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An encounter of environmentalisms

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Title:
An encounter of environmentalisms the transformation of environmental discourses and the evolution of activist culture in San Luis, Colorado
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Pirkey, Will M
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English
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v, 139 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Subjects / Keywords:
Environmentalism -- Case studies -- Colorado -- San Luis ( lcsh )
Environmentalists -- Case studies -- Colorado -- San Luis ( lcsh )
Environmental protection -- Case studies -- Colorado -- San Luis ( lcsh )
Environmental protection ( fast )
Environmentalism ( fast )
Environmentalists ( fast )
Colorado -- San Luis ( fast )
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Case studies. ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
Case studies ( fast )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 135-139).
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Will M. Pirkey.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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|Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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ocn259703277
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LD1193.L65 2008m P57 ( lcc )

Full Text
AN ENCOUNTER OF ENVIRONMENTALISMS: THE TRANSFORMATION OF
ENVIRONMENTAL DISCOURSES AND THE EVOLUTION OF
ACTIVIST CULTURE IN SAN LUIS, COLORADO
by
Will M. Pirkey
B.A. University of Colorado at Denver, 2004
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Masters of
Social Science
2008


This thesis for the Masters of Social Science
degree by
Will M. Pirkey
John Brett


Pirkey, Will M. (M.S.S. Graduate Interdisciplinary Studies)
An Encounter of Environmentalisms: The Transformation of Environmental
Discourses and the Evolution of Activist Culture in San Luis, Colorado.
Thesis direct by Assistant Professor James Igoe
ABSTRACT
This is a qualitative case study of the history of social justice and environmental
activism in and around the Hispano community of San Luis in Southern Colorado. It
examines the experiences of both local grassroots community activists and outside
environmentalists as they collaborated to fight effects of logging on a contested piece
of land. This encounter transformed both local and environmentalists discourses on
environmental issues to paint a more holistic and coherent political critique that
combines issues social justice and cultural survival, environmental degradation,
sustainable livelihoods, and local place-based relationships to the environment. This
has both practical and theoretical significance. On the practical side, it gives
examples of how both sides were able to facilitate a successful collaboration based on
respect and understanding. Theoretically, this case shows the dynamic and contested
nature of culture and power and how both are never concrete and solid, but actually
fluid and ever-changing, consistently being remade as they interact with other forms
of knowledge and historical events.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
First of all, I would like to thank each and every member of the Anthropology
Department at UCD for helping me, as undergrad, realize the joy and power of
education and learning. I also wish to thank each member of my committee for their
time, contributions, and insights. A special thanks to my advisor and mentor, Jim
Igoe, for all of his support, suggestions, and most of all for exposing me to a
completely different way of viewing the world and the importance of critical thought.
Finally, I would also like to thank my future mother-in-law and English Professor at
Angelo State University, Mary-Ellen Hartje, for her invaluable help in editing my
thesis; my mom for all her moral and financial support; and most of all my wife-to-
be, Kristen, for always being there to listen to me vent and talk out my thoughts and
ideas (although they probably didnt make much sense at the time), but most of all for
keeping me grounded and not letting me get overwhelmed during this process.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION: CULTURE, HEGEMONY,
AND THE ENVIRONMENT............................1
2. A NATURE DIVIDED: THE WESTERN CONCEPT OF
NATURE AND A BRIEF HISTORY OF
ENVIRONMENTALISM..............................29
3. A HOLISTIC NATURE OF PLACE: A HISPANO CONCEPTION
OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND HISTORY ACEQUIA
COMMUNITIES IN THE UPPER RIO GRANDE...........55
4. THE TAYLOR RANCH WAR AND AN ENCOUNTER
OF ENVIRONMENTALISMS..........................72
5. AFTER THE ENCOUNTER: NEW OPPORTUNITIES AND
POTENTIAL NEW PITFALLS.......................101
6. CONCLUSION: FINAL THOUGHTS................121
BIBLIOGRAPHY
135


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION:
CULTURE, HEGEMONY, AND THE ENVIRONMENT
One day in March 1999, a staff member from a Santa Fe based environmental group,
the Forest Guardians, routinely went out to check the mailbox. Inside the mailbox
there was something much more dangerous than the daily mail, a pipe bomb. Luckily
it had failed to go off. If it did, it could have caused extensive damage to the Forest
Guardians headquarters and could have killed anyone within twenty feet of the
mailbox, according to the police (Kosek 2006). This was not the first time violence
has been threatened or carried out against the environmental group that has been
active fighting for the rewilding of forests in Northern New Mexico (Kosek 2006).
The group was unsure if the bomb had been placed by conservative private property
advocates or radical Hispano social justice activists. The actions and policies of the
Forest Guardians had angered both of these groups, although the environmental
community had a much harder time understanding the contention with rural
Hispanos, who they saw a potential partner in conserving New Mexicos forests.
Many in the New Mexican environmental community, including members of
the Sierra Club and the Forest Conservation Council and the Forest Guardians, had
continually expressed confusion and frustration over why they could not forge any
significant alliances with Hispanos in northern New Mexico (Kosek 2006). It seemed
1


to the environmentalists that they shared a lot in common with the Hispano activists,
yet hostilities between the groups have long been part of the history of New Mexico.
As Kosek (2006) outlines in his book, Understories: The Political Life of Forest in
Northern New Mexico, the root of the contentious relationship between rural Hispano
communities and the environmental community can be found in different conceptions
of nature.
The Forest Guardians and other conservation-based environmental groups in
New Mexico hold a conception of nature as an unspoiled, pure, and uninhabited
wilderness a landscape lacking humans. Resulting from idea of what nature and the
environment is, the goals of the Forest Guardians revolved around the need to create
wilderness areas devoid of people, and zero-cut and zero-cow policies that would
limit access to what many Hispanos still consider their lands(Kosek 2006:134).
Because of these absolute zero-cut and zero-cow policies, organizations like the
Forest Guardians have the goal to eliminate all economic activity in the forests.
These policies come into direct conflict with the lifestyles of rural Hispanos that
depend on the sustainable use of the forests natural resources. In the name of
wilderness and biodiversity protection the Forest Guardians have effectively
prevented many Hispanos from making a living. Using the Endangered Species Act,
environmental organizations were able to pass an injunction to stop all logging on
federal lands because of the threat to the Mexican Spotted Owl (Kosek 2006). This
injunction stopped all logging, including the small-scale harvesting and firewood
2


collection that Hispanos were dependent on for a wide-range uses, including using
firewood as their main fuel to heat their homes in the winter months. As a result, the
Hispano community perceived the actions of the mainstream environmental groups as
deeply racist and class-biased. A 1995 protest captured the Hispanos contention
with environmental groups when more than one hundred people marched to the
Forest Guardians headquarters carrying signs that read we refuse to be endangered
and the owl or la gente (the people)(Kosek 2006).
Contention between rural Hispanos and white environmentalists is also
evident in the case of the Ganados del Valle sheep herding cooperative in Rio Arriba
County, New Mexico (Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998; Pulido 1995). Located
just south of the border with Colorado, Rio Arriba is part of the former Tierra
Amarilla Land Grant, as is most of the land in Northern New Mexico and Southern
Colorado. In the 1990s Ganados was quite successful at incorporating traditional
Hispano grazing practices into the modem era, becoming one of the largest employers
in the county; however, the cooperative soon encountered the increasing political
power of mainstream environmental groups.
Ganados depended on grazing permits granted from the nearby Jicarilla
Apaches to graze on part of their reservation. However, once this lease expired,
Ganados applied to the Department of Game and Fish for permission to take their
sheep into the Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) that surround the community.
Ganados had struggled to gain access to Forest Service and BLM grazing allotments
3


in the area, as most permits are granted to large cattle operations and all other
potential nearby pasture is divided in three separate WMAs under the control of the
New Mexican State Government and the Department of Game and Fish. Federal and
state-owned lands take up more than half of the entire land in the county and, thus,
most of the available grazing habitat.
While these WMAs could accommodate sheep grazing, they are formally
defined as elk habitat and will not allow livestock grazing or other use of the areas
resources (Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998). The cooperative was denied permits,
although they submitted a sustainable grazing plan that would accommodate the elk,
and they pointed out that other WMAs in New Mexico permitted private livestock
grazing (Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998). Nevertheless, their arguments went
unheard and they were denied access.
Another opportunity emerged for Ganados to possibly gain a grazing permit
on one of the other WMAs, which had formerly been held by the Nature Conservancy
until New Mexico purchased the land and turned it into a WMA (Pena and
Mondragon-Valdez 1998). The Nature Conservancy had allowed the former owner
to graze cattle on the land prior to it becoming a state management WMA, though
dismissing this contradiction as irrelevant, the Nature Conservancy, the elk lobby,
and the Department of Game and Fish held strongly on the distinction of an elk
sanctuary and again denied the Hispanos grazing permits (Pena and Mondragon-
Valdez 1998). Despite a body of evidence that indicates that the Hispano method of
4


grazing could be beneficial to the ecosystem and exist along the side of a healthy elk
population, mainstream environmental groups held fast to their position that the land
was solely an elk habitat and nothing else.
The Nature Conservancy and other powerful groups upheld their view of
nature as a human-less environment, which meant Hispano grazers did not belong in
the WMA landscape. However, recreational activities such as snowmobiling and
camping were allowed (Pulido 1995). This points out that the discourses of
mainstream environmentalism (outlined in Chapter Two) see nature as a wild place
for people to enjoy, but not as a place that supports economic activity continuing the
Western view of nature as an object, separate from people. This hegemonic
projection of nature is common in the most powerful segment of the environmental
movement and has repeatedly come into conflict with communities across the globe
that depend on the land for their livelihoods.
The experience with environmentalists for rural Hispanos in New Mexico has
only reinforced a perspective of racism, one that saw Hispanos as an unequal
community based on race and ethnicity, history, culture, and political
institutions(Pulido 1995:170). The Hispano community blamed the environmental
groups for blocking their applications for permits and the oppression of their ability
to practice their livelihoods. Local leaders called this the Green Wall, and
expressed frustrations over why people who should be their allies turned out to be
enemies (Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998). Contention between land-based
5


communities and mainstream environmental groups has become a common
phenomenon across the globe as environmentalists perception of a human-less nature
has repeatedly evicted and barred people from nature.
These two examples get to the root of the problems between Hispanos in New
Mexico, other land-based communities, and mainstream environmental groups.
There are consistent misunderstandings and clash between two different conservation
models and discourses that define the environment. As Chapters Two and Three
outline, western environmentalism views nature as an object, with universal
characteristics that excludes and separates all human activity outside of recreation,
and the Hispanos view of nature as a distinct place that cannot be separated from the
person and the community as a whole. These different conceptions of nature
produce fundamentally different conservation models that the other side has a
difficult time understanding. This leads to the conflict that has become common in
these types of encounters.
I was expecting to see a similar contention between the local community and
outside environmentalists when I began my research on the encounter of grassroots
activists and outside environmental groups San Luis, Colorado. Traveling down from
Denver once I got within a few miles of San Luis, Culebra Peak emerged from the
haze to come into view. This mountain and its surrounding foothills are a major
player in my research. This tract of mountain land, which the local community calls
la Sierra, has been at the center of politics in San Luis since the 1960s. In 1960 Jack
6


Taylor, North Carolina lumber man and descendent of the 12th U.S. President,
Zachary Taylor, paid roughly half a million dollars for the land. This was the
beginning of a trend along the southern Sangre de Cristos (the mountain range that
forms the eastern edge of the San Luis Valley) of wealthy, powerful families
purchasing land in this area. In the late 1960s, the Forbes family brought large
amounts of land just north of the Taylor Ranch, and later in the 1990s Ted Turner
bought land to the south, just over the border into New Mexico.
Unlike the past owners of la Sierra, Taylor fenced off the land and effectively
enclosed some 77,000 acres of common land and essential watershed, which supplies
the acequicts with water and irrigates farm land in the dry valley that the Hispano
community in and around San Luis has relied on for generations. A functioning
acequia system means the difference between productive agriculture and a high alpine
desert. The enclosure of la Sierra sparked one of the longest range wars in the
American Southwest, eventually culminating in what the New York Times called in
1997, the hottest environmental dispute in the Rockies(Brooke 1997) after the
Taylor family began intensive logging operations on the mountain. The Taylor
Ranch War brought a lot of attention to the small, isolated community, leading to
alliances between local, grassroots land rights and justice organizations and the
outsider environmental groups working to stop the logging and reclaim the commons
and restoring traditional use-rights for the local people. This encounter lies at the
heart of the story that will unfold in the following pages.
7


While I began my research expecting to see conflict and contention at the
heart of the encounter, what I discovered was quite the opposite. There was and still
is a difference in how outside environmentalists and the local community perceive the
environment, however, the relationship between the two groups and the outcomes
were more positive and led to collaboration rather than conflict. This time, instead of
being on opposite sides of a struggle, they formed a coalition, something
environmental organizations in New Mexico failed to do.
The struggles of rural Hispanos in New Mexico take place in a different
context than the struggle in San Luis although they took place less than 100 miles
away. In New Mexico, most Hispano common lands, granted to them in Spanish
Land Grants, have been enclosed by the U.S. government, not private interests, as in
San Luis. This will be an important variable that helped facilitate the coalition in San
Luis. The fact that the Taylor Ranch was privately owned created a different
foundation for the encounter to take place, allowing both sides to focus on a common
enemy. On the other hand, in New Mexico because most of the land in question is
located in federal or state owned protected areas rural Hispano communities see the
problem arising from the protected area itself and, conversely, environmental groups
seeing the protected area as something positive.
In the decades after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, just about
all of the common lands granted in Spanish/Mexican land grants, in New Mexico has
eventually ended up in the control of the U.S. Forest Service (Raish 2000). In most
8


cases the U.S. government did not recognize terms of the treaty which stated that land
grantees should remain owners of the ceded territories. The rejection of Hispano
communities land rights claims was on the basis of inconsistent and incomplete
documentation and requirements for determining property ownership in the U.S., but
was part of Spanish law under which the land grants had been made.
The enclosure of large tracts of Hispano common land, in the upper Rio
Grande region of southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico opened the area for
U.S. capitalist enterprises and replaced the subsistence and mainly nonprofit oriented
economy with strictly for-profit commercial operations. Serious range degradation
occurred after the explosion of the livestock and timber industries in the region,
driven by market expansion seen with the arrival of the railroad (Raish 2000). To
combat the rapid environmental degradation, the Forest Service began to address
these problems on public land by substantially limiting the number of grazing and
timber permits in the Carson and Santa Fe National Forests.
While the Forest Service had traditionally been somewhat understanding of
Hispano grazing and timber practices and some level economic development in
general on Forest Service lands, this began to change in the 1980s as environmental
organizations gained increasing control and power over land-use decisions on federal
and state owned land (Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998; Raish 2000). The zero-cut
and zero-cow policies of these mainstream organizations have greatly impacted the
ability of Hispano communities to gather timber or graze small herds of livestock.
9


