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Border agroterrorism workshop heads to tribal land

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP)--Laguna Pueblo officials hope an agricultural terrorism course being held at the pueblo in mid-April will help create a way for tribes to coordinate their emergency preparedness plans for livestock and crops with the state's plan.

The course, "Preparedness and Response to Agricultural Terrorism," focuses on preparing the agricultural industry in case of a major attack, but also provides a framework for dealing with more common threats, including animal and plant diseases. It will be the first course of its kind on pueblo land and geared specifically toward pueblo farmers and ranchers.

"This is the most comprehensive class available to teach how to recognize and deal with issues that might affect agriculture whether from accidental, natural or criminal cause," said Billy Dictson, co-director of the Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center and director of New Mexico State University's Office of Biosecurity in Las Cruces.

Ken Tiller, emergency management coordinator with Laguna Pueblo, said he requested the training because the state's preparedness plan didn't address how it would coordinate with pueblos in case of an incident.

"The tribes are sovereign, but most of our lands are right next door, like Laguna and Acoma, and they weren't included in the state's basic plan," Tiller said. "This is an effort to start doing outreach to the tribes and it will help fill in the gap that wasn't addressed by the state."

The course, led by Louisiana State University's National Center for Biomedical Research and Training and Academy of Counter Terrorism Education, is tailored to teach the tools farmers and ranchers need to create and implement a response plan, said Jeff Witte, director of agriculture biosecurity for the state Department of Agriculture and co-director of the Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center.

Though the class is designed as a response to terrorism, it also provides producers "core values" in preparing for any kind of issue that could impact the agriculture industry, Witte said.

"We talk about all the unique aspects involved in responding to an agricultural emergency, such as agroterrorism, but (the course) has moved into an all-hazards approach," Witte said. "We talk about unique response characteristics, say, if you were dealing with a large outbreak of disease, and how to dispose of affected crops and animals."

New Mexico agriculture has not been involved in recent food-related salmonella outbreaks due mainly to its smaller industries, but awareness is still imperative, Witte said.

"In New Mexico, food and agriculture is a big part of our economy and our national security," he said. "Being a border state, it's at the forefront. The goal is to quickly control the distribution of an outbreak, and then we can get a handle on it and move on.

"Some of our pueblos have taken an aggressive stance, as (agriculture) is part of their economy as well," Witte added.

Ten agroterrorism training sessions have been held around the state since 2003.

The class deals heavily with preparedness by livestock producers, since many pueblos have a large amount of ranching and farming on their land.

Laguna Pueblo alone grazes thousands of cattle on roughly 300,000 acres, or half of its land, Tiller said.

The course also is geared toward traditional emergency responders such as law enforcement officers, community and emergency planners, as well as transportation personnel and distribution-delivery companies involved in biosecurity efforts.

With cattle grazing pastures on both sides of Interstate 40, Tiller said he worries that an outbreak of disease could occur at any time.

"Diseases could get into that area if you have a truck accident, like the one we had recently, that broke the fence where cattle roam, and we need to have the state involved with us," Tiller said.

After the course, Laguna Pueblo officials plan to sit down with officials of state agencies and sign agreements to share resources and to support the pueblo's preparedness plans, Tiller said.

"We want to get our quarantine process to mirror the state's. It's important for us as tribes and the state to look at each other as true partners," he said. "We need to be a little more involved with each other. We're growing up, coming of age, and we need to understand each other a little better."

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