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Report: NM Has Already Sold Off 30 Percent of Its Public Lands

New Mexico conservationists are worried about taking public lands out of public hands. (Creative Commons/Flikr)
New Mexico conservationists are worried about taking public lands out of public hands. (Creative Commons/Flikr)
March 21, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – About 30 percent of New Mexico state trust lands have been sold over the years, and a new report shows why that long-term trend is a concern for sportsmen and conservation groups. The Wilderness Society report says privatization means when people go hunting, fishing, hiking and camping in these areas, they're likely met with "no trespassing" signs, rather than the pristine open spaces they've come to expect.

Michael Casaus, the group's state director, says in New Mexico, it's typically fossil fuel and mining companies that benefit from these land transfers.

"Well I think the concern is, and history has borne this out, that if our public lands are privatized altogether, or if the states seized control of our federal public lands, that those public lands are often sold to the highest bidder," he said.

The report says in New Mexico, the state land commissioner has sole discretion to sell the state trust lands. It says these deals often are pushed by the American Lands Council, which has ties to businesses that stand to profit from privatization. And Republican Congressman Steve Pearce is on record as favoring what he calls "reversing the trend of public ownership" of land.

Since 2013, twelve bills have been introduced in the State Legislature to transfer ownership of national forests, wildlife refuges, parks and other shared lands from federal management to the states. It's part of a growing movement in the West, but the report warns that states would likely sell the land when they can't afford to manage it.

Casaus says this ignores poll after poll showing people want public lands to remain public and accessible.

"State trust lands have been sold to private interests, extractive industries, many of whom endanger the health, environment and economy of our local communities," he added.

The Wilderness Society report says 90 percent of hunting and fishing takes place on public lands, with an annual boost of $579 million to New Mexico's economy. It warns that complete privatization of land in the state also could threaten more than 68,000 jobs.

Brett McPherson/Shaine Smith, Public News Service - NM