These activities are the traditional backbone of their economy. As a result, poverty
levels continue to rise because of the loss of the material base for their livelihoods.
In northern New Mexico Hispano, residents continually blame environmentalists for
upholding policies that restrict activities essential for making a living.
On top of this difference in the ownership and designation between the lands
in New Mexico and in San Luis, there were qualitative differences in the types of
environmental groups involved that made the experience in San Luis unique to the
region. As I realized this, the focus of my research changed from examining conflict
to examining collaboration and attempting to highlight reasons that it occurred in San
Luis and not in New Mexico.
My initial theoretical framework was based on Michel Foucaults concept of
governmentality, where specific forms of knowledge, transmitted through
discourses, uphold power relationships by creating a reality that serves the interests of
the powerful. More precisely, I had wanted to use the environmentality (Luke
1995) to describe how specific environmental knowledge/discourse comes into
operation as forms of knowledge/power through legitimizing western conceptions of
nature. I have always been intrigued with how the concept of governmentality has
been used recently within the social sciences to analyze, explain, and criticize the
operation of liberal power within civil society, NGOs (non-governmental
organizations), and the environmental movement for reproducing rather than
challenging coercive power and dominant hegemonic discourses (Argyrou 2005;
10


Brockington and Igoe 2005; Ferguson 1994; Igoe 2003, 2004, 2005; Igoe and
Croucher (forth coming); Igoe and Kelsall 2005).
This theoretical perceptive created too sharp of a distinction between the
environmental discourses of the local Hispanos and outside environmentalists and left
no room for these discourses to change. While there is no doubt that the concept of
govemmentality or environmentality provides powerful analytical tools in many
contexts, especially on a larger scale; however, in the context of San Luis this theory
would fail to capture the complex process of culture and hegemony, while at the same
time providing explanations for progressive change that occurred on the local level.
During the time I collected data and before I sat down to write this thesis, one book
helped me to conceptualize and thus analyze what has happened in San Luis. The
book is Anna Tsings Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connections (2005).
Tsing presents a case that acknowledges power, but leaves room for possibility and
hope, very similar to what happened in San Luis.
Foucauldian theories of power/knowledge create too much of a simple black
and white picture and thus cannot capture the muddy, complex, ever-changing shades
of grey that power relations produce, especially on the micro-scale, that I
encountered. I do not want this to be understood as a blanket critique of Foucauldian
theory -1 still believe it is definitely useful to analyze many issues in different
contexts but rather to point out that it does not describe every context. Instead of
reproducing the power relationships of the status quo, as is commonly the case, the
11


encounter between environmentalisms in San Luis has produced new forms of
activism, new identities, and new opportunities that have allowed the people of San
Luis to move closer to overcoming their injustice and hegemony. This thesis
attempts unravel this encounter and point to specific variables that have facilitated
this unique outcome where, essential, two different cultures were able to learn from
one another in a way that integrated aspects from both cultures that were used to
successfully challenge hegemony and empower an oppressed community.
On the surface, this thesis tells the story of a cultural encounter between two
distinctly different communities of activists that have different ideas of what the
environment is, and how they were able to collaborate in a way that has led to quite a
bit of success. Their model can be of great importance to influence and teach other
cross-cultural/cross-class/cross-ethnic collaboration or what Tsing (2005) calls,
collaboration with a difference, in the environmental and other social movements.
However, I believe this story is also of theoretical importance for all scholars
interested in power, NGOs, and social movements. Theoretically, this is ultimately a
story about a muddled yet dialectic relationship between subaltern culture, power,
and hegemony. As in Tsings Friction, universals or universal claims are at the
center of my analysis; however, my focus is on how this encounter was able to
incorporate different universal claims, through collaboration, to create progressive
change by incorporating not marginalizing local and invaluable place-based
knowledge. Before we go any further, I want to briefly discuss the power within
12


claims of the universal and the metaphor of friction that can be useful to explain the
coalition of outside environmentalists and local, grassroots Hispanos activists.
Universals play a significant role in creating and maintaining hegemony as
well as attempts to supplant it. Tsing (2005) writes, Universals are indeed local
knowledge in the sense that they cannot be understood without the benefit of
historically specific cultural assumptions.(7) In other words, all cultures produce
universals in their attempts to understand, manage, and live within their surroundings.
They are historically situated within a specific time and place, yet there is the
possibility that they can move from this specific place. Universals become an
overarching, in fact, defining framework that organizes knowledge to conform with
prior notions of what should be true. Universals claims are uniquely situated to
become hegemonic discourses, when used by powerful groups, that come to define
the world in a way legitimizes one set of discourses over all others. Although the
universal may itself deny it, as Fergusons (1994) anti-politics machine or in the case
of scientific discourses, claims to the universal are not politically neutral. As Tsing
(2005) points out:
(Universals) were deeply implicated in the establishment of European colonial power. In the
context of colonial expansion, universalism was the framework for a faith in the traveling
power of reason. Only reason could gather up the fragments of knowledge and custom
distributed around the world to achieve progress, science, and good government. In the matrix
of colonialism, universal reason became the mark of temporally dynamic and spatially
expansive forms of knowledge and power. Universal reason, of course, was best articulated
by the colonizers. In contrast, the colonized were characterized by particularistic cultures;
here, the particular is that which cannot grow. The universal, however, opens the way to
constantly improving truths and even, in its utilitarian forms, to a better life for all humanity.
These contrasts continue to structure global asymmetries. [9]
13


Ironically, the universal is responsible in both colonial conquests, past and present,
and more recent social mobilizations for justice, human rights, environmental
protection, and empowerment (Tsing 2005). Basically, universalisms create
movement for both the haves and the have-nots, the powerful and the oppressed.
Universals are at the heart of global environmentalism as well as global
capitalism, but the focus there is on how the universal is invoked within global
environmentalism. At the center of environmentalisms universals are descriptions of
nature or the environment that define it as a human-less wilderness. The origin of
these universals can be traced back to a specific time and place in Western history
(more detail in chapter 2). In that sense they are local knowledge and cannot be fully
understood without understand the historic context in which they developed. Yet, the
universals of environmentalism have traveled from this place with great power as
they have come into contact with countless numbers of different cultures, but are able
to use the same frame of the environment to homogenize diverse issues. When
these universals travel, they are met with the empirical reality of each place, which
requires this reality to conform to fit the prior notions of the universal. Each of these
encounters creates gaps within the universal that are effectively erased and forgotten
in order to fit prior notions of what truth should be.
Nevertheless, the universal claims made by environmentalists have
encountered different conceptions of the environment and sources of environmental
problems as the movement has become global in scale. In the real world, universals
14


travel across difference and, in turn, can be changed by their travels (Tsing 2005). It
is this engagement with universals in the real world that causes friction. The
metaphor of friction describes the action we see when different universals encounter
one another. Like a spinning wheel, it only moves once it encounters the friction
caused by the road. Environmentalists have undertaken numerous collaborations
with scientists, government officials, and non-Westem communities and through the
frictions of such collaborations global conservation projects gain their shape.(Tsing
2005:13) Attention to these collaborations moves the analysis of encounters beyond
a clash of interest groups (the powerful and the dominated ), to see friction creating
new interests and identities, that benefit some and not others (Tsing 2005).
In most cases, collaborations have reproduced the status quo and dominant
power relations. For example, conservation projects in Eastern Africa have produced
a situation where Western NGOs, donors, and well-positioned Africans have
benefitted at the expense of welfare of local land-based communities (Igoe 2004). In
these collaborations, Western universalizing environmental knowledge suppresses
place-based truths and locally evolved environmental knowledge that are
incompatible with Western discourses (Tsing 2005). In effect, local environmental
knowledge, including resource management strategies are erased in favor of Western
conservation models. For the most part, collaborations between Western
environmentalist organizations and land-based communities in global conservation
projects have been unequal, championing Western environmental discourses, which
15


only have served to reproduce hegemonic power relations. However, there are some
examples of cross-cultural collaborations that have produced rich, new, descriptions
of the world that have been used to create progressive change and challenge the
status-quo.
The story that unfolds in the following pages describes how the friction within
a collaboration of different conceptions of the environment and environmental
problems between outside environmentalists and local, grassroots activists in San
Luis produced a situation where cross-cultural learning took place, producing new
understandings, identities, and activism and resulted in a successful movement to
overcome injustice and stop environmental degradation. Through bridging the gaps
created by universal Western discourses by incorporating place-based environmental
knowledge instead of simply ignoring then was the key to the successful
collaboration in San Luis. Throughout this thesis, I explore Tsings metaphor of
friction as different universal claims interact, are questioned, and are transformed to
close the important gaps in the Western universalized environment, and present a
case of how place-based environmentalism can counter some of the adverse effects of
the universals invoked in mainstream global environmentalism. I attempt, as Tsing
calls for at the end of her book, to tell a story that both acknowledges imperial
power and leaves room for possibility(267).
Collaborations can bring together difference as well as make differences more
apparent. As in New Mexico collaborations, or attempted collaborations between
16


Hispano communities and environmentalists have intensified this difference. On the
other hand, in San Luis this collaboration brought together differences in a way that
help facilitate positive change. The friction cause by each encounter is different
depending on the specific context that it takes place. This means, we can examine the
context that facilitates collaboration that produces progressive change instead of
reproducing the status quo. As Tsing (2005) shows in her narrative of how the
collaboration of three separate groups with different understandings and
commitments to nature were able to come together in a productive campaign to create
a community-managed forest in Indonesia were the product of friction. Friction
between different conceptions of nature and different uses of nature created new, yet
very powerful identities and knowledge based on each sides interpretation of the
others viewpoint. It is in the friction of difference that new objects and agents are
possible and it is in these new objects that can lead to progressive change.
The friction in the encounter in San Luis produced new discourses that
incorporated and integrated both universal Western conceptions of nature with place-
based environmental discourses held by the Hispanos. Through integrating both
perspectives activists were able to create a counterhegemonic discourse that lead to
political change to overcome the communitys history of injustices. Progressive
outcomes like this are rare in cross-cultural collaborations in the environmental
movement and there are specific variables that may lead to understanding why certain
collaborations are successful and others fail. This thesis not only attempts to unravel
17


this encounter and the new products created by friction, but also hopes to point
toward factors that lead to successful collaborations, highlighting the essential need
for a common enemy to create a steady base and hold together both sides involved in
the collaboration.
In order to conceptualize this research project it requires a theoretical
framework that integrates two theoretical perspectives, one to examine culture and
power, and the other to examine environmental discourses. If we want to
conceptualize culture and power in a way that allows room for cultural change,
fluidity, and human agency we need to use the theoretical perspective of Antonio
Gramsci. It is important to make it clear what I mean when I talk about culture
because it forms the basis of the analysis of the encounter of environmentalisms in
San Luis. Culture is a very loaded concept that has come to mean various things
for individual scholars, and I do not want to throw the term around recklessly and
undefined.
A common conception of culture in anthropology over the last few decades
has followed Clifford Geertzs (1973) approach to culture as a bounded system of
meanings or webs of significance. In short, cultures are seen as bounded and
distinct entities. While the idea of cultures as bounded entities has been heavily
criticized and has begun to lose its influence, Crehan (2002) notes that culture
[tjends to be approached as something ideas, beliefs, practices, institutions,
whatever that already exists. Whatever it is, it tends to be seen as something
18


handed down from generation to generation. A particular culture is seldom imagined
as something that has been consciously created(54). In order to get away from this
static conception of culture, I follow Gramscis approach to culture as understood as
thought in action(Crehan 2002). Although she never mentions it, Tsings
conception of universals and her focus on how they interact in empirical reality is, in
my view, very Gramsican.
I understand culture to include the methods people utilize in order to
understand their place within the reality they inhabit in a specific time and place.
What is key here is the notion that culture is continuously and consciously being
created or remade as historical events happen around them. Cultures are never
whole, bounded entities, but rather a complex tapestry of interwoven
strands(Crehan 2002:82). Culture is a product of history and the encounter that
unfolds in the following pages is, in itself, a historical event which produced cultural
change, new knowledge, and ultimate a new activist culture that has lead to
successful challenges to power.
One of the major strengths of adopting a Gramscian approach to culture is the
ability to get past the common base-superstructure dichotomy that has haunted
Marxist theory. In traditional Marxism, the relationship of the realm of ideas,
ideology, and what many describe as culture is a causal outgrowth from the social
relations that govern the mode of production. Basically, different modes of
production (the countless ways of obtaining the necessities of life, basically
19


economy) produce different symbolic expressions. Essential to getting past this
dichotomy is the concept of the organic. For Gramsci, ideas and other symbolic
expressions are an organic part of the economic structure continually in a
conversation with history. Material relationships play a role in creating culture, but it
is not the simple deterministic cause and effect that has been at the center of
traditional and neo-Marxism, because culture also plays a role in maintaining material
relationships. This approach to culture as something that is always being remade and
never fixed allows us to look at power in a different light. Power is not some abstract
thing, but is a subtle force consistently at work in the continual construction of
culture.
Gramscis central focus is on how class is lived. In other words, he explores
how the world is experienced and understood by the dominated or the subaltern.
Subaltern culture is created through a dialectal relationship with hegemony, the fact
they are oppressed contributes to their cultural world-view. Both the dominated and
the dominant produce specific world-views, but a dominant class or alliance of
classes is one that has succeeded in bringing into being a hegemonic culture that in
fact embodies their world-view, but that appears to represent not simply their
interests, but those of society as a whole(Crehan 2002:97). The basic
characteristics of subaltern culture derive from the fact that they are dominated and
historically on the defensive. This approach to culture must automatically take
power into consideration.
20


Hegemony, like culture, has taken on numerous meanings and uses within the
social sciences. Commonly it is simply used to describe a type of power -
ideological dominance yet this is not how Gramsci uses the term. Rather,
hegemony is an approach to the question of power that in its exploration of
empirical realities how power is lived in particular times and places refuses to
privilege either ideas or material realities, seeing these as always entangled, always
interacting with each other(Crehan 2002:200). Basically, hegemony is not power; it
is how power is lived. One of the strongest aspects of hegemony in practice is its
ability to structure a field of possible actions and define what is true. Nevertheless,
hegemony is never complete and is, just like subaltern culture, continuously remade
through the historical process.
Asking how power is lived, allows us to explore the empirical reality of how
subaltern people live. One essential quality of hegemony is keeping the dominated
culture incapable of producing coherent accounts and descriptions of the world.
People trapped in subaltern culture cannot grasp the larger landscape of oppression
in which they are located(Crehan 2002:205). They end up relying on hegemonic
descriptions which end up furthering their own oppression. The key to escaping
subaltemity is to produce coherent and organized accounts of the world as well as
their own oppression that allows them to overcome it. According to Gramsci, the role
of producing these coherent counterhegemonic discourses is undertaken by organic
intellectuals. Gramsci focuses on two types intellectuals: organic and traditional.
21


