February 5, 2015
Legislative bills could require NM public lands to be transferred to the state
By Marielle Dent for the Daily Lobo
February 5, 2015
Mark Allison, executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, spoke with the Daily Lobo about the debate surrounding the transfer of public lands. NM Wild is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting New Mexico wilderness.
If the bill is passed, what are the most likely outcomes?
“Rep. Yvette Herrell introduced HB 291, the ‘NM Federal Land Management Study Commission’ (on Wednesday). Bills were introduced in 2013 and 2014 in the New Mexico State Legislature which would have required 23 million acres of public land in New Mexico to be transferred to the state. The bills did not make it out of committee in either year. However, this year there is of course a new Republican majority and committee structure in the House. HB 291 would appropriate $100,000 to create a commission to study the transfer of national public lands to the state.”
How would the lands and New Mexico citizens be affected if the bill passed?
“I’d start by noting that these public lands are American places and are the birthright of all Americans. And just as we inherited them, we want to pass them along to future generations.
Most immediately, if lands were actually transferred to the state, New Mexicans would see their ability to access the places they know and love restricted. We are used to camping, backpacking and snowshoeing and fishing, for example, on our national lands, whereas state lands typically require permits and fees or outright prohibit these kinds of activities. Our heritage and traditions would be at serious risk. If the lands were privatized — say, bought by a wealthy out-of-state land owner — you can kiss that place goodbye because you won’t be seeing it again.
Another thing people should know is that state lands do not have the kinds of environmental protections that national public lands do, which would put these lands at much greater risk to development and degradation.”
Why is it unconstitutional?
“It is well established in the U.S. Constitution, state constitution and by the Supreme Court that the federal government is entitled to retain jurisdiction over public land and that no attempt by a state to supersede it is legitimate. The main thing to know is that these kinds of bills are part of a larger effort across the West that are hostile to our national public lands. Spending money on a commission to “study” the idea or spending millions of dollars to litigate a transfer at the expense of taxpayers, like Utah is currently doing, is an absolutely terrible idea.”
What will it take to succeed legislatively in securing protection of the lands?
“I think it is important to note that a large majority of Americans do not want federal public land transferred to state control. Across political parties, 78 percent of New Mexicans state consistent support for public land and 74 percent believe that these lands belong to all Americans. New Mexicans are the most likely of any respondents from any other Western state to reject the sale of federal public lands as a means to reduce the federal deficit. 75 percent of New Mexicans said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who proposes the sale of federal public lands.”
In a recent interview with KSFR, Republican Representative Herrell said that New Mexico would save money by gaining management of public lands. New Mexico sends more money to the federal government by way of land management fees and gas and oil royalties than it would spend owning the land, she said. She also said the state would never privatize the land and has no reason to. What is your response?
“I’d say talk is cheap, but this transfer idea sure isn’t. New Mexicans would see a hit to their wallets. For New Mexico to manage the land at the same level as it is now, the state would need to hire at least 2,000 more state employees, costing an additional $218 million annually. This estimate does not include additional funds for fire suppression — a single wildfire can cost $100 million to fight. These are costs which would be borne by New Mexican taxpayers.
As far as her guarantee that they would never be privatized, sales and transfers of state land in New Mexico have already reduced the state land trust to 9 million acres, from the 13 million it was granted at statehood. There is nothing in these bills that would require the state to retain the lands for the public’s use. In fact, since our state requires a balanced budget, it is easy to see how the state would be forced to raise taxes or auction off these lands to the highest bidder — or both.”
What can concerned citizens and students do to become involved?
“Emails and phone calls to your district legislators really do make a difference. Tell them you vote and you are watching. Tell them that HB 291 is a horrible idea. Write a letter to the editor. Check out our website at www.nmwild.org to learn more, or better yet, become a member and help us fight for the permanent protection of our special public lands. Join us in Santa Fe at the Roundhouse on February 11 for Wildlands Lobby Day. Stop by our table to say hello and pick up some materials. We need your help.”