the NHAs have been passed around in every one of the counties that might be affected: Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Bent, Prowers and Baca. County commissioners from all the counties except Otero and Crowley have passed resolutions saying they do not support NHAs in their counties.

Crowley County has passed a resolution saying it will not support NHAs if there is any wording in the bill that would allow infringement on private property rights, but has not committed to opposing it altogether.

Although passing these resolutions does not necessarily prevent an NHA, it hinders the process.

“You definitely want local governments to be supportive of NHAs. So it doesn’t bode well it they preemptively say they don’t support an NHA,” said Rick Manzanares , executive director of Canyons and Plains.

The local governments are not alone in opposing the idea. An entire organization was formed in January to oppose the formation of an NHA in the area. The Southeast Colorado Private Property Rights Council is made up of concerned citizens who are not in favor of bringing NHAs to the region, or anything else that threatens their private property rights, said Kimmi Lewis, one of the SCPPRC’s founders.

Lewis has been ranching in the area between Kim and La Junta for her whole life. She has devoted time and energy to preserving private property rights since 2000, and was active in opposing the expansion of the Pinon Canon maneuver site.

“We do not like the federal government having any kind of control over us,” Lewis said. “That’s why we live out here. I like where I live, and I don’t want it changed.”

The group has held informational meetings in all six of the counties concerned, telling people about what they see as the dangers of labeling their property as NHA. The meetings began in January, and have had a large response with more than 200 people coming to the meeting in Prowers County, and two meetings had to be held in Eads because the building wasn’t big enough to hold all the people who attended.

Their main concern is the affect a NHA would have on private property rights. Norman Kincaide was a member of the organization Canyons and Plains, the non-profit based in Rocky Ford that originally got the NHA discussion on the table. When Canyons and Plains started pushing for an NHA, he ended his membership with them and became actively involved in the SCPPRC.

Kincaide has researched NHAs extensively, and cites examples of other NHAs that he said infringed on people’s rights, such as the Yuma Crossing NHA in Arizona.

“People outside of Yuma didn’t know about the NHA until the boundaries were being surveyed,” Kincaide said. “The surveyors came on to people’s property and used the NHA to change zoning laws. People had to go back to Congress to reduce the size of the NHA.”

Another concern raised by both Lewis and Kincaide was that of “view shed.”

One of the partners of Canyons and Plains, the Palmer Land Trust, released a color-coded map which labeled areas as high visibility, medium visibility, low visibility, and priority scenic view shed.

“That means this is how they view your private property,” Kincaide said. “They’re interested in how it looks, not in how you use your property.”

Kincaide and Lewis both said making private land into a NHA could affect what landowners are allowed to build on their own land.

But those in favor of the NHA designation say that not only is that unlikely to happen, it’s specifically prohibited in the letter of the law. Since 2009, every new heritage area created has been required to include language in the law that prohibits government infringement on private property.

The legislation which designated the Sangre De Cristo National Heritage Area reads in part: “Nothing in this section—(1) abridges the rights of any property owner (whether public or private), including the right to refrain from participating in any plan, project, program, or activity conducted within the Heritage Area; (2) requires any property owner to permit public access (including access by Federal, State, or local agencies) to the property of the property owner, or to modify public access or use of property of the property owner under any other Federal, State, or local law.”

“As you can see, there is no goal or even unintentional way for us to infringe on people’s private property rights,” Manzanares said. “I understand the fear, but there is no credible instance that they’ve been able to come up with. They mention things like Yuma crossing, but they are specific controversies that have been worked out.”

The specific wording in the legislation doesn’t change the minds of those who oppose it. They have other reasons for not wanting an NHA to cover their region.

“People around here don’t want another layer of government,” Kincaide said. “This tourism welfare is a frivolous expense. What Canyons and Plains would do through NHAs is already being done through local museums, websites and associations.”

Kincaide said that even if the NHA designation would bring money to the area, Southeastern Colorado would still not be able to compete with other areas of the state such as the four corners region.

“The opportunities for tourism here are such that I do not see it (an NHA) benefitting the region,” Kincaide said. “When people come to places like Sand Creek and Boggsville, they say ‘Well that was nice, but there is nothing to do here.’ I’m not buying that it will bring even 10 or 12 jobs into the region.”

Even if the NHA does bring jobs to the region, Kincaide said it’s the wrong kind of economic growth. Tourism is not what produces in Southeastern Colorado: farming and ranching is.

Manzanares disagrees. He said that the economic difference an NHA can bring may not be huge, because the resources will not be large, but the benefit will be there.

“NHAs are nationally advertised. It brings national attention to the entire region,” Manzanares said. “So it’s trying to bring economic development through heritage assets. The heritage area gives that much more visibility.”

The efforts of the SCPPRC have the power to halt the process of making the area an NHA, because Congress is unlikely to pass legislation unless there is strong local support.