Organic intellectuals have fundamental ties to a particular group of people or class;
they share a certain life experience or culture. Organic intellectuals have to remain
close to the people they represent and it is only from this organic quality that useful
counterhegemonic discourses can come into being. In other words, they have
experienced the same lived reality as a subaltern. The strength of organic
intellectuals is that they emerge from the same oppression as the people they are
attempting to help. They can be exposed to new forms of knowledge, as is the case in
the encounter in San Luis, but continue to define what they have learned is the same
terms as the groups they represent. This experience is used to construct complete and
coherent counterhegemonic discourses that are necessary to overcome their
oppression.
Traditional intellectuals, on the other hand, while organic at one point in
history, have become disconnected and see themselves as ahistorical, objective, and
independent. They have come to occupy high prestige occupations such as scientists,
doctors, teachers, psychologists, judges, and media types. These intellectuals create,
maintain, and legitimize hegemonic discourses. In a struggle to overcome hegemony,
organic intellectuals must face off with traditional intellectuals.
Through applying this Gramscian approach to culture and hegemony, we can
see the cultural encounter between the two activist groups in San Luis as the product
of two distinct and unique, although sometimes overlapping, historical processes, as
Chapters Two and Three will highlight. Then in viewing these different cultures not
22


as bounded entities but as constantly being constructed, we will be able to explore, in
Chapter Four, the historical moment where they came together to fight logging on the
Taylor Ranch. As Chapter Five examines, the encounter in San Luis involved the
jumbling of various counterhegemonic and hegemonic discourses that ended up
producing new identities and knowledge that facilitated a movement to overcome, at
least partially, the oppression which the Hispano community has experienced over the
last half century.
The second theoretical perspective I will be using for the conceptual
framework in this story is necessary to distinguish and compare the ways of
perceiving the environmental how they inform distinct resource management and
conservation models of the Hispanos of San Luis and the Western environmentalists.
I draw this piece from the work of environmental historians, political and cultural
ecologists, and environmental anthropologists. At the heart of this perspective is the
assumption that in and of itself, nature, or the environment, is meaningless until
humans assign meaning to it. Because different groups of people will define different
meanings to the environment, natures meanings always will be multiple and
unfixed(Luke 1995:58). In other words, while there is no denying there is some sort
of ecological domain in which we live, how that domain is actually perceived
depends, the various meanings humans assign to it. The idea of wilderness, for
example, while conceptualized as a place of nature, standing apart from all things
human, is in itself a profoundly human creation (Cronon 1995).
23


The discourses that define the environment and societys relationship with it
are an important part of that culture and leads to the wide-range of cultural diversity
we witness on Earth. Again, using Gramscis perspective on culture, these
environmental discourses are organic when they arise natural evolution with
economic structures. The traditional environmental discourses of the Hispanos are
organic, however, foreign discourses can supplant those, severally disrupting the
entire cultural, economic, and even ecological systems. The majority of the power-
laden discourses at work in San Luis are discourses that define what the environment
or nature is and are used by all sides in the conflict.
Before we continue, I would like to define discourse. I use discourse in its
most basic definition as a shared way of understanding the world. According to
Dryzek (2005), discourses construct meaning and relationships, helping to define
common sense and legitimate knowledge(9). However, we must remember that
discourses are intertwined with material and historical conditions. Discourses can be
traced back in history to expose the roots of their origins, revealing how they have
traveled through time. It is essential to highlight the differences in the environmental
discourses in the encounter and collaboration. Because it is the integration of pieces
from the two distinct discourses, resulting from the process of friction, makes this
encounter an example of the possibilities of cross-cultural collaborations.
I have taken a large part of my conception of environmental discourses from
cultural ecology. Robert Netting sums up the intellectual focus of cultural ecology as
24


on the particular circumstances of geography, demography, technology, and history
that result in a splendid variety of cultural values, religion, kinship systems, and
political structures through local environmental interactions (Netting 1993, quoted
in Forsyth 2003:8). Nevertheless, this is not a study of cultural ecology. This is
study falls within the focus of political ecology. According to Forsyth (2003),
political ecology has been seen to focus more on underlying and widespread
political explanations for environmental change and degradation(8). This
perspective is based on the assumption that the various ways the environment is
defined are accompanied by countless varieties of resource management schemes. A
common research objective in political ecology is to examine the effects the dominant
western conception of the environment has on indigenous or non-western peoples.
Essentially, I am doing the same thing, examining the political ramifications of an
encounter between different environmental discourses, one western and one
qualitatively non-western. By viewing the environment not as an objective reality but
rather as a socio-cultural construct, we are able to explore the interactions between
incompatible and historically divergent conceptions of the environment.
These two theoretical perspectives will be used to examine the outcome of the
encounter in San Luis. In order to account for the evolution or change that takes
place, culture must be view as continually being constructed through human agency
using certain aspects presented to them over the course of history. Rather than a
clash of discourses where one comes out victorious, the picture of this encounter
26


looks more like an intermixing, producing two new cultures and environmental
discourses forever changed by the encounter. The metaphor of friction allows us to
see how these discourses enact in the real world, create movement and produce new
counterhegemonic discourses.
This study is based on in-depth, key informant interviews with activists
involved in the Taylor Ranch War, a limited amount of participant observation at
conferences and meetings in San Luis, and an extensive use of previously published
literature and historical research. Interviews with key informants were the primary
data collection source. Key informants are people knowledgeable about the situation
and are able to provide information about what I could not observe and explanation of
events I could not witness (Patton 2002). These interviews started as open-ended,
semi-structured and moved into a more informal conversational type as they
progressed. The strength in using these types of interviews allowed for flexibility and
fluidity to address new aspects of my research questions, as well as allow the
respondent to use as much of their own words and descriptions as possible. This was
essential to capture the experience of both Hispano and environmentalist activists
during and after the encounter.
My data was supported with a small amount of participant observation of
conferences and meetings. To be more accurate I engaged in direct observations.
The strength of direct observation is it allows one to better understand the context in
which people act (Patton 2002). During my observations I was able to witness how
27


people use discourses and their identities in the real world. Finally, I used a large
amount of previously published material as a source of data. This material was used
to provide historical context, first-hand descriptions and accounts of the encounter,
and as a source of narrative from material written by people involved in the
encounter.
The remainder of this thesis is divided into five chapters, each necessary to
tell the story. In Chapters Two and Three I discuss the specific social histories that
constructed the two different ways of view the environment of western
environmentalism (Chapter Two) and the Hispano communities of the Upper Rio
Grande region of New Mexico and southern Colorado (Chapter Three). In Chapter
Four, I get into the encounter that is at the heart of this study. Here I review a brief
history of the conflict, descriptions of the local and outside organizations and their
interactions throughout, discuss the outcome of this collaboration, and delve into the
reasons why this collaboration is so different from others in the region. Chapter Five
brings us up to date with what is currently going on in San Luis as local residents
attempt to construct a management plan for la Sierra and how the encounter produced
new identities, ideas, and strategies that have facilitated positive change. In Chapter
Six I discuss my concluding thoughts, some theoretical implications, and how this
case may inform future cross-cultural collaborations between environmentalists and
subaltern communities by identifying the variables that helped facilitate a successful
collaboration in this context.
28


CHAPTER 2
A NATURE DIVIDED:
THE WESTERN CONCEPT OF NATURE AND A BRIEF HISTORY OF
ENVIRONMENTALISM
Currently one focus of cultural anthropology and other disciplines within the social
sciences is the study of contact between cultures (Igoe 2004). The previous chapter
introduced the conception of culture as continually being reconstructed through
interactions with various historical events. Contact or encounters between cultures
have, in fact, driven history and have altered every culture involved. This, of course,
happens at a number of varying degrees or levels, because cultural encounters have
rarely, if ever, occurred on equal footing. Historically, the Global North have had the
resources, technology, and power to make their ideas and institutions take precedence
over indigenous cultural systems. Whereas there is no argument the non-western
cultures have been affected at an incredibly higher degree, this does not mean western
cultures are left untouched. Focusing on the dynamics of cultural encounters is
essential to understanding not only history, but our present time as well.
To understand encounters, we must go beyond the local context of the
encounter itself and take on a global perspective (Igoe 2004). The encounter is a part
of history. However, each culture and its associated discourses involved are also
products of a specific social history. The next two chapters examine the unique
29


social histories that have informed the environmental discourses of both groups
involved the encounter between the Hispano community of San Luis, Colorado and
an outside group of white, middle-class environmentalists. Both groups came into
this encounter with different ways of viewing and interacting with the environment,
one a distinctly Western and Anglo and the other uniquely Hispano.
At the heart of this difference is the perception of humans place and
relationship with nature, which is an outgrowth of the discourses that define nature
itself. The Western concept of nature revolves around a strict separation between
humans and nature, while, on the other hand, the Hispano concept of nature is
inclusive to humans. This difference has characterized many encounters and
subsequent conflict between Western environmentalists and non-Western, land-based
communities throughout the world. The encounter in San Luis is unique in that we
see much more collaboration than conflict and understanding the history and
characteristics of each groups environmental discourses are essential to examining the
encounter and provide a basis for understanding the new, hybrid discourses that
arose after. What follows in this chapter is a discussion on the origins of the Western
concept of nature and ways it has been invoked in mainstream environmentalism.
The end of the chapter introduces two new forms of environmentalism that are
distinct from the classic, mainstream environmental movement.
The Western concept of nature arises within environmentalism, as well as the
scientific discipline of ecology. Today, these two institutions give legitimacy to
30


Western environmental discourses that upholds a separation of people and nature and
define nature as an object to be protected or studied. Over the last half-century or so
environmentalism and ecology have been constantly linked in the coproduction
(Forsyth 2003:104) of the current hegemonic discourses on environmental
degradation and on defining the environment itself. Many times it is difficult to
identify when activism begins and science ends. Environmentalists continually use
scientific data to back their political claims, while at the same time, many ecological
scientists cite a desire to help save the environment as a strong motivation in their
scientific pursuits. Mainstream environmentalism has depended on ecological
scientific discourses to uphold their hegemonic discourses on the environment that
routinely marginalize subaltern communities and their conservation models.
Both environmental activists and scientists produce universal statements about
the biophysical reality in order to promote either a blanket panacea for environmental
problems and to reveal specific laws of nature. These discourses are used to define
environmental problems as well as their solutions. At the center of these universal
statements is a root assumption about the existence of an uninhabited wilderness or
untouched nature(Forsyth 2003) that excludes people and their economic activity.
Nature is viewed as devoid of all things human. Cronon (1983) shows how these
assumptions held by American colonists led them to mistake the landscape of North
America to be a huge uninhabited wilderness, instead of what it really was, an
anthropogenic landscape created over centuries by various Indian tribes interactions
31


with the environment. This mistake has played a huge role in shaping the American
wilderness ideal and modern perceptions of nature. Nature continues to be defined as
a wild place that lacks humans.
This view of nature as a human-less environment, has lead the mainstream
environmental movement to combat environmental degradation through the creation
and conservation of wilderness or protected areas that conform their vision of nature.
National Parks, wilderness and wildlife areas, nature reserves, as well as numerous
other forms of protected areas make Western concept of the nature a reality. In these
protected areas the use natural resources are prohibited and the land is set aside for
recreation and as a place to go and experience nature. As in the case of Granados del
Valle, outlined in the previous chapter, when environmental groups fight for
protected areas this can create conflict with the local community that is dependent on
the land for their livelihood and survival.
These environmental discourses defining nature as something separate from
humans are the base of mainstream environmentalisms main critique of modernity;
yet ironically, as William Cronon (1995) points out, the trouble with wilderness is
that it quietly expresses and reproduces the very values its devotees seek to
reject(80). The existence of wilderness, or an untouched nature, rather than being
a concrete and absolute fact, is a socio-cultural construct and itself a product of
history. So, paradoxically, while mainstream environmentalism is attempting to
reject Western culture and values, it has incorporated the same universalistic
32


assumptions about nature and peoples place in it that have created the environmental
crisis in the first place. This has lead to many unforseen consequences that have
affected the livelihoods of many land-based communities, that hold different
perceptions and relationships with the environment. In the long term this fact could
damage the overall success of the environmental movement itself.
To see how the Western idea of nature has been incorporated in the
mainstream environmental movement, we must take a historical perceptive back to
early renaissance interpretations of Christian doctrine. Tracing these origins exposes
the roots of mainstream Western environmentalism and can inform the reasons why
the Western conservation models come into conflict with land-based communities
and how it quietly expresses and reproduces the very values its devotees seek to
reject(Cronon 1995:80).
Lynn White (1967) writes, that after the middle ages, human beings
relationship with nature changed, where formerly man had been part of nature; now
he was the exploiter of nature(1205). This world-view is hierarchical. White, male
Europeans held the place directly under God, followed by women, then non-
Christians, and at the bottom of this hierarchy was nature. Nature was a domain for
man to use and exploit as he saw fit. This idea led to the hegemonic Western cultural
perspective of nature that continues to this day, which creates a distinct separation, a
dichotomy, between humans and nature. Furthermore, this distinction is not one of
two equals, but domination of humans over nature. Basically, nature is essentially
33


alienated from humans in the Marxist sense of creating an artificial separation
between two things that belong together. This alienation from nature leads to the
othering and objectification of the ecological domain. Like all Others, nature is to
be feared, but overall something to be conquered, controlled, and homogenized.
Through this alienation and separation from nature, the environment loses its unique
place-specific characteristics in favor of universal descriptions that can be applied to
a number of different environments.
Prior to the 19th century this concept of nature was used as a means to exploit
it, however, as westerners began to notice the adverse effects that industrial
capitalism was having on environment and wild places it was transformed into a
means of protecting it. In the late 1800s, like John Muir and Henry David Thoreau,
began documenting the destruction of what they viewed as pristine wilderness from
the advances of a now industrialized capitalist society. This concern for the loss of,
what they saw as pristine wilderness, gave birth the preservation movement (an early
precursor to the environmental movement) and to organizations that persist to this
day, such as the Sierra Club. Preservation era organizations such as the Sierra Club
have come to form the backbone of the hegemonic, mainstream segment of
environmentalism today.
The goal of the preservation movement was to preserve certain places of
nature that fit into the definition of wilderness from the growth of their own society.
The movement was framed as a counterhegemonic perspective toward viewing and
34


experiencing nature not as an object to exploit, but as an object to protect. However,
the alienation of nature continued as the movement fought for the preservation and
protection of wild places; nature still was objectified. Wilderness, by definition,
leaves no place for human beings; thus you must first be alienated from nature to be
able to view it as a wilderness (Cronon 1995). Many aspects of the preservation era
continue within mainstream environmentalism. While being framed as an alternative
to modernity, environmentalism assumes the same fundamental separation of humans
and nature, turning nature into an object that people can transform into whatever they
want and imagine (Igoe 2004).
What is important is that the discourses that inform Western
environmentalism arose from a distinct social and political history that is rooted in
elitist view of nature and has uncritically incorporated hegemonic, Western
discourses on the environment and peoples place inside it. As a result, mainstream
environmentalism is seen by many scholars and subaltern activists as continuing and
upholding a class and racial bias. Viewing nature as a human-less environment and
creating environmental solutions that revolve around protected areas and prohibiting
the use of natural resources has created contention with subaltern communities who
view and in turn use the environment differently. The separation of nature and people
that is so prevalent in mainstream environmentalism can be traced to specific
historical events, such as the enclosure movement in England, that a benefitted elites
and the capitalist class at the expense of land-based people. Enclosure enforced this
35


separation with elimination of common property systems in favor for systems of
private property. This act simultaneously benefitted the upper classes financially and
divided the landscape into two distinct segments, one where nature was exploited and
the other where nature was consumed.
The enclosure movement is directly relevant to the encounter in San Luis as
many of the same processes that happened in England have been happening in upper
Rio Grande Region since the area became part of the United States. Enclosure
coincides with a major shift in the political-economic structure in England, which
was moving from a feudal system to the beginnings of an industrial and commercial
capitalist society. Essentially, enclosure sought to replace common property systems
with a system of private property (Igoe 2004). Once open, communal fields and
pastures became separated by fences and walls and became individually owned. This
shift dramatically changed the relationship between people and the land, as well as
between different classes of people (Igoe 2004). The enclosure of the commons made
it difficult for subsistence-based, small family farmers to survive without seeking
wage labor. This situation accumulated in the intense urbanization and
industrialization of England in the 18th and 19th centuries as most land-based
livelihoods were now impossible.
Enclosure produced great changes in the European landscape, which became
heavily segregated and divided (Igoe 2004). Instead of communal ownership, the
aristocracy and growing capitalist class controlled a large percent of land. The elite
36


land owners segregated the land, dividing it into two opposing landscapes. First,
there were landscapes of production ruled by rationality and the pursuit of profit -
and second, there were landscapes of consumption areas ruled by recreation and
contemplation (Igoe 2004). In one landscape nature was used for capitalist
production, in the other nature was consumed by people. The former becoming the
enemy of the environmental movement and the latter would become the focus of
environmentalists conservation models and their solutions to environmental
degradation.
While commercial farms became places of production, privately owned
estates became places for recreation, the enjoyment, and appreciation of nature. In
this arrangement, nature has two fundamental, yet opposing purposes. It was
exploited for capitalist production and it was a place where nature, in itself, was to be
consumed for physical and spiritual enjoyment. As the environmental movement
grew into its current form, protected areas have come to represent landscapes of
consumption and many aspects of these areas remain in todays common view of
nature. Nonetheless, both landscapes reinforced a separation between humans and
nature, defining it as either an object to exploit, or an object to enjoy.
During English enclosure the ability to appreciate nature and its inherent
scenic beauty became a mark of class distinction. Only elites could appreciate nature
and many efforts were made to keep the poor, working class, and land-based people
out of these areas using arguments that they were not refined enough to appreciate it
37


