At noon today, hikers, hunters and horseback riders will finally be able to enter the Sabinoso Wilderness Area in northern New Mexico. U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sent out a Tweet last night announcing that his office had finalized the transfer of private land to the federal government. “Excited to announce tonight that for the first time ever #hunters can access the Sabinoso Wilderness Area.”
Excited to announce tonight that for the first time ever #hunters can access the Sabinoso Wilderness Area. pic.twitter.com/THeFjHBMbr— Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) November 10, 2017
Congress designated the wilderness area in 2009, but people were not able to actually access the federally-administered lands because they were “landlocked” by private lands. At that time, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management contacted the Wilderness Land Trust and asked the nonprofit to buy a neighboring ranch and donate it to the federal government.
The New Mexico State Land Office and the U.S. Department of the Interior are working out the details on a land trade involving more than 120,000 acres in the state, including some lands within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and the Sabinoso Wilderness. State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn announced this week that the federal government approved an agreement to transfer 43,000 acres of state-owned lands and mineral leases within the monument and the wilderness to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In return, New Mexico will gain about 78,000 acres in 13 counties from the BLM. Of the state trust lands “locked” within the national monument, Dunn said 25 percent of those aren’t currently leased for grazing. That means New Mexico isn’t earning all the income it could, he said, adding that “because of the way it’s checkerboarded with BLM, it’s hard to develop other things, like gravel or any other uses.”
The State Land Office administers nine million acres of surface lands and 13 million acres of subsurface mineral rights.
At the beginning of Ryan Zinke’s tenure as Interior Secretary, the sporting community was hopeful: He’s from Montana. He’s a sportsman himself. And his first public meeting was with hook-and-bullet groups. as many sportsmen have begun to feel that the Interior Department is giving short shrift to conservation. Chief among sportsmen’s concerns are the Trump administration’s push for energy development on public lands, the loosening of sage grouse protections and other regulatory rollbacks, and Zinke’s recommendations to shrink national monuments.
The U.S. Department of the Interior issued a press release about Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recent visit to the Sabinoso Wilderness in northern New Mexico—and a land transfer that would allow the federal government to open up a “landlocked” wilderness area to the public. The announcement left many involved with the issue confused. That’s because the secretary didn’t say he was denying or approving the land transfer. Rather, he said he “intend(s) to finalize the process to consider whether to accept” the donation of 3,595 acres of private land. In other words, he would start the process of making a decision.
In New Mexico last week, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke met with elected leaders, local sportsmen, ranchers and veterans. The former Montana congressman squeezed in a horseback ride and even showed off some wrestling moves to New Mexico’s senators. Currently, Zinke is considering the fate of about 20 places currently protected as national monuments, including Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks near Las Cruces and Rio Grande del Norte near Taos. New Mexico’s senators and sportsmen took advantage of his visit to the state, bringing him to the Sabinoso Wilderness in San Miguel County. Even though Congress designated the wilderness in 2009, hikers, hunters and horseback riders have been locked out of the 16,000-acre area’s canyons and mesas.