Across the West, a dangerous movement of radical fringe groups and oil, mining and other development interests are buying off politicians to “transfer” America’s federal wildlands to the states where they can be sold to private companies for profit.
Chamisa Wilderness Study Area. Credit: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr. If "land takeover" schemes succeed, everyday Americans could be locked out of beloved public lands.
Multiple bills have been introduced by anti-conservation politicians in New Mexico to turn millions of acres of public lands over to the state and create studies or task forces to study the process of seizing these lands.
These extremists want the states to own and manage Bureau of Land Management and national forest lands, wildlife refuges and even wilderness areas. In New Mexico, this could mean seizure and sale of beloved recreation lands in places like Otero Mesa, the Jemez, and the Rio Grande del Norte. What would happen to these lands—and why is it so important that we prevent it from happening? Read on to find out.
Reasons to fight against land takeovers in New Mexico
1) Land takeovers could hurt New Mexico's economy. People visit New Mexico to enjoy the state's vibrant landscapes and participate in outdoor recreation. In 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available, tourists spent $6.08 billion in the state, making it the fifth year in a row that visitor spending increased--and 62 percent of overnight visitors engaged in outdoor recreation, nearly twice the national average. Unsurprisingly, outdoor recreation makes a lot of money for New Mexico: $6.1 billion in consumer spending annually, directly supporting 68,000 jobs. If access to the land is cut off for some people, a significant slice of the state's economy could be in jeopardy.
2) New Mexicans like their public lands just the way they are. Similar to visitors to the Land of Enchantment, many people live in New Mexico because of the freedom to access the great outdoors. Out-of-state, corporate interests who want to line their pockets are out of touch with local values. New Mexicans treasure these lands because they are an integral part of their culture, contribute to healthy communities, attract businesses and talent, and provide endless outdoor recreation opportunities. They largely reject land takeover maneuvers. In fact:
- 74% of New Mexicans say they think public lands like national parks and forests should belong to everyone in the U.S. vs. to the people of New Mexico (only 21% said these lands should belong to the people of New Mexico).
- 68% of New Mexicans oppose having state government and taxpayers assume full control of managing national public lands.
- Only 33% of New Mexicans think they can trust the state government “to do what is right” most of the time.
- 78% of New Mexicans reject the idea of selling off federal public lands as a way to reduce the budget deficit.
- 85% of New Mexicans see protecting and conserving natural areas for future generations as a "very important" priority for pubic lands. To that end, 94% feel it is important to ensure that park rangers and other staff have the resources to care for these lands and help visitors.
- 84% of New Mexicans say that public lands are an "essential" part of the state's economy; 69% agree that they help attract high quality employers and good jobs to the state.
3) New Mexico can't afford land takeovers. Literally. It has been estimated that in the event of a state land takeover, New Mexico would need to hire at least 2,000 more employees, costing an additional $218 million annually, to manage the land at the same level as it is now. It is likely that this new burden would spur the sale or development of some public lands, and many core land management issues—such as water scarcity—would remain just as problematic as they are under federal management. The cost of dealing with wildfires alone could be prohibitive; in fiscal year 2011, the Forest Service spent $155 million on fire suppression in New Mexico, which exceeded the state’s entire law enforcement budget that same year.
4) Regular people will be locked out of beloved lands. Nearly one-third of New Mexico is public land, and that includes some of the most singular wild places anywhere in America, like Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument and the "sky islands" of the Cibola National Forest. These places are currently open for camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, biking, off-road riding and other "multiple uses." But the mandate of the state is such that if New Mexico were to seize the lands, it would be inclined to manage them in a way that makes the state money, rather than guaranteeing broad access. This means everyday Americans could be locked out. A report from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership expressed concern that land takeovers could close off access to sportsmen, specifically, and identified a high-profile example of a land that could be seized: the "Bootheel" region of southwest New Mexico, a prized getaway for hunters.
5) New Mexico groups and leaders are against it. In addition to being out of touch with everyday New Mexicans (and Americans who might want to visit New Mexico wildlands), many of the state's leaders, major advocacy groups and public institutions are against such takeovers. Sen. Martin Heinrich has expressed concern to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch about the "growing campaign by anti-government interests to seize and sell off the American people's public lands" and editorialized against the movement. Leaders from sportsman and conservation groups like Trout Unlimited, the New Mexico Wildlife Federation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have spoken out against land takeover attempts.
Sportsmen, business leaders, rational elected officials and conservationists are standing together to prevent land seizure measures from becoming law. But they need support to show politicians that Americans won’t tolerate these privatization efforts in New Mexico or elsewhere.
The threat is real, and now is the time to stand up.
INFOGRAPHIC: HOW NEW MEXICO FEELS ABOUT ITS PUBLIC LANDS