(Igoe 2004). Furthermore, activities such as hunting for sport came to symbolize this
class distinction. Subsistence hunters were now defined as criminals and trespassers
and they were removed from the land by elites and their game warders. Here we see
the beginning of the exclusion of subsistence activities for the benefit of the elite,
their recreational pursuits and enjoyment of nature. By removing people that
practiced subsistence, land-based activities, English elites create type of nature that
conformed to their visions of what nature should be a human-less environment.
Many of the discourses used in the English enclosure have been reworked in
the modem scientific literature and appear throughout Garrett Hardins (1968), The
Tragedy of the Commons, one of the most heavily cited paper of the 20th century.
His essay cited that common property land use strategies will unquestionably lead to
environmental degradation and the only method to solve this inevitable crisis is to
switch to private property systems. These discourses have, in turn, been used by
Western environmentalists to argue for the enclosure of various different common
property systems throughout the world, in the name of limiting environmental
degradation, and replacing them with either publicly or privately owned nature
reserves.
Out of the enclosure movement arose the perception that nature existed in
places that people did not and that nature was a thing to be consumed through
appreciation and recreation. In this way nature began to take on universal
characteristics as nature became seen as any place that lacks humans and human
38


activity. As subsistence activities were replaced with recreational activities people
began to lose their attachment and relationship with a specific place-based
environment and began to take on an attachment with a universalized nature. From
the time of the enclosure movement up to our present day Western society has
become more and more attached to a universalized, human-less nature.
Ecological science has played a significant role in creating a universalized
nature by emptying of human beings from nature. Naturalists and botanists, the first
ecological scientists, focused on creating universal models for the classification of all
of the worlds plants and animals. Colonialism opened Europeans eyes to the large
amount of biodiversity throughout the world, 18th and 19th century colonial scientists
attempted to classify the worlds biodiversity using the Linnaean classification
method. Botanists wrote about the plants and ignored the people. Tsing (2005)
notes, Their texts emptied the landscapes they studied of human inhabitants, making
them appropriate for European settlements and conquest(94). These actions make
nature a specific Western nature one without people.
Again, pointing to the coproduction of hegemonic environmental discourses,
the biodiversity discourse, created in ecology science, becomes a weapon for
environmental organizations to use in their arguments for imperative to protect
biodiversity and wild places. However, because the discourse of biodiversity
eliminates people from its description, it is supporting a universalized, human-less
nature. The discourse of biodiversity plays right into the hands of environmentalists
39


to make universal claims that the best way to save the environment is through
protected areas and limiting human use of these areas to recreation, and this discourse
posits this as the only possible solution to protect the environment and biodiversity.
In the West, nature became an arbitrary place to experience pristine beauty of
the wild and all of the biodiversity within it. Nature was given universal qualities
that erased its unique qualities of place, including aspects of the local ecosystems as
well as the long historical relationship with human societies. The discourses that
defined nature as something apart from people creates an attachment to a completely
different kind of nature. By separating nature from humans nature lost its place-
based characteristics and they were replaced with universal characteristics. Peoples
relationship and emotional attachment were now to this universalized nature that
could be found anywhere people were not.
The Sierra Clubs founder, John Muir was at the center of the creation of
reverence for a universalized nature. Along with businessmen interested in tourism,
Muir invented the idea of the protected area as an institution to manage natural
resources and conserve the beauty of wild places and the biodiversity which it
contains (Igoe 2004, Tsing 2005). One powerful way he was able to further this idea
was by giving it universal qualities through equating nature with God. Muir was
influenced by a religious childhood and his writings on nature capture this connection
he made between nature and God. Nature for Muir was religion. I feel like
preaching these mountains like an apsolte, (quoted in Tsing 2005:97) wrote Muir
40


upon experiencing the Yosemite Valley. Muirs awe-inspiring descriptions of
Yosemite and other areas of the Sierra Nevadas helped others see the beauty of nature
through dramatic, emotionally charged modes of expression infused with religious
rhetoric(Tsing 2005:97). Along with science, the metaphor of nature as religion
gives the Western perception of nature its universal qualities. Tsing (2005) writes:
Nature, like god, forms the basis of a universal Truth accessible through direct experience and
study. To study a particular instance offers a window into the universal. The local enfolds
into the global and the universal; how our devotions must simultaneously know the local and
its transcendence. [97]
In other words, Muirs descriptions of nature invoked a universal way of
experiencing a multitude of different local environments each with there unique
characteristics and histories.
Through these universal descriptions, Muir was able to frame others
experiences and bring together lovers of nature, scientists, and advocates for
preservation and conservation that mobilized people to protect the Yosemite Valley,
thus creating the first national park and a universalized conservation model that has
now been exported worldwide (Tsing 2005). The universal qualities given to the
Western version of nature have allowed it to expand to become one of the largest and
most powerful social movements, but of course all of this is based on cultural
assumptions of what nature should be, an uninhabited wilderness. Western ideas of
nature that excluded humans naturally inform the creation of institutions like parks,
wilderness areas, wildlife management areas, and other protected areas that enforce
this separation. To this day, large and powerful environmental organizations that
41


represent the hegemonic segment of the environmental movement, such as the Sierra
Club, Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy, and a
number of other groups like the Forest Guardians are opposed to allow people into
protected areas, although there is often proof that many of their lifestyles are
sustainable, as was the case with the Ganados del Valle sheep herding cooperative in
New Mexico.
Since Muirs founded the Sierra Club in 1892, environmentalism has been a
collaboration (a collaboration of the same, not of difference) among scientists, nature
lovers, activists, and even businessmen who have all been involved in the
coproduction of hegemonic environmental discourses that favor the interests of
middle and upper classes and support the separation of humans and nature. Soon
after the environmental movement exploded in the late 1960s, most Americans
adopted this environmentalist view of nature as they experienced a nature framed by
Muir and others descriptions. The idea that nature can only be found in the pristine
wilderness where humans are missing is now commonplace among most Americans.
Wilderness became a landscape for people to consume nature in a manner similar to
that of the English elites during the enclosure movement, when they utilized nature as
a place for recreation and the appreciation of natural beauty and not economic
production.
Environmentalism and its institutionalized model of conservation can be
traced back to these specific social histories which are outgrowths of the industrial
42


capitalist mode of production. In the Gramscian sense, environmentalism is an
ideology organic to the capitalist mode of production. Thus, while on the surface it
may seem like an counterhegemonic discourse, in actuality it, quietly expresses and
reproduces the very values its devotees seek to reject(Cronon 1995: 80). This point
has emerged as a common criticism of mainstream environmentalism. Vassos
Argyrou (2005) writes, Environmentalism reflects a return of the same, the
reproduction of the same sort of global power relations and the same sort of logic that
mark the modernist paradigm at its core ... (and) repeats the historical gesture that
marked the colonial enterprise and its civilising mission(x-xi). For many,
environmentalism represents a continuation of the same power relations that
dominate western capitalist society and the globalized world.
The environmental movements origins in elitist perceptions of nature and
championing their interests has put it in conflict with many subaltern communities
that hold different perceptions of the environment and depended on using natural
resources for survival. For the most part, mainstream environmentalists fail to
understand other models of resources management and conservation that are much
more holistic, are inclusive to people, and involve using resources sustainability.
This difference between a nature that is exclusive or inclusive to humans is the root
of contention we see in most encounters of environmental organizations and land-
based communities and their grassroots activism.
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Mainstream environmentalism has spread globally because of the power to
universalize and homogenize diverse local environments using scientific and
emotional descriptions (Tsing 2005). Science plays a role in creating the
environment as an abstract, but universal construct that defines nature, apart from
humans, as the object of study. Also, the common Western portrayal of nature as a
way to directly experience the religious or spiritual universalizes and objectify nature.
The universal characteristics of this view of nature have allowed western
environmental discourses to be exported across the globe to an unlimited number of
diverse environments. The universalized nature of environmentalism and western
environmental discourses creates a sameness that can operate in any context,
regardless of the unique reality on the ground. While it is easy to export these
universalized ideas of nature, when they are applied to specific areas they erase
many, if not all, qualities of place.
Today, powerful environmental NGOs and international scientific bodies,
along with their governmental and corporate supporters, have the resources to
influence and force this conception of nature on groups of local people who hold
different, locally evolved, place-based perceptions and relationships with the
environment. Most encounters and attempted collaborations between subaltern
communities and mainstream environmental organizations ignore and marginalize the
place-based environmental knowledge in favor for Western environmental discourses
and solutions that uphold the human/nature dichotomy.
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Nevertheless, in the past few decades environmentalism has become a very
diverse movement (Brulle 2000; Dryzek 2005; Pulido 1995) that includes many other
perceptions of nature, yet there is no doubt that the type of environmentalism that
dominates the movement is still deeply influenced by ecological science and spiritual
portrayals of nature. The hegemonic segment of the movement, mainstream
environmentalism, includes the largest groups, in both membership and amount of
resources, as well as holding the highest influence with policymakers and the media.
Mainstream organizations tend to be highly bureaucratic, professionalized,
and have become heavily institutionalized. These mainstream environmental
organizations include well-known groups: the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife,
Environmental Defense Fund, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense
Council, and the Nature Conservancy. For the most part, all of these organizations
have biodiversity and wilderness protection at the top of their mission statements and
continue the separation of nature and people. Furthermore, members of these groups
are almost primarily white and come from middle to upper class backgrounds. From
its elitist roots, mainstream environmentalism ends up fighting for mainly elite
interests regrading the environment and in doing so marginalize subaltern concerns
and their perceptions of the environment. Sale (1993) writes:
The people in important mainstream organizations are very largely white and very largely
well-off, the more so as you move from membership to board of directors, and theyre very
largely male as well. Whether charges of racism and elitism against them are quite fair..
. it is true that their concerns have tended to mirror those of white suburban well-to-do
constituencies and that the kinds of people who have been attracted to the staffs have tended
to be college graduates, often professionals, and of the same general milieu as the people they
deal within legislatures and board-rooms. [Sale 1993, quoted in Pulido 1995:24]
45


The fact that mainstream environmentalism concerns itself with elite interests
should be of no surprise since, as we have seen, it has origins in the English upper
class conceptions of nature. With protected areas as the dominant model for resource
conservation nature remains apart from people and the modem landscape remains
divided into landscapes of production and landscapes of consumption. This position
allows many mainstream organizations to claim they are protecting the environment,
while at the same not questioning or criticizing the economic status-quo and
providing solutions provides a profit for investors at the expense of the local
community.
However, as mentioned, environmentalism is not a monolithic social
movement and has become very diverse. It is more accurate to describe the
environmental movement as comprising of environmentalisms (Doherty and Doyle
2006; Little 1999). There are various of subaltern environmentalists, who approach,
define, and experience nature and environmental problems in a much different
fashion (Pulido 1995). These new environmentalisms also include more radical
organizations, made up of primary Anglos that hold a similar separation of people
and nature but have become dissatisfied with the route mainstream environmentalism
has taken. The next section covers these two other environmentalisms that contrast
with the mainstream. These segments define environmental problems and solutions
in a much different manner that, as we will see, may provide better opportunities for
cross-cultural collaborations.
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Emerging Environmentalisms: Environmental Justice and Deep Ecology
Environmental justice and deep ecology represent two emerging segments of the
environmental movement that are qualitatively different from mainstream
organizations. However, both of these environmentalisms are on different ends of the
spectrum of environmentalisms. The environmental justice movement comprises a
wide-range of subaltern communities in both rural and urban areas, yet share a similar
experience of inequality and injustice that has adversely affected their surrounding
environment and their ability to make a living. On the other hand, deep ecology,
most commonly associated with the EarthFirst! movement, is made up of people with
similar backgrounds as the mainstream segment, but they hold a much more radical
perceptive in both activism and ideology, including a strong critique of capitalism.
While radical environmentalists hold a similar view of nature as mainstream
environmentalists, as a human-less wilderness, there are some major differences that,
in some contexts, may be more conducive to successful collaborations with
environmental justice groups and subaltern communities. Below is a brief outline of
these other two forms of environmentalism.
Environmental Justice
The environmental justice movement (EJM) emerged as an alternative voice to
mainstream environmentalism in the 1980s. Resulting from and constructed through
the subaltern experience, the EJM defines the source of environmental problems as
coming from the structure of society. Brulle (2000) lists the key components of the
47


