"Its a slap in the face to local communities that have been here for 300 years," Antonio "Ike" DeVargas said Monday (June 19). "We have a history of preserving the land. What we have here is discrimination, pure and simple. It makes us all look pretty stupid."
DeVargas, speaking for the Vallecitos Federal Sustained Yield Unit Association centered in Vallecitos, says he's angry that the Forest Service can't "or won't" do anything to stop the projected gathering of 5,000 to 20,000 Rainbow Family members who intend to make the meadows near the Cruces Basin north of Tres Piedras in the Carson National Forest their home for the next six to eight weeks.
The infrastructure for the national gathering is being built right now, including kitchens, latrines and water sources. More than 1,500 are already estimated to be on the site with more arriving every day.
Carson officials maintain they cannot stop the gathering or even require a permit, thanks to a recent court confirming the Rainbow Family's freedom to assemble.
Carson public affairs officer Gary Schiff said that ideally, the Forest Service would want a full environmental analysis done before a site is chosen, to determine the best site when considering health and safety issues, the protection of public resources and traffic impacts.
DeVargas said that is exactly what would happen if his "little" group wanted to bid on a timber sale in that same area.
"This makes a statement about forest uses," DeVargas said. "It also makes a statement about the so-called environmentalists, the prima donnas who are conspicuous by their silence, their absence, in this whole thing."
DeVargas maintains that the Forest Guardians, the Forest Conservation Council, Carson Forest Watch and other environmental organizations are supported by family members.
"That is their constituency out there, their letter->writers, the backbone of their support," DeVargas said. "They're not going to say anything."
DeVargas said his group has long fought for the right to harvest the unit, an area earmarked for local economies by the federal government in the 1940s.
"But no one ever listens to us - not the Forest Service, not the environmentalists," DeVargas said. "We're talking about a very sensitive area. We're talking about elk calving going on right now. We're talking about cutting down trees right and left, green trees. If we go out and collect a pickup load of dead and down firewood without a permit, the Forest Service will follow us right onto our property. It makes us look like a bunch of idiots."
DeVargas said he is organizing "as many of the outraged public as possible" for a trip to the Rainbow Family gathering site Sunday (June 25).
"We'll meet at the junction of State Road 111 and U.S. 285, near the propane company, starting around 9 a.m.," he said. "We should be able to leave around 10 a.m. and get there around 11 a.m."
DeVargas said the purpose of the trip is not to confront the Rainbow Family but to make them aware.
"People don't like to get together unless they have a hot topic to link them together," he said. "I hope this is hot enough for them. Our intent is not to harass them. But they should know it's our forest, too. In fact, it's our home. And we don't like what they're doing to it."
DeVargas said to call him at  753-2992 for more information.
DeVargas is not the only one concerned by the Rainbow gathering.
A U.S. Forest Service Incident Command Team of around 30 to 40 people assembled Monday to prepare for the Rainbow Family. The team uses the same management techniques as for forest fires.
Also, Taos police chief Neil Curran said that a meeting held Tuesday (June 20) brought together every law enforcement, emergency services and public agency in Taos County and the surrounding area - "except representatives from the District Attorney's office" - to address the problems they all will face.
"So far we're dealing with petty crimes," Curran said, "trespassing, shoplifting, panhandling. The people that provide public commodities have been affected, as have the services at Holy Cross Hospital. Many of these people coming can pay their way, but most cannot. The merchants also should know they will be the targets of fraud and theft."
Also on the offensive are officials at Holy Cross Hospital. Hospital director Rita Campbell told her department managers that "Holy Cross Hospital has a very sufficient and serious challenge facing us... I have been working with Curran in attempting to secure off-duty police on the emergency room [and] we have increased staffing... There will be a command station in Tres Piedras for us to coordinate when we can no longer handle patients. We are requesting funding from the state to assist in costs."
Curran said making matters worse is the music festival planned for July 4 in Angel Fire. [One World Music Festival, July 1-4, 1-800-909-9753]
"The concert promoter has invited the Rainbow Family to attend," Curran said. "I'm sure a lot of them will take him up on the offer."