RIP, Ron Gardiner

By KAY MATTHEWS

I went to the memorial for Ron Gardiner on Saturday, November 5 in Taos, where many folks who knew him better than I talked about the totality of a man: an activist, artist, expert on watershed management and wildfire prevention, a hunter of grouse and elk, a backcountry hiker and skier, a dog lover, a lover and a friend, a contrarian, and a colleague of mine trying to prevent Taos County’s water from flowing south to money.

I was in the same venue four years ago for a memorial service for another Taos area activist and artist, Butchie Denver (Trudy and Ed Healy underwrote both memorials). Ron, Butchie, and I all served as members of a subcommittee of the Taos Regional Water Plan that developed the Public Welfare statement for the plan. All of the state’s regional water plans were mandated to draft these statements as it became increasingly clear that contention over management and distribution of water was only going to increase in a period of extended drought and climate change. These public welfare statements were to be drafted by stakeholders in each region, reflecting the interests and needs of that locality so that water resources could be protected and enhanced through sound management.

What Ron, Butchie, and I soon discovered is that certain forces both outside and within our Taos locality were not ready to come on board. Decisions had already been made at the state level to support the terms of the Aamodt Adjudication Settlement to move Taos County water rights to the Pojoaque Valley for a water delivery system to the pueblos and non-pueblo residents who are parties to that adjudication. Decisions had already been made within Taos County to move acequia water rights from one water basin to another to support the terms of the Abeyta Adjudication Settlement. We all saw this as helping open a door to the commodification of water.

Taos County is a protestant to the proposed movement of those water rights to the Pojoaque Valley, which I will write about later this week. What struck me at Ron’s memorial was that losing both Ron and Butchie was not only the loss of two unique individuals but the loss of a repository of work, knowledge, and experience they accumulated over many years. They both had long lived in Taos communities—Ron in Questa, Butchie in Lama—volunteered on numerous Taos County committees, worked for and butted heads with local politicos, wrote reports and developed management plans, and learned to navigate the incredibly complex cultural world that is northern New Mexico.

Their loss is particularly acute for me as a longtime journalist and activist. They had my back in so many ways: as a source of expertise in the complexities of hydrology, water mapping, and watershed management; as co-members on the Taos County Public Welfare Advisory Committee whose mandate was to provide oversight of proposed water transfers; as navigators in the bureaucratic and political Taos Valley world of which they knew infinitely more than I.

Several folks at Ron’s memorial remarked on the journey he had made from Patterson, New Jersey (Butchie was a southern California surfer girl) to Questa, New Mexico, from the “outsider” to the “insider,” or what some call a “recovering” environmentalist. His friend and neighbor Victor Mascareñas was quoted in J.R.Logan’s article about Ron in the Taos News explaining this transformation: “He was a radical when I met him. He thought the water belonged to the river and I thought it belonged to me because of my water right. But over time, we learned so much from each other. In the end, we decided it was all about community.” Ron’s engagement with science, policy development (he worked for years as a legislative staffer), and community planning and advocacy brought him to a place where environmentalism meant the empowerment of community to sustain our forest and water resources as a bulwark against exploitative development.

RIP, Ron and Butchie. The rest of us just got to keep tryin’.

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