EJ perspective: (1) The domination of humans by other humans leads to the
domination and destruction of nature. (2) The nation-state and capitalist economic
system are the core structures of society that lead to environmental degradation. (3)
Environmental destruction in low-income and racial minority communities and in
Third World countries originates in the exploitation of people who live in these areas
by the dominant groups and social institutions. (4) To solve environmental problems
requires fundamental social change and the empowerment of local communities.
Essentially, the EJ perspective bases its analysis of environmental problems
on the lived reality inequality and oppression that subaltern people experience. This
is evident in the common EJ frame of environmental racism. Inequality and a
concern for survival are the context of how subaltern environmentalists perceive
environmental degradation and, thus, approach solutions to environmental issues
(Pulido 1995). In the Gramscian sense, the environmental justice perspective and
activist culture is informed through its relationship with hegemony and the
experience of being oppressed.
In contrast to mainstream environmentalisms framing of environmental
problems as a loss of biodiversity and/or wilderness, subaltern environmentalisms
frame involves racism, equity and equality, and the right to practice ones livelihood.
Pulido (1995) writes, Activists of all sorts may be involved in the same
environmental issue ... but mainstream and subaltern actors hold different positions
within the socioeconomic structure that, in turn, frame their struggles
48


differently(25). In other words, EJ developed as a distinct form of
environmentalism due to the very different lived experiences and relationship with
the environment that oppressed groups have when compared with mainstream and
radical environmentalists.
For subaltern people, environmental destruction is important, not because
some abstract pristine wilderness is being destroyed, but because their health,
livelihood, and many times cultural identity and survival are at stake. However,
because each of the countless subaltern communities has experienced oppression
differently, each local EJ movement approaches their certain environmental problems
differently. Urban, low-income African Americans experience very different
oppression and environmental problems than Native Americans on reservations, and
the Hispano communities around San Luis have a different experience than Native
Americans. These differences could make it difficult for the EJM to unify individual
communities into one monolithic movement. Joining the fragmented EJM requires a
universalization all of the diverse subaltern experiences into one similar experience.
As we have seen, universals take away the uniqueness of a specific place and,
as in the case of protected areas, ignore essential characteristics of that place.
Scholars have attempted to apply an equity paradigm as the master frame to link
all local EJ movements (Pena 2005). Equity, then, becomes the universalized frame
for the EJM. Unfortunately, the concept of equity uses a specific Western, Rawlsian-
based conception of equity, one of individual freedom and autonomy (Pena 2005).
49


As Pena (2005) points out, the equity frame, mistakenly constrains rightful agency
by placing limits on the distribution of rights and freedoms since these are
exclusively allocated to abstract individuals rather than specifically located groups or
communities(136). Basically, framing EJ in western conceptions of individual
autonomy again reproduces and expresses the very values it attempts to reject. Pena
(2005) argues that autonomy needs to be grounded in actual struggles and not abstract
constructs.
I bring this critique up because I want to highlight the danger of
universalizing projects in social movements as they tend to erase essential qualities of
place. We have seen that the universalizing of nature as an object outside the domain
of society effectively prevents mainstream environmentalism from being a true
counterhegemonic discourse. There is this same danger about the universalizing of
the EJM under the equity paradigm. There is no doubt that EJ presents a potential
alternative to mainstream environmentalism, but if it becomes located in abstract
constructs and not the actual lived experiences and realities of local communities, it is
in danger of simply continuing the status quo. The powers of localized EJ
movements are in their attachment to place and direct experience of inequality as a
community. This attachment and knowledge of place-based environment are a
valuable asset for EJ activists and subaltern communities in collaborations with other
forms of environmentalisms.
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The Deep Ecology Movement
Deep ecology emerged as a more radical Western philosophy toward the environment
in the 1970s in Norway, but saw the most growth in the United States with the
founding of group EarthFirst! in the 80s (Dryzek 2005). The philosophy of deep
ecology stands in contrast with the shallow ecology of mainstream groups who
only want to reform some aspects of industrial-capitalist society (Dryzek 2005).
Deep ecology sees the environmental crisis as directly connected to modem capitalist
society and, thus, the only possible solution is to radically change the principles of
modem society. This full-on critique of capitalism is what sets deep ecology-based
organizations apart from mainstream groups. Nevertheless, radical groups share the
same conceptualization of nature as an uninhabited wilderness and most groups
committed to the protection, preservation, and expansion of wilderness areas. They
see large protected areas as an absolutely necessary protection and restoration of
ecosystem integrity and biodiversity (Dryzek 2005). However, despite is view of
nature there seems to be other aspects of radical, deep ecology-based groups that may
facilitate productive collaborations with subaltern, land-based communities, and local
EJ movements.
While radical, deep ecology organizations share the Western perception of
nature as a human-less wilderness and may possibly even hold a stricter dichotomy
between society and the environment, there are differences with mainstream
environmentalists in their philosophy on the environment and humans place in it that
51


may be better suited to collaborate with EJ activists. According to Dryzek (2005), the
two basic principles are self-realization and biocentric equality(183). A self-
realization is the identification with a larger organic self, existing beyond the
individual. Basically, it is the awareness of a holistic nature in which all life,
including humans, as well as non-biological aspects of the environment are
intermeshed. Emerging from this understanding of nature, biocentric equality is the
position that no species, especially humans, are seen as more valuable than any other
(Dryzek 2005). They believe in an ecocentric value that puts the Earths and other
living creatures interests before or at least the same level as human interests. This
leads to a romantic reverence that many deep ecologists hold to preindustrial cultures
as they see them as examples of how to live in harmony and respect with nature.
Despite this, the most common solution to environmental problems is to make natural
resources off limits using protected areas, although they are much less likely to
compromise or work with governmental organizations or corporate entities.
Another distinction between mainstream environmentalism and this more radical
version is in the organizational structure of these groups. Deep ecology groups are
small in number of members and in economic resources. They do not have the
funding and fund-raising structures that the large mainstream groups put a lot of
energy into. As a result, radial organizations are much less bureaucratic and
professionalized. Most, if not all, groups are highly informal, lacking a permanent
headquarters and structured hierarchy. This provides them with flexible to travel
52


wherever an issue of concern arises. Although, they do use more traditional
techniques used by mainstream groups, such as, litigation, a majority of their activism
strategies involved direct action techniques, like sit-ins and protests.
Overall, while deep ecology-based organizations share the same commitment
to the Western concept of nature and to the protection of wilderness areas as
mainstream organizations, their strong critique of capitalist society better situates
them to agree on a common enemy with EJ groups and subaltern communities. The
agreement of the root cause of environmental damaged that is found in the workings
and attitudes of an industrial-capitalist society provides a possible base for
collaborations to be built and maintained between these two groups, within specific
contexts. This in no way is a smooth and easy process. There is bound to be friction
within the collaboration, but a basic agreement on a common enemy can hold
collaborations together, facilitate cross-cultural learning, and result in new, dynamic
activist strategies, identities, and culture.
This chapter outlined the Western concept of nature and provided a brief
history of the environmental movement including some of the emerging types of
environmentalisms. At the center of both mainstream and radical environmentalism
is a strong distinction and separation between humans and the environment. This
perspective can lead to contention with land-based communities that need to use the
natural resources for survival and have a much more holistic view of humans place
within nature. The EJM emerged as an example of subaltern environmentalism that
53


holds a different view of the environment than both mainstream and radical groups.
In the EJ paradigm the environment is a place that directly affects ones health or
livelihood; it is not some abstract wilderness in need of protection, but a place that
has a direct link with ones survival. The next chapter examines the community of
San Luis as an example of an EJ perspective that is essentially placed-based and has a
holistic concept of nature. It is important to distinguish between this two different
perceptions as they are crucial to understanding the encounter in San Luis and its
aftermath.
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CHAPTER 3
A HOLISTIC NATURE OF PLACE:
A HISPANO CONCEPTION OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND
HISTORY ACEQUIA COMMUNITIES
IN THE UPPER RIO GRANDE
As the previous chapter outlined, environmentalism and its associated discourses on
the environment are a product of a specific social history. As well, Hispano acequia
communities are also a product of a specific history. The Hispano discourses that
define nature reflect a completely different relationship with the environment,
different conservation and resource management systems, and a different political
economic structure. In contrast to Western concepts of nature that uphold a strong
separation between humans and the environment, the Hispano conception is much
more holistic and inclusive to people. Furthermore, Hispanos relationship in the
upper Rio Grande, is to a place-based nature with place-specific qualities instead of
the common Western attachment to abstract, universalized nature. This place-based
relationship plays a key role in maintaining the resource management and
conservation ethic that has sustained the Hispanos in this region for more than 100
years.
E.A. Anderson4 s book, Ecologies of the Heart (1996), delves into the
connection between emotions and resource management strategies. He shows that
through emotional and spiritual ties to the environment, some societies can transmit
55


sound ecological management that is able to mediate environmental harm. On the
other hand, emotions can lead to an environment crisis. No matter what the outcome,
emotional ties to a real and specific socially constructed environment is at the center
of peoples relationship with it, as well as, their interactions with it.
Anderson writes, In the modem world, some conservationists and
environmentalists are strictly creatures of passion who overemphasize charismatic
megafauna(9). In the West, our emotions toward nature evoke a universalized
nature of a human less wilderness, outlined in the previous chapter. In contrast, in
San Luis and other Hispano communities in the region the emotions toward nature are
one rooted in a particular place. This tends to lead to a perspective of environmental
problems and solutions that align with an EJ perspective. This perspective tends to
lead to resource conservation methods that are specific to the localized environment
and qualitatively different from Western models. In this chapter, I outline the history
of Hispano communities in the upper Rio Grande region and their economic and
resource management systems. These are the environmental discourses Hispano
activists and the community brought to the encounter.
The upper Rio Grande region includes the headwaters of the Rio Grande in
central and northern New Mexico as well as the San Luis Valley in extreme southern
Colorado. Central New Mexico, around Albuquerque and Santa Fe, was the center to
the northern Spanish Frontier. Beginning 400 years ago, settlers of Spanish descent
immigrated to the remote edges of colonial New Spain. In spite of repeated
56


encounters with local Indian tribes, the first permanent Spanish outpost, San Juan de
los Caballeros, was founded in 1598. Attempts over the first 100 years to colonize
local Indian tribes failed, and it was not until the Hispanos approached them in a
more conciliatory manner that the area was able to flourish (Pulido 1995). Since then
there has been considerable intermixing, both culturally and biologically, between the
Spanish settlers and Indians. This has produced a vibrant culture that is unique to the
region and distinguishes the upper Rio Grande communities from other Latin-
American communities in North America.
The area was settled using a system of Spanish and then later Mexican
mercedes (land grants) that guaranteed both communal and private lands (Pulido
1995). Early Hispanos lived in villages close to water sources and used ejidos
(common lands) to hunt, gather timber, collect wild plants, graze livestock and to
utilize other resources. Economic activities were subsistence oriented and rarely
involved in commercial activities (Pulido 1995). This ethic still continues today,
mostly as an ideal, because of the necessity to be involved in some form of wage
labor to make a living. In addition to a common property system, these initial settlers
also brought with them a system of agriculture developed in Spain with strong
Moorish influence revolving around gravity driven, earthen irrigation ditches, called
acequias and privately owned long-lot agricultural fields. This system later
incorporated some Native American aspects to produce a land-use strategy locally
evolved to the regions ecosystem.
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The word acequia comes from Arabic refers to both an irrigation system as
well as a social-political institution (Rodriguez 2006). The beauty of the acequia
system was (and still continues to be if allowed to operate smoothly) that not only
does it provide a sustainable source of irrigation water to support agriculture and
grazing, but it was also a system of self-governance and resource
management/conservation. This governance aspect of system was necessary because
the settlements were so far from the central government in Mexico City. Lacking any
sort of formal governmental structure and faced with the dire need to allocate a scarce
and vital resource, water, the settlers resorted to a democratic collective or
commonwealth to organize a strategy to ensure the survival of each member of the
community. Central to this strategy were strong environmental ethics and knowledge
of the local environment that guaranteed a healthy and working ecosystem upon
which their entire economic production system depended.
Agricultural communities sprung up along acequia madres (mother ditches)
which carried water from local streams and rivers originating in the mountains into a
network of smaller acequias to irrigate agricultural fields in the valley. Countless
local acequia associations emerged around each acequia madre to govern the
construction and maintenance of the ditches, water-use, and overall resource
management plans of each parciantes (ditch user). The foundation for this system
came from Spanish colonial customary law. Each local area could amend its laws to
fit the local conditions; however, the only requirement was that these laws had to be
58


understood and agreed upon by everyone in the community (Rodriguez 2006). Each
community was able to adapt a system of governance to the local conditions. There
was no universal custom of how things had to be done.
The acequia system evolved into a unique resource management system and
democratic self-governance structure that has produced its own vibrant culture. This
system centers on integrating communal and private property and a never-ending
commitment to the right of thirst(Hicks and Pena 2003; Rodriguez 2006). The
right of thirst is an Islamic principle that all living creatures have a right to water as
well as all users the right to irrigate their crops(Rodriguez 2006:5). Essential here
is the idea that water cannot be separated from the land. It is this principle that
informs of the resource management and democratic principles of the acequia system.
Each parciante, regardless of the amount of water used or the land owned, gets one
vote; each participant gets an equal voice (Hicks and Pena 2003). Paricantes elect a
mayordomo (ditch boss) and give him the authority to enforce the customary law and
allocate water resources to ensure that everyone gets irrigation water in times of
scarcity.
Distinct conservation ethics and environmental regulations were at the center
of both Hispano culture and customary laws that ensured the survival of the
environment and each community member. Governor Cuervo y Valdez of colonial
New Mexico outlined the basic principles on the management of the wetland
commons outside of Santa Fe that livestock shall not trample or eat the grass that
59


