New Mexico’s best known export, the green chile, is being threatened by the “greens.” It is not just the green chile habitat that is in danger, it is also the cultures and customs of generations of New Mexicans—farmers and ranchers.
The famous chiles are grown exclusively in Hatch, NM. People come from far and wide to buy bushels of fresh green chiles, have them roasted, and take them home to freeze for use throughout the year. In New Mexico, McDonald's even serves a green chile cheeseburger.
This past week, a vote was cast that could signal the end of a multi-generational battle to save the land.
The original fight started in the 1940s with the first of the modern land grabs. Hundreds of ranch families were evicted from the Tularosa Basin—an area that had been home to the Butterfield Trail and many Hollywood Westerns including the John Wayne classic Stage Coach. The families got there first and were “notoriously hard to uproot.” In the name of national defense, the seized land became Fort Bliss, McGregor Range, White Sands Missile Range, Holloman Air Force Base, San Andres National Wildlife Refuge, the Jornada Range, and the New Mexico State University Ranch. All of this adds up to 4.7 million acres that are generally off limits to the very people who pay the bills—the taxpayer.
In 1948, another wave of evictions impacted an additional 40 families. Again, they tried to halt the federal onslaught. At a public meeting, the feds reminded folks that this was for the “public good. The ranchers had to go.” Unprepared for the scope of the battle, these hard-working people were evicted and Washington took their land.
These siezed lands are in New Mexico’s Doña Ana Country—home to the iconic Organ Mountains. Before the turn of the 21st century, Congressman Joe Skeen attempted to designate the mountains as a National Conservation Area (NCA) which would have included existing Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) and the Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) on the Organs to form a 58,012 acre unit—but the plan didn’t get traction. The greens wanted more.