“During the last several months, the Board of Lincoln County Commissioners has been informed by private landowners of discussions initiated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the NM Game & Fish (NMG&F) and the State Land Office (SLO) regarding what seems to be a joint position that the current process of granting access to public (BLM) lands by landowners across private land is too restrictive. The conflicting position of the landowners is that the current process has been in place and has been adequate for years, and is not restrictive,” Taylor said.
The Lincoln County commissioners assigned the matter to its Land and Natural Resources Advisory Committee (LANRAC) to consider the various positions, and to advise the Commission.
“We meet them at the gate, ask how long they’ll be there and let them in.” Jim Grider, Lincoln County rancher doesn’t see a problem with keeping things the way they are. He’s not alone.
Long-time ranchers attended LANRAC’s monthly meeting to express concern regarding federal proposals to build roads for public access to federal lands which are off road and are accessed through private property.
The meeting held by LANRAC on June 5 was well attended by broad representation from private land owners, BLM, NMG&F, county commission and staff, professional hunting guides, individual hunters, Congressman Steve Pearce’s office, Fort Stanton Cave Study Project, the media and others.
BLM provided statistics stating 88 square miles (67 percent) of the area in question is managed by BLM, 19 square miles (15 percent) are NM State Trust Lands and 24 square miles (18 percent) are held privately. BLM and NMG&F pointed out that the public lands are largely inaccessible to the public and reported that their preferred solution would be to purchase easements from local ranchers, which would enable access across private lands to public lands.
Chuck Schmidt, BLM Field Manager and Leon Redman, NM Game and Fish Chief came to present current progress reports. “It’s not true open access when you have locked up BLM land.” Schmidt spoke at length about the issue of access restriction to federal lands due to the lack of roads connecting highways to sections in question.
Their much less desirable second option is to work with the SLO to purchase an easement to build a new road that would intersect with existing roads on BLM and SLO land, now used by ranchers (holding BLM and SLO leases) and other individuals who have obtained permission from the landowner to be on the property.
Taylor further stated in her letter, “The landowners were in agreement that the public has the right to be on the public lands and that today’s process to allow access into these lands is adequate. Currently a member of the public seeking access would contact the rancher at the particular point of entry, and the rancher would arrange for entry, either through the provisioning of a key or the combination to a lock.”
Private landowners listed a number of reasons to maintain the current policy as it is: The ranchers are the stewards of the land, providing water to both livestock and wild game. Their property rights would be compromised by increased access: roads, property, assets (such as windmills) have already been damaged by the public, with no opportunity to recoup losses. Unlawful activity, such as poaching and the killing of cattle already exists with monitored access, and would undoubtedly increase with unmonitored access.
LANRAC members pointed out that the county currently has entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with federal agencies that ensures county leadership is made aware of and is part of the decision-making process regarding issues impacting county residents, and other matters impacting the health of the county.
County Commissioner Jackie Powell agreed with the current policy stating, “I grew up on forest-leased land. I’m all for public access, but I’m only in favor of it if law enforcement is stepped up.” Ranchers and Powell are concerned area enforcement is strapped thin already, leaving no one to monitor activities if access is wide open. Powell mentioned the possibility of drug cartels utilizing any new public service roads installed.
The current plan is a guide to protect the private rights, protect and enhance the customs and cultures, and the economy and tax base necessary for both the well-being of the people and for the environmental quality.
“As such, LANRAC recommended no change from current practice for granting access to public lands through private lands to the Board of Lincoln County Commissioners. The Commission found that the issue is one strongly linked to private property rights, and fully supports the recommendation of the LANRAC that the current practice for private landowners to grant access across their lands to public lands remain in place,” Taylor said
The concludes with an affirmation of The Board of Commissioners strongly and respectfully requesting that the NM Commissioner of Public Lands endorse its finding, and subsequently not allow the BLM to purchase an easement from SLO to build new roads that would intersect with existing roads on BLM and SLO land.