grows there so that anyone who needs it (the grass) can mow it to feed their
horses(Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998:317). This political-economic structure
and resource management system became the basis of all future Spanish/Mexican
settlements in the upper Rio Grande region including the well-know tourist
destination of Taos, New Mexico and San Luis, Colorado.
San Luis was one of the last Spanish settlements in the region, though at the
time San Luis was founded, Mexico had won their independence from Spain. In
1843 the government of Mexico conferred the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant to two
residents of Taos (Smith 1999). This grant marked the furthest northern point of
Spanish acequia settlements as the nearly one million acre land grant included what
now is Costilla County in Colorado. By 1849 a few families began to settle the area
under the promise they would have usufruct rights to hunt, fish, gather wood, and
graze livestock in the uplands of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. As was the custom
in Spanish land grants, settlers were given lowland areas for both communal pasture
and individual homesteads (Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998). It was at the base of
Culebra Peak and on the Rio Culebra that Colorados oldest town was founded, La
Plaza de San Luis de la Culebra (now shortened to San Luis), in 1851. Crucial to the
survival of the village was the agricultural and political acequia system. This system
allowed early settlers to maximize productivity, conserve water, and maintain self-
reliance in an arid upland environment(Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998:329). By
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1852 the first acequia, La acequia del gente de San Luis (San Luis Peoples Ditch)
was supplying water to agricultural fields.
Ironically, San Luis and other settlements in the Sangre de Cristo land grant
was not established until the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, and by that
time, control of New Mexican territory had been given over to the United States.
Because the original grantees had been murdered in the Taos uprising of 1847, but
Carlos Beaubien, father of one of the original grantees, took control and recruited the
first settlers, guaranteeing them the same usufruct rights as granted in the original
land grant (Hicks and Pena 2003). While this was no doubt a very turbulent time and
it was unclear how the U.S. would end up governing the area, Hispano settlers
continued to follow customary law and subsistence patterns, establishing a
sustainable community that has lasted more than 150 years.
The conception of the environment and peoples relationship to it in the
Hispano communities around San Luis has evolved from these roots in the colonial
acequia system. Acequias are still at the center of a political, economic, and cultural
structure and are essential to sustainable agriculture and the cultural integrity of the
area. Before we move any further, I would like to explain how the complete acequia
system works.
To begin with, acequias revolve around two different, yet interconnected
systems of property, private and communal. Devon Pena (2003b) explains this
system: a community grant allocated private long-lots to the settlers but reserved the
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montane headwaters as common lands to be shared and managed by the settlers
collectively(171). The private homesteads are laid out in long-lots in order to
incorporate different geographic zones, allowing efficient multi-cropping and taking
advantage of gravity to irrigate the fields with water delivered from the acequias.
While these homesteads are privately owned, the right to use water is attached to
ones participation in the communal management and maintenance of the acequia, as
well as in abiding to the customaiy laws and ethics. The mountain areas which serve
as the watershed are designated as common lands. Members of the community have
access to mountain common lands to hunt, fish, gather firewood, and graze livestock
as long as their use do not affect the ability of others to use the land. As with the
acequias, use of the common land is attached to requirements to follow customary
law that forbid any overuse or destruction of the mountain tract.
The acequia system creates a landscape of clustered farm fields and new
extensive networks of riparian corridors creating new wildlife habitat, orchards, and
pasture land (Pena 2003b). It is an anthropogenic landscape that not only does not
degrade the functioning of the natural ecosystem, but actually enhances it by creating
new biological niches for plants and animals (Pena 2003b). The acequia landscape
enhances ecosystem function and creates new and diverse economic opportunities for
the people living there. The mountain land provides hunting and fishing
opportunities, a supply of essential firewood and timber for construction, as well as
alternative pasture land for livestock. The acequias themselves not only provide
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irrigation water for a wide-range of locally evolved crops, but the porous nature of
the earthen ditches allows water to seep through, creating new riparian zones and
habitats for useful species of wild plants and animals, as well as for orchards to
flourish. The acequia system has evolved and adapted with the ecological conditions
in the upper Rio Grande region to create sustainable livelihoods (Pena 2003b).
In-depth locally evolved, environmental knowledge has been the key to
sustaining economic production and natural resources. The positioning and layout of
villages, plazas, acequias, field crops, row crops, common pasture, wood-gathering
areas, and hunting zones were all clearly governed by rules derived from observation
of local conditions of microclimate, topography, soil, plant communities and so
forth(Pena and Martinez 1998:158). Knowledge about snow melt cycles, local
geography, stream flow, and heirloom crops all help Hispano agriculture thrive in an
arid climate. Knowledge of wild species provides a wide-range of useful products
from medicines to foods to building materials. Knowledge of grasses, grazing
patterns, and locations of good pasture prevents over-grazing. Knowledge about
different types of wood provides a resource base for a rich material culture without
harming the forest. Most of all, an understanding of the interconnectiveness of the
uplands and lowlands, and the local and regional ecosystems help land management
practices enhance agricultural production without over exploiting necessary natural
resources.
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The health of the acequias depends on the health of the watershed. This
becomes a big issue in the Taylor Ranch War because the ranch included the
watershed area. The acequia system of property effectively links the uplands and the
lowlands and links the actions of one individual to the survival of the entire
community. Thus, watersheds need to remain completely undeveloped and in a
healthy and working state. What this means is all activity in watershed areas must
not disrupt the natural state of the environment. In fact, these common lands, like la
Sierra, are an inhabited wildemessin the sense that it is a wild place, but people are
actively using resources from the land (Pena 2003a). Customary law and cultural
produce environmental ethics expanding on the principle of the right to thirst
govern the actions of people, in order not to over exploit the fragile ecosystem. All
individual rights to use common lands and irrigation water were usufruct in that they
could use communal resources as long as they did not harm other users to do the
same (Pena and Martinez 1998). The Hispanos use of the commons directly
counters Western environmental discourses that evoke Garrett Hardins (1968) theory
of the tragedy of the commons. The communal uses of natural resources in the
Hispano system have a neutral, if not positive, affect on the ecosystem, not
environmental degradation as Hardins theory would suggest.
Along with customary law governing the use and management of acequias
and common lands, stories, songs, legends and other types of lore have been major
vehicles of passing on environmental ethics and the knowledge about how to use, and
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also conserve resources for future generations (Pena 1998). Not only are actions
governed by customary law, but the people also self-govern themselves by
internalizing place-specific environmental ethics. Crucial to Hispano conservation
ethics and environmental discourses is a strong sense of dependency on the
environment and an intense feeling of attachment and belonging to this specific place.
These emotions work in a fashion Anderson (1996) describes in this study on the role
of emotions in resource management schemes. The emotional relationship to the
place-specific environment ensures sustainable land management and conservation
ethics.
More than five generations of living in the harsh environment of the San Luis
Valley have instilled a relationship with the environment based on a sense of
dependency. Their livelihoods and survival depend on the correct functioning of and
overall health of the ecosystem. If the snow melts too quickly, the acequias will run
dry early in the growing season, greatly limiting or destroying a harvest. Joe
Gallegos (1998), fifth generation acequia farmer, captures this dependancy when he
writes:
In the end, no one owns la Sierra. The mountain owns us: She cares for us and makes our
livelihoods possible. As long as the snowpack is up there in the mountains sheltered by the
shadows of the forests we will be here, irrigating with the clear spring water that makes its
way from the peaks to the lowlands [247]
This strong connection to the environment that provides the natural resources that
sustain the community is a necessary source of organic knowledge that allows the
community to manage these resources in a sustainable fashion (Pena 1998).
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Nonetheless, over the years, many Anglo portrayals of Hispano land-use
practices and environmental ethics describe Hispanos as quaint, but violent and
lawless land thugs.(Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998:316) The common argument
used against Hispano land-use ethics uses discourses based on the tragedy of the
commons, to claim that the environment was degraded long before the arrival of
Anglo-American settlers. Environmental writer, Tom Wolf states:
Right next to the village of San Luis, separating it from the Taylor Ranch lies the San Luis
Vega, the only communally rather than publicly owned commons left in the United States
(unless you count the Boston Common). You do not have to be a range scientist to see that
the people of San Luis have badly overgrazed the San Luis Vega.... No on escapes the
whipping when it comes to land abuse in the Sangres. [quoted in Pena and Mondragon-
Valdez 1998:316]
The biased constructions of Hispanos by Wolf and others obscure the dominant
source of environmental destruction in the region, which arises from the enclosure of
a majority of vital common lands and watersheds as well as other market forces
associated with the arrival of capitalism and land-use policies favoring corporate
interests (Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998).
I became aware when I attended a conference in San Luis that a historical and
personal attachment to the local environment was key in creation of Hispano cultural
identities. People called themselves herederos (heirs) to indicate that their ancestors
were part of the original land grant, directly connecting themselves with the land,
their ancestors, and the struggles over it. A speaker at this conference, Ronnie
Sandoval, reiterated this connection between the past, present, and the land saying,
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our ancestors have been firm on this land .. were from here. The land provides
the connection between the past and the present. Sandoval went on to say, (our)
land is sacred, holy. It has meaning, value, beyond money.
The sense historical connection to this specific environment, through tracing
their ancestry back to the original settlers, instills a close personal attachment to
place. The personal attachment to the environment emotionally connects the people
with the environment and separating oneself from the environment becomes
impossible. It is this place that makes them who they are. Joe Gallegos (1998)
describes his relationship with la Sierra:
Through such tales we learn to make our home in the mountain. I have many memories of
sheepherding, cattle driving, horseback riding, hunting, and hiking. These memories are what
made me who I am. La Sierra is the place where I grew up. She gives me a place of
belonging. Something bigger than one person or family. [998:247]
This strong sense of belonging to a place that provides the necessary resources to
survive bestows an environmental ethic that intertwines the survival of individuals,
the community, and the environment. To harm the environment is like harming a
family member. This is not an emotional connection to a universalized nature, which
can exist anywhere, that we in the West commonly feel, but a concrete bond between
the people of San Luis and specific environment that surrounds them.
Pena (1998b) writes, Humans create meaning in part by inscribing feelings
and memories onto particular sites or shapes of their natural and cultural landscapes.
This is the interactivity and positionality involved in the human experience of
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place and the crafting of self and identity(l 1). In San Luis this cannot be more true.
Deep feelings exist that ones direct survival depends of the health of the
environment to provide them with the necessary natural resources to sustain
themselves. In the same fashion that Anderson (1996) describes, emotion is at the
heart of the local environmental discourses that facilitate a sustainable interaction
with the environment. In San Luis and in other Hispano communities of the upper
Rio Grande region the direct, personal relationship with the local environment
contributes to their conservation ethic and sustainable resources management
practices. On the other hand, Western emotional attachments to a universalized
nature do not seem to contribute to place-specific environmental knowledge and
conservation ethics and actually serve to erase them.
Of course, the acequia system has been greatly affected by outside Anglo-
American influence since the region became part of the U.S. at the end of the
Mexican-American War with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in
1848. This date still plays a large role in shaping the identities of the Hispanos.
Some Hispanos to this day envision themselves being located within occupied
Mexico.i In an ironic turn of events, the decedents of Spanish colonists became
colonized and the people of San Luis now identify themselves as an indigenous
culture being oppressed by the United States. Since the treaty, Hispanos across the
region have been faced with the loss and enclosure of their common lands to both
Authors notes, Aug 4, 2007
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private and government interests, the loss of their ability to manage essential
watershed areas, self-govern using customary law, and most of all a loss of their
culture and ability to make a living off the land. By 1900 most Hispanos throughout
the upper Rio Grande region could not escape American hegemony. The forces of
American colonization and the subsequent Hispano oppression have led to the
emergence of many local and regional social movements seeking environmental,
economic, and social justice through regaining management control over the
watershed common lands they have lost to enclosure (Pena 2003a). These local
movements comprise the Hispano land grant movement that frames issues around the
injustices of the loss of land grants in the upper Rio Grande.
Generations of oppression and poverty have created a strong culture of
resistance and self-identities constructed through conflict with the encroaching
American culture. These resistance identities center on the place-based memories
and personal attachments to the environment that I outlined above (Pena 2003a).
Hispanos have constructed their position of resistance from a historically-based,
relationship to place. Local activists slogans such as, sin agua, no hay vida (without
water there is no life) and la tierra es familia (the land is family) captures this deep
and holistic connection to the local environment (Pena 2003a).
The conception of the environment that informs Hispano culture and
grassroots activism is the product of a distinct history with the land and the
experience of oppression. This conception centers around intense, personal
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connections with the local ecology. This differs greatly from the history of Western
environmentalism as laid out in the pervious chapter. While Western
environmentalists are emotionally attached to an abstract, generalized, and
universalized nature motiving them to save the environment, Hispano activists have a
much more personal and material relationship with a specific environment, a specific
place. This different positionality and understanding of what the environment is,
undoubtably, can lead to conflict when Western environmentalists attempt to
collaborate with subaltern communities and activists.
Over the last two decades or so, there have been number of attempted
alliances or collaborations between regional, national, and international mainstream
environmental groups and grassroots subaltern movements in both the First and Third
Worlds. Sharing a common goal to protect the environment, but many times conflict
quickly arises when both groups find out that their definition of the problem, needs,
objectives are completely at odds (Pulido 1995). Many times the objectives of local
communities fail to conform to the outsider environmentalists agenda. At the heart
of these conflicts are different perceptions of what the environment is and how it
should be used. For mainstream environmentalists, nature is an object; a wild place
that lacks humans and needs protection, while for Hispano environment activists and
their community, nature is a specific place; filled with historical and personal
attachments whose survival is interwoven with their own.
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With an understanding of the positionality of both mainstream and subaltern
environmentalists, we can now move on and examine the cultural encounter between
a group of young, middle-class, white environmentalists and the community-based,
grassroots activists of the Hispanos in San Luis. As the next chapter will explore,
conflict is not the only outcome of mainstream/subaltem encounters. It is possible
that perceptions of the environment can change and identities can be integrated.
These shifts have the opportunity to create progressive change and true
counterhegemonic discourses. The key to this, as will become apparent, is not losing
the sense of place and local knowledge that has lead to a sustainable interaction with
the environment. However, outcomes of this sort do not happen automatically. The
next chapter will attempt to unravel the reasons for the successful collaboration and
the outcomes of friction caused during the encounter.
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CHAPTER 4
THE TAYLOR RANCH WAR AND AN ENCOUNTER
OF ENVIRONMENTALISMS
The last two chapters outlined the differences between the environmental discourses
of Western environmentalism and the Hispano communities in Southern Colorado
and Northern New Mexico. Basically, the differences come down to an attachment to
a nature seen as an object with universalized characteristics upholding a separation
between humans and the environment, as is the case with Western environmentalists,
and an attachment to a nature seen as place, with place-specific characteristics and
has a holistic, inclusive view of humans place in nature, as is the case in the Hispano
community. With this background context we are able to move forward and analyze
the encounter that is this thesiss central question. These conflicting conceptions of
nature are involved in the encounters in New Mexico as well as in San Luis; however,
as this chapter will uncover, there are many different factors that have led to
completely different relationships between the two groups and outcomes.
In the encounter in San Luis instead of conflict we see a collaboration that
produced new, hybrid discourses that helped the local movement make significant
and progressive strides toward overcoming their oppression. What is important to
this outcome was that the issue was not solely defined as environmental, or as social
justice, but integrated these two issues without losing its attachment to place. The
72


friction cased by the interaction of two different discourses produced a context that
facilitated cross-cultural learning, mutual respect, and an understanding of each other.
This case has great importance as an example of what is possible in cross-cultural
activist collaborations if we can uncover what about the context in San Luis produced
it.
San Luis and the surrounding villages along the Rio Culebra in Costilla
County, Colorado, share both similarities and differences with communities in
Northern New Mexico. While all traditional Hispano communities have faced a
severe loss of land with the enclosure of former common lands, each community has
a unique history and relationship with the subsequent new owners of their land.
Almost all Hispano common land in New Mexico has come under control of the state
or federal government in the form of designated protected areas. In contrast, all of
the former Sangre de Cristo Land Grant highland common lands has been
monopolized by wealthy, absentee, private land owners. This situation has created a
completely different context on which the relationship between Hispano
communities, environmentalists, and government land managers. Environmental
groups carry preconceived notions about and approach issues on public land
differently than if it was on privately-owned land. If an area of land is designated as
protected area, it is difficult for the community and environmentalists to agree on a
common enemy.
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Except for approximately 500 acres of the San Isabel National Forest in the
extreme northern part of Costilla County, the rest of the county is entirely privatized.
Two gigantic private ranches have enclosed the entire mountain uplands, including
most foothill and all montane areas of the Culebra Peak region. The Forbes-
Trinchera Ranch (owned by the Forbes family) takes up nearly 270,000 acres in the
northern section, while the southern portion of the county is dominated by the 77,000
acres that used to be known as the Taylor Ranch. The Taylor Ranch includes all of
Culebra Peak and the Rio Culebra watershed upon which Hispano farmers and
ranchers are dependent. The foothills and mountains surrounding the peak, which the
locals call la Sierra have served as traditional common lands and a watershed that
sustains their acequias and supports a wide-range of other necessary economic
activities.
The land that would become the Taylor Ranch was granted to the first
Hispano settlers to be used and governed by the traditional methods outlined in the
previous chapter. However, by the time settlements were established this region was
now part of the Colorado Territory. Carlos Beaubian, the official grantee of the
southern portion of the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant, which includes Culebra Peak,
became the confirmed owner in the eyes of the U.S. legal system. This southern
portion, know as the Costilla Estate by non-Hispanos, included all of la Sierra. From
that moment on, the Hispano communities were at the mercy of a series of wealthy
individuals and corporations who would serve as owners of the land.
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Despite attempts to purchase the land from Beaubien, he remained strong in
his position that all settlers should continue to have historical use-rights. In 1863,
Beaubien, in what is known as the Beaubien Document, attempted to convey his
understanding of the settlers land, water, and property rights, in order to guarantee
that no matter who owned the land, Hispanos would retain the use-rights granted to
them under the initial Spanish-Mexican Land Grant. This document has become a
central player in recent legal struggles. The most commonly quoted portion of the
document declares that la Sierra would be a place whereall the inhabitants will have
enjoyment of pastures, water, firewood and timber, always taking care not to injure
another. 2
After Beaubien death in 1864, William Gilpin, the new governor of the
Colorado Territory, bought five-sixths of the grant land, including la Sierra, from
Beaubiens widow (Hicks and Pena 2003). The other sixth was purchased in 1871,
and then the entire grant area was sold to U.S. Freehold, an investment group that had
the objective of developing the area and subdividing the land to sell to Anglo settlers
and business interests (Hicks and Pena 2003). Right away the Hispano settlers
opposed the development plans and claimed the land as their own. Despite these
claims, the new owners described and classified Hispanos as squatters and
2Authors Notes Aug 4, 2007 The legitimacy and intent of this document lies at the heart the Hispanos
legal argument to reclaim their historic use-rights. A critical part of this document were unwritten and
shared assumptions about acequia and common land governance that are interwoven into Hispano culture
and customary law (Hicks and Pena 2003).
75