“The feasibility study is made up of ten questions answered in an essay format,” Kendrick said. “But the only one Congress really cares about is the local support. That’s the one that gets their attention.”

Canyons and Plains held informational meetings in each of the six counties to discuss the benefits of bringing an NHA to the area and to try to gain local support for the idea.

“There has been a lot of controversy about the NHA and they (SCPPRC) are way out in front of us. I don’t know if this region is going to support a heritage area, but we are trying to put out the misinformation that’s been out there,” Manzanares said.

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Navajo Nation marks 150th anniversary of return to homeland

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A long-lost original copy of a historic treaty signed in 1868 by leaders of one of the nation’s largest American Indian tribes and the U.S. government will go on display later this year as the Navajo Nation commemorates a dark, but significant chapter of history.

Navajo Vice President Jonathan Nez and other tribal officials gathered Tuesday in Albuquerque to detail some of the events that will mark the signing of the treaty 150 years ago.

That treaty is what cleared the way for tribal members to return to their homeland in the heart of the American Southwest after being rounded up years earlier by the U.S. cavalry and forced to make an arduous and deadly trek hundreds of miles to a camp in eastern New Mexico.

Nez recounted the hardships of what came to be known as the Long Walk, saying many Navajos died along the route to Bosque Redondo. He also talked about those who stayed behind and hid in canyons and on mesa tops, often foregoing the warmth of a fire to avoid capture.

“We want our younger generation to know about our history,” Nez told a room packed with tribal officials and reporters.

He also talked about problems facing tribal communities, from suicide to alcoholism, drug addiction and violence. He said he wants to tap into the resilience of those Navajo ancestors who endured the hardships of the 1800s.

“What this will do is inspire, encourage our people out there that they can’t give up, to jump back up, dust themselves off and to fight even harder than ever before for what they believe in,” Nez said.

Navajo President Russell Begaye has said this year’s commemoration is also about telling the story of the Long Walk, the signing of the treaty and the return home from the perspective of Native Americans. He and other tribal officials say one goal is to address what they called a “legacy of misrepresentation” that has stemmed from that era.

Before research and planning began for this year’s events, there were only two known copies of the historic treaty. The whereabouts of one is now a mystery and the other has been kept by the National Archives and Records Administration.

The third copy turned up only recently when the relatives of a peace commissioner who was involved in the negotiation and signing of the treaty in 1868 found the document in a trunk in the family attic.

It was rolled up and bound with the original but faded ribbon. It was in pristine condition along with notes and other documents that historians hope might fill in some of the blanks from that time.

Pages of that copy will be on display starting in June at the Bosque Redondo Memorial near Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

The National Archives is partnering with the Navajo Nation to display the other original copy at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona, for the month of June.

It took more than two years of planning to make the exhibition possible as this marks only the second time an original treaty has gone back to a homeland.

Museum director Manny Wheeler said the treaty is more than just a document to the Navajo people.

“When I saw the document and I saw the marks of all of our leaders on that paper, it is a powerful thing and it is very much so opening up dialogue among all Navajos about who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler suggested that as much as the document was key to the Navajos’ past, it also has the power to change the future by awaking tribal members to the importance of preserving their culture and language.

The leaders of the Navajo Nation’s three branches of government signed a proclamation earlier this year declaring 2018 as the year of the treaty, and the tribe launched a website .

The commemoration also includes a day of prayer across the Navajo Nation, cultural nights, tours of the tribal council chambers and a run that will span more than 400 miles (644 kilometers) from Fort Sumner to the Navajo capital.

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Push to legalize marijuana upends governor’s race in New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca on Thursday called for the expansion of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program and for legalization of recreational use, saying the poverty-stricken state is missing out on millions of dollars in tax revenues and jobs that could be spurred by the industry.

Apodaca released his plan solidifying his position as a supporter of legalization as the race for governor heats up.

Apodaca pointed to New Mexico’s history as the first state to allow for research and experimentation with marijuana as a therapeutic drug. It was his father, then-Gov. Jerry Apodaca, who signed that legislation in 1978.

The research program stalled and it wasn’t until 2008 that New Mexico rolled out its medical cannabis program.

“Why are we shooting for being the last to legalize cannabis for adult use?” Apodaca said.

The push for legalization comes as New Mexico’s medical marijuana program has grown exponentially in just the last two years. Producers licensed under the program reported record sales of more than $86 million in 2017 and the number of patients enrolled now tops 50,000.

“We know the medical benefits of it. And we also know the opportunities of legalization for adult use,” Apodaca said, suggesting expansion of the long-standing medical marijuana program along with legalization could result in an estimated $200 million of additional tax revenues for the state.

The state’s largest producer, Ultra Health, announced that it has acquired farmland in southern New Mexico and has plans for what the industry says could be the largest cultivation facility in North America.

