"That's a little disturbing. I have misgiving about this," said Alisa Ogden, a Carlsbad rancher and past president of the New Mexico Cattle Grower's Association. "This is something several environmental groups have been trying to get done with Forest Service leases and permits on other public lands."
The BLM placed a notice in the Federal Register Wednesday announcing a change in the way the agency handles certain personal information relating to public land ranchers.
According to the BLM, the change is a result of a recent ruling of the U.S. District Court for Idaho. The BLM says personal telephone numbers and financial information about public land ranchers will not be made available on the website.
But Woods Houghton, Eddy County Extension Service agriculture agent, said he is not so sure that the financial information concerning BLM permitees and lessees can be kept confidential.
"It probably wouldn't take a genius to figure it out. Anyone with a calculator can figure out the financial situation of the rancher if certain information is made available," Houghton said. "It might be harder to figure that out in states where there is more private land mixed in with federal leases. But in this part of the country it is different. "We have year-round grazing and if someone knows the number of acres in the grazing permit and the number of cattle, it is easy to figure out the rancher's financial situation. Can you imagine someone publishing the inventory of a hardware store, or any business? It would give their competitors an edge."
Ogden agreed and added that any information about a rancher's business made publically accessible could be detrimental to the rancher.
"A lot of the time, when applying for a loan for any type of work on the ranch, what you have is taken into consideration," Ogden said. "Having information about the rancher on the Website could be detrimental. It can be used against you by a lender. The leasing of public lands is a contract between you and the government. You usually don't publically disclose contract information. That's something that should not be let out."
Eddy County Commissioner Lewis Derrick, a rancher from Artesia whose ranching operation is about 50 percent on BLM leased lands, said he intends to read the notice in the Federal Register before determining the full impact of the measure.
"I really haven't heard too much about what this will do to us. As long as they don't publish any financial information it won't bother me," he said. "I'm not exactly sure what more — other than our name and address — they plan to post on there. If I find that it will have a negative impact on me, I'll be among those who will file a comment against the proposal."
Derrick said he plans to read the publication in the Federal Register and make further a comment at Tuesday's commission meeting.
According to the BLM, the record system change, formally known as a notice of amendment to an existing system of records, seeks to balance mandates from two federal laws with different purposes — the Freedom of Information Act of 1966 (as amended) which calls for full or partial disclosure of certain government records, and the Privacy Act of 1974 (as amended) that establishes procedures governing the collection, maintenance, use and dissemination of personal indentifying information about individuals.
Following the publishing
of the intent in the Federal Register, unless comments
received would require a contrary determination, the
change will take effect after the 40-day public comment
period ends on Feb. 7.