trespassers. They complained that these residents were a barrier to development and
the possibility of ever obtaining a clear title to the land (Hicks and Pena 2003).
Due to a series of droughts and fights over local water rights, U.S. Freehold
was never able to turn a profit (Hicks and Pena 2003). In the 1890s, the company
ran into financial troubles and sold the Costilla Estate to Denver-based land
speculators (Johnston 2006). Until the 1960s, the Costilla Estate continued to change
hands with mainly absentee owners who never ended up developing the land.
Throughout this period, from the time the Beaubiens sold the mountain tract to
William Gilpin until 1960, la Sierra remained open, and Hispanos continued to
exercise their historical use-rights in relative peace. However, this all changed when
a wealthy North Carolina lumberman, Jack Taylor, bought the mountain tract for
$500,000 in 1960 (Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998). Ironically, Jack Taylor, a
descent of General Zachary Taylor who led the U.S. military to victory in the
Mexican-American War would complete the colonization of the Hispanos in the Rio
Culebra watershed, started 100 years before. A fact is not lost on the local people.
Taylors acquisition of la Sierra marked a significant turning point in the
history of the Culebra villages. To the dismay of the local people, Taylors first
action was to fence the land and erect barricades at entry points effectively enclosing
the common land and watershed upon which generations of residents had depended.
The creation of the Taylor Ranch fundamentally alienated the land and resource base
of the Hispano communities. As a form of resistance and out of necessity, many
76


Hispanos crossed the fences to gather firewood, hunt, and graze livestock, only to be
confronted, removed, and sometimes arrested for trespassing or poaching. Violent
confrontations between ranch workers and locals were common, with both sides
being guilty of instigation.
Almost as soon as Taylor took over control of la Sierra, both Taylor and the
local people initiated political and legal actions to legitimize their claims to the land.
In 1961, Taylor attempted to remove land grant heirs from the title of this land using
a Torrens Title Action (Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998). According to Pena and
Mondragon-Valdez (1998), The Torrens Act is a legal procedure to streamline
quiet title action lawsuits that many legal theorists argue violates the constitutional
right to due process(344-5). Taylor was successful in using Torrens to clear all land
grant heirs from the title, something all pervious owners had failed to do. However,
this legal victory for Taylor was accomplished with the calculated methodology of
serving potential plaintiffs in a way that would guarantee a positive outcome, but has
come under legal challenge by the community for its legitimacy. Shirley Romero-
Otero, president of the Land Rights Council (LRC), a San Luis grassroots
organization made up of land grant heirs involved in the fight to regain historical use-
rights for almost 30 years, explained:
He only let 12% of the people know he was going to take this action. In hindsight we know
there was a mechanism for him to inform 100% of the people.... When we were doing our
research as how people got served we could see that the process server maybe served someone
over in Garcia, which is up close to the New Mexico Stateline and then he noted ten to fifteen
77


minutes later he had served somebody up in El Rito. It is physically impossible to get from
Garcia to El Rito in ten minutes. 3
The enclosure of la Sierra ignited a veritable range war as the locals repeatedly
challenged Taylors claims to the land through legal, political, and direct means and
Taylor fought back with his own legal actions and policing of the mountain tract to
ensure no one trespassed on his land.
The effects of la Sierras enclosure on the Hispano communities were felt
almost immediately (Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998). A once solid, independent
sheep industry collapsed as the area lost about 16,000 heads of sheep, nearly 75
percent of the total number, in just 14 years. Taylor also began commercial logging
operations on la Sierra in 1964. Hundreds of logging roads and techniques based on
road-terraced clear cutting the U.S. Forest Service banned this method in 1972
because of the damage it causes in the form of soil erosion to watersheds began to
damage the mountain ecosystem and to dramatically affect the functions of the
acequias (Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998). During the spring snow melt, severe
runoff, only intensified by the effects of logging, piled sediment into the ditches,
impairing the function of the entire system. The system could not absorb or store the
increased spring runoff, drastically reducing the irrigation season by 40-60 days
(Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998). As a result, the amount of acequia irrigated
acreage dropped, although many Hispano farms held some of the oldest water rights
3 Interview Aug 10, 2007. Transcript on file with author
78


in Colorado (Hicks and Pena 2003; Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998). This has
always been a very interesting paradox that San Luis acequia farmers hold the oldest
water rights in the state, but are constantly under threat because they do not have
autonomy over land management on la Sierra (see Hicks and Pena 2003 for an in-
dept analysis). Losing as much as one month of irrigation in an already short
growing season, coupled with the areas arid climate, greatly diminishes agricultural
productivity.
Logging operations temporarily stopped in 1981, but community resistance
against the Taylor Ranch continued. Jack Taylor died in 1988 back at his home in
North Carolina. He never returned to his Colorado ranch after getting shot in the
ankle in 1975 in his cabin (Johnston 2006). Taylors youngest son, Zachary, took
over operations of the ranch after his fathers death. The ranch has always run a sport
elk hunting operation, becoming a favorite destination for out-of-state hunters.
However, these hunting operations could not support the Taylors need for a steady
cash flow. To make the land profitable, logging soon returned to the Taylor Ranch on
a larger-scale than ever before.
In the meantime, the Hispano residents faced another struggle with a large
corporation involved in another extractive industry. In 1988, Houston mining
company, Battle Mountain Gold (BMG), began a cyanide-leaching gold mine just
northeast of San Luis. This land was not part of the Taylor Ranch, but the mine also
had negative effects on the acequia farmers. The Summitville Mine was located on
79


Rito Seco, a tributary of the Rio Culebra. The gold mine heavily polluted the Rito
Seco watershed and water downstream. The water from Rito Seco eventually flows
into the San Luis Peoples Ditch and then into farmers fields. Several community
groups in and around San Luis mobilized against BMG. During this struggle, local
groups developed a capacity to critique the science used by corporate lawyers,
gained an understanding of some of the technical aspects of mining and regulations,
and got experience acquiring outside legal resources to assist in litigation (Pena and
Mondragon-Valdez 1998). The political tools and knowledge gained in the fight
with BMG would, not only eventually would shut the mine down, but it helped
community organizations continue their decades-long struggle with the Taylor Ranch.
In 1993, a new organization, the La Sierra Foundation (LSF), formed with the
purpose to raise funds to purchase the Taylor Ranch and to establish a community
managed land trust. The LSF worked with state leaders in Denver including
Governor Roy Romer to cooperate to acquire the mountain tract. The governor
signed an executive order creating the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant Commission
(Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998). This commission showed promise as it
recommended that the historic use-rights should be guaranteed in perpetuity, the
mountain should be managed in both environmentally and culturally sound manner,
all land management issues should be in partnership between the state and the local
people, and each party will own an interest in the land in perpetuity with
corresponding rights and obligations(Sangre de Cristo Commission, quoted in Pena
80


and Mondragon-Valdez 1998:331). In 1994 the commission offered Taylor $15
million for the land, but Zachary Taylor rejected the offer stating the property was
worth at least $30 million. Later, in 1998, the commission made a final offer of $18
million, which was also rejected, although within a year Taylor would sell the ranch
for a reported $20 million; only two million more than the commission offered (Pena
2003a).
During the same time that the initial Land Grant Commission hearings were
underway in 1994, Zack Taylor began examining a joint mining venture with BMG
and actively attempted to sell timber rights to large multinational lumber
corporations. In 1995, just two days after a meeting with LSF leaders, Taylor
announced he had sold the timber rights to Chicago-based Stone Container, Inc., a
large multinational corporation with a poor environmental record (Pena and
Mondragon-Valdez 1998). Soon Taylor announced three more timber contracts,
which called for a minium of 70 million board feet to be harvested on almost half of
the ranchs 77,000 acres (Pena and Mondragon-Valdez 1998).
The local communities greatly feared the effects of this large-scale operation
on the health of the Culebra watershed and the entire mountain ecosystem. To
attempt to reduce opposition to the announcement that the logging would return
bigger than ever to la Sierra, Taylor promised he would limit logging to only 12
percent of the ranch and use methods to protect the health of the watershed.
However, questions quickly arose about the truth of these statements when huge
81


logging equipment, including feller-forwarders, machines capable of cutting over
10,000 trees a day, began to appear in San Luis. Throughout the logging operations,
Taylor repeatedly invoked environmental arguments to justify these activities. Taylor
told the New York Times that timber cutting is the salvation of the watershed. The
worst thing that could happen in that valley is a catastrophic wildfire like the one they
had in the Taos Valley last year. Our prescription is to leave the wildlife and
watershed in a healthy balance, but to eliminate the fire hazard(Brooke 1997).
Taylors environmental argument introduced another set of environmental discourses
that the locals and the outside environmentalists would have to counter.
As the logging intensified, local organizations such as the Land Rights
Council (LRC), comprised entirely of land grant heirs, and the LSF picked up efforts
to pursue both legal and financial solutions, respectively. The LRC continued to fight
for a return of historic use-rights through legal means, arguing that the U.S. had
violated the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe and the land grant was unjustly taken
from the community. The LSF expanded their campaign to raise funds nationally to
purchase the ranch. Furthermore, as logging continued, regional-based
environmentalist groups began to take notice of what had become Colorados largest
timber operation and in the spring of 1995 began an active presence in San Luis.
This development represented a new chapter in the history of local political struggles
in San Luis. What was for years a range war, focused on property rights and social
justice, was quickly redefined as an environmental issue. However, what is important
82


to the eventual success of the anti-logging was that the issue was not redefined as
solely environmental, but integrated the issues of social justice with environmental
ones. This fact is crucial to understand the culture encounter in San Luis, as well as
to explain its success.
A COALITION, NOT A CONFLICT OF ENVIRONMENTALISMS
In the spring of 1995, the first wave of young, white, eco-activists, all members of the
group Ancient Forest Rescue (AFR), arrived to do what they could to stop the
logging on the Taylor Ranch. While there were other environmental groups,
including Boulder EarthFirst! and Greenpeace, active in the struggle, AFR had the
biggest presence throughout the anti-logging campaign. Beginning in the summer of
1995, AFR and the local Hispano groups, LRC and LSF, along with some county
officials, local farmers, ranchers, and community members came together to form the
Salva tu Sierra (Save Your Mountain) Coalition and its successor, the Culebra
Coalition, with the principal objective to stop the logging through direct and legal
actions (Pena 2003b). The coalition played an essential role in linking local activists
and county officials with legal and technical experts (Pena 2003a). Another
outgrowth of this coalition was an intermixing or hybridization of both resistance
identities, structure, and strategies (Pena 2003a) as well as in the discourses that
defined nature.
Ancient Forest Rescue is an essentially different environmentalist
organization than the strictly mainstream groups such as the Sierra Club or the Forest
83


Guardians active in New Mexico, both in structure and philosophy. AFR was formed
around 1990 in Boulder by University of Colorado students and professors.4 Ancient
Forest Rescues mission was to protect Colorados roadless and old-growth forests
and to stop destructive logging of public lands. Their involvement in the Taylor
Ranch anti-logging campaign marked the first time they confronted logging on
private land. In the beginning, AFRs mission was almost parallel with that of the
Forest Guardians to stop all logging on public lands but this is where many of the
similarities stop.
Classifying the two groups, the Forest Guardians would be considered
mainstream environmentalist organization with a bureaucratic, business like structure
and focus on litigation and lobbying. Ancient Forest Rescue, on the other hand,
could easily be considered a radical group. The group and its members had close ties
with the larger EarthFirst! movement, which began out of some environmentalists
frustrations with the mainstream environmental groups failure to create any
significant change. AFR, along with the EarthFirst! Movement as a whole were
influence by the deep ecology philosophy. This philosophy holds a strong distinction
between humans and nature, as is common in the Western view of nature, and can go
as far as privileging non-human species interests and survival over people. However,
as will see, other aspects of types of radical organizations, like AFR, many put them
4 Information on Ancient Forest Rescue was gather through interviews with former AFR members Aug.30
and Sep 1,2007. Transcripts on file with author
84


in a better situation to enter into successful cross-cultural, collaborations with
subaltem/environmental justice groups than strictly mainstream environmentalists.
The organizational structure of AFR, and other similar groups, are informal
and loosely connected with no real hierarchy or headquarters. This stands in stark
contrast with mainstream groups as does their activist techniques. Since its
establishment, AFR focused on using nonviolent, direct action techniques including
tree sits, protests, roadblocks, marches, and boycotts. AFR initiated the first direct
action campaign to stop logging in Colorado, when they used tree sits to stop a timber
sale in the San Juan National Forest near Pagosa Springs, Colorado. This protest
would be the groups first interaction with Stone Container, Inc. that they would
encounter again during the Taylor Ranch War.
While AFR was best known for their direct action campaigns, they used a
three-tiered approach, combining direct action with education and litigation. One
former member wanted me to know that they were known to have a no
compromise/radical stance in our litigation. Unlike mainstream groups, AFR was
not satisfied with minor victories and granting concessions to corporations or
government agencies. There is no doubt AFR has many differences with mainstream
groups; however they shared much of the same conceptions, at least initially, of
nature that defined la Sierra as a human-less wilderness.
When AFR members first arrived in San Luis, they defined la Sierra as a
wilderness and wildlife habitat and did not associate it as the communitys resource
85


