Updated: May 6, 2014 at 3:31 pm
ALAMOGORDO, N.M. (AP) — Officials in a drought-stricken southern New Mexico county object to the U.S. Forest Service putting up fences and locking gates that keep ranchers' cattle away from water in a mountain riparian area of the Lincoln National Forest.
The Otero County Commission voted Monday to seek a court order for the county sheriff to unlock four gates on Forest Service fences near the Agua Chiquita riparian area, the Alamogordo Daily News (http://bit.ly/1fMiDCD ) reported.
The county commission in April sent the Forest Service a letter ordering to halt fencing work in the area.
Commissioner Tommie Harrell asked Forest Service Supervisor Travis Moseley during the meeting to unlock a few gates to allow cattle easier access to water, but Moseley declined.
Mosely also told the commission that the fencing work is legal and necessary to allow multiple uses of forest land and to protect endangered species.
Blair Dunn, an attorney for the county, said the Forest Service doesn't have the right to appropriate water for wildlife.
"They have no lawful right to the stream," Dunn said. "So to pen something off for wildlife to go drink and to appropriate that water for wildlife when they don't have the necessary legal permits or rights to do so amounts to an illegal diversion of water."
Rancher Judyann Holcomb Medeiros said fencing cattle away from water puts them at risk. "During the drought, our cattle have to walk extended lengths to reach water," she said.
The fencing, she said, "also causes the cattle to use the heavily used county road, and we have had cattle hit and killed or severely crippled or damaged by the impacts."