The property spans nearly one-third of a square mile (81 hectares) in Otero County. It will include 20 acres (8 hectares) of indoor cultivation, 80 acres (32 hectares) of outdoor cannabis fields and another 100 acres (40 hectares) of outdoor hemp fields.

Ultra Health president and CEO Duke Rodriguez said the company is preparing for a future in which New Mexico stands to benefit from expanded medical use and possibly recreational use.

Apodaca’s plan calls for lifting the current limits on the number of plants producers can grow and reducing costly licensing fees.

Other Democratic candidates have been more cautious.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would work with state lawmakers to ensure there are adequate health, safety and enforcement measures in place. She called for a “thorough analysis” of recreational pot programs in other states as part of that effort.

Lujan Grisham was in charge of the state Health Department when the medical marijuana program began. Aside from the legalization debate, she said supporting producers to create the latest medicines and methods to help patients would help create jobs and expand the industry.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, another Democratic candidate, has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot but has said the state is lacking infrastructure and isn’t ready yet to legalize.

Cervantes recently lauded efforts at the local level by the state’s largest city — Albuquerque — to decriminalize possession of small amounts. He said he would do the same as governor and that it would mark a first step.

Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce expressed reservations about legalization at a forum earlier this month. He said it might create a stumbling block for people trying to climb out of poverty and addiction to other drugs.

“I just don’t see how it fits that we’re going to deal with addiction and yet we’re going to tell people, ‘This one is OK.’ I’ve watched it for a lifetime. I just am very nervous with recreational marijuana,” he said.

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‘For fun’ killing reveals vulnerability for homeless Native Americans in New Mexico

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The morning a homeless man was shot and killed in Albuquerque, police say surveillance videos showed him running down a street before sunrise, and then gunfire flash in the dark.

Native Americans make up only 4 percent of the population, but account for 44 percent of people living on the streets, raising the likelihood they will be victimized when there is an attack on the homeless.

Ronnie Ross, a 50-year-old from the Navajo Nation town of Shiprock, had been shot a dozen times, including once in the forehead and temple, and four times in the back, according to a criminal complaint. Police say the two teenage suspects charged with murder this week apparently shot him “for fun” as they came and went from a hotel party nearby.

The homicide marked the latest in a series of brazen killings and assaults of homeless Native Americans in the city. In Albuquerque, Native Americans make up only 4 percent of the population, but account for 44 percent of people living on the streets, raising the likelihood they will be victimized when there is an attack on the homeless.

A 2014 survey showed 75 percent of homeless Native Americans in Albuquerque had been physically assaulted.

“Just being harassed is part of everyday life, but it’s not as much harassment as it is overgrown bullying,” said Gordon Yawakia, who works at the Albuquerque Indian Center and was once homeless himself. “What do you do when people are against you and then the authorities are against you and you’ve got nobody, you know?”

In 2014, Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson, both Navajo, were beaten to death as they slept in a vacant lot. While authorities did not say the men were targeted because they were Native American, activists disagreed and the deaths spurred the creation of a city task force to address Native American homelessness that now-former Mayor Richard Berry said could set the stage for changes for the population across the Southwest.

Now, Ross’ death is underscoring how difficult it may be to protect and find solutions for the city’s Native American homeless population.

“When I hear a story like this it adds fuel to the fire,” said Dawn Begay, who is the city’s tribal liaison, and works with the homeless through a local nonprofit. “Where we’re headed is a good direction but it has to happen faster.”

Ross’ killing in March came three months after the body of Audra Willis was found decapitated in an area not far from the Sandia Mountains that line the city’s east side. The 39-year-old had come from To’hajiilee, a tiny Navajo community west of Albuquerque, and records show she had multiple addresses during her time in the city, including at the Albuquerque Indian Center.

Willis’ especially grisly death sent shockwaves through Albuquerque, just as the beatings of Thompson and Gorman had three years earlier.

The two men had been killed on a July 2014 night when authorities say three boys — ages 15, 16 and 18_returned home from a night of drinking and decided to attack them as they slept on a mattress. The men were beaten with a wooden table leg, cinder blocks, and other objects, police said. One young suspect later told authorities that the teens had beaten dozens of homeless people, though apparently none others fatally.

In Ross’ death, the complaint filed against the 15- and 17-year-old suspects does not identify a motive, but says the two teenagers bragged to friends about the shooting.

According to police, friends and acquaintances of the boys — whom The Associated Press is not naming because of their ages — said the suspects had been showing off a gun at the party, and had said to others that they had shot a man. At one point, the younger boy also said to a close friend at the party that he shot a “hobo” in the back.

The boys made one more stop at the scene to find Ross still alive, prompting the older boy to shoot him multiple times, according to the complaint.

“It’s completely disturbing,” said Officer Simon Drobik, an Albuquerque police spokesman, said Tuesday. “They just shot this guy for fun.”

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