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Into Futute Banner

Steve Pearce's Ear

Applying spiritual practices to political problems means leaving derision and divisiveness at home.


Occasionally I wonder why I'm attracted to both the political AND the spiritual. They don't usually gel together well. Then I found myself at a "listening session" organized by Congressman Steve Pearce in Silver City last month — and realized, once again, that a sustainable future depends on the working together of opposing consciousnesses. And I'm big into a sustainable future.

Pearce scheduled two-hour "listening sessions" for his constituents during August. Silver City's was entitled, "Impact Back Home: The Effect of Hard Rock Mining Reform [which Pearce is against] and the Wolf Recovery Program" [which he would like to eliminate]. He tacked 15 minutes on the end to "listen" to a request by Grant County Commissioner Henry Torres regarding the Gila River Water Settlement Act provision of the Arizona Water Settlement Act (S. 437).

As most Grant County citizens know, these three issues are BIG concerns here. Each of them has the potential to either unite — or permanently divide — our community.

So how did Pearce deal with this opportunity? Unfortunately, for Democrats, he is intelligent and altogether too damn savvy for the people's good. He is firmly committed to the union of big business and government, which, unlike politics and spirituality, love each other.

He managed the meeting tightly, including audience response, from beginning to end, deftly steering it this way and that. Pearce's big-business mentality clearly dominated, but he's so smooth he actually used sustainability's current pet descriptive — "footprint" — in relation to mining operations' rape (not his term) of the land.

One tiny issue currently loose in the mess that is mining in Grant County is the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) proposed land exchange with Freeport McMoran Copper & Gold, Inc. — new owner of Phelps Dodge (PD) and consequently close to our local hearts. In this arrangement, Grant County's "several hundred" acres of BLM land currently leased to PD would be "exchanged" for land in Dona Ana County. Hmmm.

By the end of the infotainment banter about New Mexico having the second-largest uranium deposits in the country, the incredible waste of time new mine permitting takes, and why (by the way) mining won't be revived here, I was stunned. How does it help our mining families that PD currently enjoys a profit margin of 20 percent? (All thanks to a 500-percent increase in the price of recycled copper since it tanked in 2004, to $3.50 a pound from a loq of 65 cents a pound.) Didn't PD clear out of here leaving our mining community in a death grasp? Should we be overjoyed that PD is in a healthy, robust state today — when we're not?

Maybe others in the audience weren't listening to all this because they were champing at the bit to get to the meat of the session: the Mexican Grey Wolf reintroduction debacle. For those of you new to the area, the US Fish and Wildlife Service released 110 wolves into the wild along the Arizona-New Mexico border in 1998. Today there are an estimated 59 alive, with 45 of those considered "wild."

Pearce finessed discussion on the "wolf reintroduction" issue brazenly. Before you knew it, the ranchers' demand for compensation for the loss of their cattle was accepted by all parties and the environmentalists were left considering the possibility that "habituated" wolves — those that have had any amount of domestication — may be tainting the wolf reintroduction program. Ranchers admitted that they could handle "real, wild" wolves, because they have a long history killing bears, mountain lions, etc. The depredation of their herds and how they're going to get paid for those losses concern them almost as much as the distress these wolves have caused their children. The "our kids have post-traumatic stress syndrome from seeing their pet cows and dogs killed by wolves in their back yards" was a little over the top — but so was certain environmentalists' sneering derision of the argument.

I'm forced to give Pearce credit for defusing a potentially ugly situation. No amount of air-conditioning could cool the heat in the room. I could feel the ghosts of many guns being cocked as environmentalists huffed and puffed.

The final part of the "listening session" concerned the Gila and San Francisco Rivers. The situation is most succinctly described on the Gila Conservation Coalition's Web site (www.gilaconservation.org): "In December 2004 President Bush signed the Arizona Water Settlements Act. The Gila Settlement, approved as part of an amendment. . . provides $66 million to the four counties of southwestern New Mexico — Catron, Grant, Luna and Hidalgo — to be used in any way that meets a 'water supply demand,' and up to $62 million more should the State build a 'New Mexico Unit' or water development project to divert up to 14,000 acre-feet per year of new water from the Gila River and its tributary, the San Francisco. Associated with the Act, the Consumptive Use and Forbearance Agreement would allow at least 10,000 acre-feet per year to be taken from the Gila and up to 4,000 acre-feet per year to be taken from the San Francisco. This project would require a very large pumping station . . . infiltration galleries, a massive pipeline and/or canal system, and an off-stream dam/reservoir holding roughly 50,000 acre-feet in storage."

Pearce heard a plea from Commissioner Torres for more scientific research money. The congressman was not optimistic — "given the climate on the Hill these days."

I staggered out of the meeting laden down with burdensome questions like: What's the county's continuing relationship with Freeport McMoran/Phelps Dodge all about? How can "bad apples" can be weeded out of the wolf reintroduction program? How will ranchers account for killed cattle when they're eaten "skull and all"? And what does it mean to have millions of dollars to spend on diverting the last free-flowing river in New Mexico?

Have you ever really thought about how you want your future to look? Are you willing to put any personal energy into your community's efforts to build a sustainable future? If not, why not? Surely you're not going to count on Rep. Pearce to provide anything more than his ear?


Into the Future columnist Siri Dharma lives in Silver City.


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