base (Pena 2003a). They saw the effects of logging on the Taylor Ranch in terms of
threats to the habitat of endangered species like the mexican-spotted owl or the Rio
Grande cutthroat trout. However, while issues of wildlife habitat and biodiversity
protection received attention throughout the campaign, these environmentalists
quickly realized they were dealing with a completely different situation than what
they were used to or had been exposed to in the past. As one former AFR member
explained it:
This was definitely a new experience.... Usually when it was a public land issue youd have
more concerns about ecosystems and species. Things like that. Where here that whole social
element came into play really for the first time for most of us.... The locals here were more a
living part of the forest and the environment, more than we experienced before. Usually, we
deal with wilderness issues, some wilderness where things were really either designated or set
aside as protected or somehow they were used for major industrial extraction. 5
Before their encounter with the San Luis community, AFR members, distinguished
the landscape into one of consumption (wilderness and protected areas) and one of
production (industrial extraction). It was an either/or type of situation. They would
be exposed to a new view of the environment that did not make that distinction.
AFR members learned about the Hispanos relationship with the environment
from direct experience. Because there is no public land in Costilla County, AFR
could not set up a base camp in a National Forest; they had to rely on the community
for room and board. One former member remembers, We spent much of our time on
the farms and ranches, working, listening, trying to help where we could, connecting
with the land and community and also working in trade for our rent in the various
5 Interview Aug 30, 2007. Transcript on file with author.
86


place where we set up camp.6 The rest of their time was spent raising money,
educating the locals to some of the environmental issues, and focusing most of their
activism on direct action techniques. This time which they spent directly interacting
and participating in the livelihood activities of the Hispanos opened their eyes to the
long history of the struggle in San Luis, the interconnectiveness of social and
environmental issues, and the idea that one cannot be separated from the other.
During this time the group endured rustic living conditions. As former
member describes it, We lived in the funkiest, most degraded little shacks with no
electricity and no running water, and lucky to have a wood stove.7 Through these
living arrangements, AFR made huge strides in gaining the respect and support of the
local community. The experience also provided an understanding of the history of
the land grant struggle, the peoples personal relationship with la Sierra, the need for
sustainable use of resources, and all central aspects of Hispano way of life. While
this living arrangement allowed the environmentalists to learn a great deal about the
area, it also was crucial in gaining support from not only local grassroots leaders, but
the acequia farmers and individual community members. The LRC president
describes how important this was in the eyes of the community:
They were all outsiders. So they were viewed as such at the beginning until, I guess after they
put their time in, so to speak. Because they werent just there for one winter. They were there
for several winters all while the logging was going on ... 1 mean people, after a while, did
start taking (them) seriously.... (A)fter a few years they saw that they were serious and they
6 Interview Sep 1,2007. Transcript on file with author.
7 Interview Aug 30, 2007. Transcript on file with author.
87


werent going to go away ... people knew they were serious and they started joining them
and if not bring them food or somehow show their support for what they were doing.8
Not only did living and working within the community help AFR to understand the
communitys history, land-use practices and their overall way of life, it also served to
win the respect and cooperation of individual farmers and ranchers.
This respect and understanding have been lacking in the relationship between
environmentalists and Hispano communities in New Mexico and in most
environmentalists/subaltern encounters. Before and during the anti-logging
campaign, people in San Luis were warned by Hispanos in New Mexico not to trust
the environmentalists. However, AFR approached the encounter much differently
than the groups in New Mexico. LRC president, Shirley Romero-Otero, explains the
difference:
1 think the reason we didnt bump head with them was they took the time to step back and
analyzed the situation before they went in. They werent headstrong that its just logging,
logging, logging and ignored the rest of the issue. Thats what helped the environmentalists
that went into San Luis and thats what solidified our relationship with them was that they,
this has been a long struggle and you have to respect that and work with the elders who have
been in the struggle. And they did.... So, the problem with the environmentalists in New
Mexico is they havent taken the time to analyze the land grant issue, to understand the history
of the land grant issue and what role the environmentalists play .9
As a result of the strong foundation of respect and understanding developed
between the two groups, a successful coalition was able to exist throughout and
beyond the anti-logging campaign. Perhaps, more important to sustaining the
8 Interview Aug 10, 2007. Transcript on file with author.
9 Interview Aug 10,2007. Transcript on file with author.
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coalition was the agreement that the Taylor Ranch and industrialized, commercial
logging was the enemy. Out of this coalition grew many hybrid forms of activism,
new identities, and a new focus and issue frames that were crucial to the success in
San Luis. The direct action techniques AFR brought to the struggle was a completely
new and foreign tactic to locals. The most common strategy used by the AFR
environmentalists was to create roadblocks by chaining themselves to cattle guards in
order to stop logging trucks from exiting or entering the ranch. Local community
members also joined in the roadblocks. Police arrested both environmentalists and
locals for these actions. Again these actions solidified the bond between the two
groups. The sight of both rural Hispanos and young, white environmentalists both
chained together and being arrested was a powerful image for the news media. These
direct action tactics brought the eyes of the media to the struggle over Taylor Ranch,
not just the regional media out of Denver, but the national media including reports in
the New York Times and on National Public Radio.
The collaboration between AFR, the LRC, other community organizations,
and local community members integrated issues of social injustice and environmental
degradation, an environment justice perspective. The knowledge and discourses that
both sides brought to the table were integrated to create a hybridized, yet coherent,
critique of the logging that rested on the connection between social injustice,
capitalist hegemony, and environmental degradation. The real power lay in a place-
based critique that linked the unjust loss and enclosure of common land and negative
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environmental impact of commercial logging to the same process of capitalist
production, while at the same time contrasting the sustainability of traditional
Hispano land-use practices with that of the current owner and industrial enterprises in
general. What was necessary to facilitate the critique was the integration of
environmental discourses that did not just define la Sierra as solely a stolen land grant
or a wildemess/wildlife habitat, but both.
I went into this study looking at the interaction and transformation of
environmental discourses. What I found was that, in San Luis, no groups discourses
overpowered and silenced the other, but rather, these discourses interacted with
previously held conceptions of the environment (outlined in Chapters 2 and 3),
remaking, not replacing, the way both Hispano activists and white environmentalists
came to perceive the environment. This is not to say that power was not involved in
this encounter. As I will get into more in Chapter 5, the environmentality (Luke
1995) of hegemonic Western environmental discourses is unavoidable, but at the
same time, it does not mean that Hispano communities are completely powerless
against it. The transformation of the discourses of both groups was at the heart of the
successful collaboration and the production of coherent and powerful
counterhegemonic discourses. A strong foundation of respect, understanding, and
agreement on a common enemy facilitated the cultural learning, friction, and
produced new cultural objects.
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Shirley Romero-Otero described her experience with AFR members as an
opportunity to learn about different environmental perspectives. She talks about her
relationship with the environmentalists:
Before the logging started and they came into help us with the logging there was no
relationship with the environmentalists. 1 mean it didnt exist, we didnt know each other.
Im ashamed to admit, 1 think the community was a little ignorant about the environmental
impact. We werent looking at that as much as we were looking at restoring our historic use-
rights. So, there was no relationship until the environmentalists came into the community and
they opened our eyes just like we opened their eyes.io
The Taylor Ranch conflict was the first time the community was heavily exposed to
Western environmentalist discourses on environmental degradation. As she notes,
the community had a general understanding that the logging was greatly affecting the
health of their watershed and the forest ecosystem, but the collaboration with AFR
helped them put together a lucid environmental critique that was presentable in courts
and in terms the general public could get behind. AFR brought an environmental
focus that was lacking prior to their arrival. However, this process of learning went
both ways. Just as the community realized there was more to the struggle, so did the
AFR members. Romero-Otero explains,
When they came into the community and realized there was a bigger issue than the
environment, than just the logging, they kind of took a step back ... and learned about the
bigger issue and then went in full force because I think at that point in time they really
understood what their place was.l 1
Interview Aug 10, 2007. Transcript on file with author.
11 Interview Aug 10,2007. Transcript on file with author.
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At the same time the community learned about issues of environmental impact from
the environmentalists learned about the history of the struggle and about the social
issues.
The coalition of Hispano, grassroots activism and AFR broadened the issue to
include both social and environmental aspects. The community learned from the
environmentalists how to include an environmentally-based critique into their
framing of the struggle. Again, Romero-Otero reiterates this point:
And that, in my opinion, was that (the environmentalists) actually went in and educated the
community about the dangers of logging and just how important that piece of land is in
connection with the rest of the world. I mean cus were not an island, were not isolated. So,
they really opened up our eyes to the environmental impact that the logging had on the
mountain. I mean not like we didnt know about it, but I think they really brought it into focus
for us. 12
What is especially interesting in her description is the last sentence of this account.
While the community definitely knew that the logging was causing harm to la Sierra,
they did not have the discursive tools to coherently critique it in terms that were
useful and powerful outside the community itself until the environmentalists came in.
The encounter in San Luis informed a more complete and coherent criticism of the
logging on the Taylor Ranch and the injustices toward to community.
This is the process of creating a true counterhegemonic discourse. Because
the Hispanos never abandoned their subaltern accounts of their struggle, but
integrated them with a different perspective on the issue into their criticism began
Interview Aug 10, 2007. Transcript on file with author.
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the task of transforming such rough and jagged (accounts) into coherent, powerful,
and plausible cultures(Crehan 2002:127). According to Gramsci, subaltern culture
is, due the fact it is oppressed, are many times backwards and misguided (Crehan
2002). The integration of a Western environmentalist critique helped to create a more
complete picture of their oppression and frame the Hispano struggle in terms the
general public could better understand. In the Gramscian sense, this encounter
influenced organic intellectuals in the San Luis community (and the community as a
whole) who created a broader critique of the conflict and helped move themselves
from being a class-in-itself to being a class-for-itself(Crehan 2002:137).
Romero-Otero explained to me how the encounter furthered her activism and
broadened the focus of the LRC:
Meeting the environmentalists, personally was a big growth to me in my activism. Because
our issue in San Luis is both political and its land based. But, what I learned (from them has)
definitely changed the way 1 think about organizing around land grants. Because you cannot
organize around land grants and talk about protecting the land if you are not educated behind
the biodiversity. We have to look at the birds and we have to look at the fish and we have to
look at the bears and we have to look at all of the pristine wildlife that lives on the mountain
and not just think about logging. 1 mean you cant separate one from the other. Its like
talking about, were going to talk about land grants, but not talk about acequias. Thats
insanity 1 mean you cant separate the two issues and its the same thing with environmental
issues with the wildlife. You cannot talk about land grants if you dont talk about the
biodiversity that exists within those land grants. Especially us because our land grant is a
mountain. Its, I mean, gee look at it, youve got a fourteener, weve got to realize that thats
there and what that does to hikers and the availability to those people. We need to understand
the fish and the ity-bity spotted owl and that ity-bity little bird that some people say, well
fuck that little bird, who gives a shit about that. We cant think that way anymore.13
She learned the importance of framing land grant issues in a fashion that speaks to the
loss of biodiversity. While she never lost her positionality, as a subaltern, working
13
Interview Aug 10,2007. Transcript on file with author.
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with the environmentalists expanded her understanding of the issue in a sense that
could gather more support from ordinary citizens outside Costilla County. However,
she never separated this from the fact that the Hispano way of life and regaining
access to common lands can protect species.
The exposure to environmentalists discourses changed the way the Hispano
activists framed their struggle, organized politically, and viewed the environment.
Romero-Otero sums up the whole experience from her point of view:
So, having the environmentalists come in changed the way we all think. Those of use that
were entrenched with them and working with them in the lock down. We learned more than
we would have in sitting in any class because it was hands on, they were there, it was
happening at the time. We also learned how to organize politically. Because were two
different ethnic groups. Whats important to them may not have been important to us and vice
versa. So, weve learned to respect each other and understand each others way of thinking,
environmentally, around the land. 14
The encounter was undoubtedly a learning experience, in which two different
cultures, with completely different ways of viewing the environment and areas of
importance came to understand each other ways of thinking and then incorporate
what they learned in their activism. At the root of this learning experience was a
broadly shared goal to save the land from logging and most importantly a common
enemy. Romero-Otero explains this:
They wanted to save the land. We wanted to save the land, but our reasons were a little bit
more selfish. Because we directly benefit from them. They dont live in the community.
They dont own land. But, they saw it as a piece of mother earth that was being destroyed and
it had connections to the east, north, south, and west of us. So they had a bigger picture,
right? But, we kind of came together in the middle and understood each others struggle and
the passions that we have for that piece of land, whether we looked at it as something that was
handed down to us a heir or they saw it as just another piece of mother earth.... It was a real
coming together of cultures at a very grassroots level and understanding who we are as
Interview Aug 10, 2007. Transcript on file with author.


people. 1 think the biggest thing we learned was, you know what? Were people who have a
passion for saving the land from the greedy corporations and the U.S. government and using
that as a premise we were able to move on and not say, well 1 dont trust you because youre
a white woman or a white man, you know.15
Again, what I think is interesting and important in this narrative is that they were able
to build on the very broad goal, simply to save the land from greedy corporations, and
move on from there. They were able to acknowledge that they were different, but
they focused on learning what they had in common, not on their differences. The
friction cause by the encounter produced a learning experience and the opportunity
for the production of new discourses that included aspects of both sets of discourses
that entered the encounter.
While the encounter influenced the perspective of Hispano activists it seemed
to me that the members of AFR whom I spoke with actually experienced a more
drastic transformation in their view of the environment. Nature, at least, la Sierra was
seen as an inhabited wilderness a wild place that included humans and their use of
natural resources. One former member describes the difference of the Hispano way
of life with that of Western capitalist society and how it influenced their perspective:
They would use the grass resources for grazing and the wood resources for building homes,
corrals, fences, but there was never the sort of exploitation, you know wrenching the resources
all at once, maximizing profits and moving on. It was definitely a more year by year,
sustainable type of lifestyle that they had was very intertwined with the environment that most
of use never experienced before.... So, yeah it kind of opened our eyes that, hey, this can
(work). We always thought, you know, it was kind of BS. People using the resources
sustainablely and we always felt like, no weve never seen that happen., so, you either got to
put heavy protections on it or just let it be a free for all.... But, just knowing that that type of
balance can exist and happens here and probably happened a lot more in the past. 1 think
15 Interview Aug 10, 2007. Transcript on file with author.
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that probably made us a lot more open-minded to uses of the forest. . not just like its either
off limits or you can go in there and destroy it and theres not much in between. 16
I think the most telling piece is the final italicized portion. The experience of living
and working directly with Hispano activists and farmers, at least for this member,
opened his mind to environmental solutions outside of strictly protected areas. He
goes on to say:
I would definitely say that the experience of being here sort of opened our eyes to that type of
use and relationship with the land that we really hadnt seen before. You know, its such a
personal kind of relationship people have. 17
He makes the strong distinction between the Hispano community and capitalist
society.
Even if people are taking down trees with chainsaws and when the Taylor Ranch was doing
their logging they were using these giant feller-forwarder machines that could take down like
11,000 trees a day or something ridiculous. And its such an impersonal mechanized,
industrial type of relationship when people do that. But, here when people are filling up the
back of their beds of their pickup trucks full of wood and are out there kind of hand picking
and choosing certain types of wood for it. Its just a totally other way of seeing it and that
definitely rubbed off on for sure. 18
Before the encounter, AFR held a strong separation between humans and nature and
believed the only way to protect the environment from capitalist development was to
make all economic activities off limits accept recreation, as in the Western
conservation model, the protected area. Their experience in San Luis put them in a
16 Interview Aug 30,2007. Transcript on file with author.
17 Interview Aug 30,2007. Transcript on file with author.
18
Interview Aug 30, 2007. Transcript on file with author.
96