DUNCAN — Farmers and ranchers from around the region gathered this past weekend again to discuss the reality facing local water users.

The meeting, held at the Baptist Church in Duncan, welcomed Republican congressional candidates from Arizona and New Mexico to hear about their concerns and ongoing legal battles that threaten their livelihoods.

“The main thing I want to impress on them is to remember us,” organizer Richard Kaler said.

It’s a common call to action from politicians and not the first time this group has reached out for help.

Chris Taylor, from Safford, is a candidate for Congressional District 1 in Arizona and described the current state of political affairs, saying, “I see a severe crisis of leadership in Congress.”

Taylor claims a local heritage dating back to the 1870s

“I will not forget you when I go to Washington,” he told the crowd in regard to the ongoing legal battles with water rights. “I’m going to rely on you, who are the experts.”

Yvette Herrell, a Republican running for New Mexico’s Second Congressional District, set a less conciliatory tone in her address. The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were among those who came under fire from Herrell for their policies. Herrell, in particular, took umbrage with those agencies affecting the oil and gas, and water permitting process for businesses and corporations.

Herrell lost the election in 2018 to current officeholder, U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M.

Until those politicians have a chance to make good on their promises, however, it continues to be business as usual for ranchers and farmers in their fight for water. The Center for Biological Diversity began the process to file suit against the Forest Service earlier this month, claiming it failed to keep cattle away from water sources (the Gila, Tularosa, San Francisco, Eagle Creek and Blue rivers), threatening water quality and habitats for endangered species. Kaler himself is a target in that most recent lawsuit.

Kaler said he continues to fight against the current, adding, “It’s just been a constant barrage of lawsuits.”

“One of the cornerstones of Greenlee County is ranching, and it is very important to our county identity, history and economy,” Greenlee County Supervisor Ron Campbell wrote, decrying the lawsuit. “This is just another attempt of many, over the past 25 years to kill an industry that helped build this great country. I will make sure that we are at the table to ensure our voice is heard.”

Fellow Supervisor Richard Lunt echoed Campbell’s sentiments.

Aside from the lawsuit, the situation remains otherwise the same, with hot lands remaining the most contentious issue. Rulings from the Globe Equity Decree still stymie legal efforts. It’s business as usual for lawyers, who collect their fees with no end in sight.

Jeanette Tyler, a constant voice for farmers at these meetings, announced she had begun the process to close down her farm. In addition to draining legal costs, Tyler’s husband, Ray, began to suffer dementia five months ago. That put an end to a lifetime of hard work from a local girl who once swore she’d never marry a farmer and move back to Duncan.

“So far, everything’s been bad for us,” she said. “It wasn’t supposed to end this way.”

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