April 26, 2017

Land Commissioner: Land swap jeopardized by Trump order on monuments


Rio Grande del Norte National Monument

The political reaction to President Donald Trump’s executive order on national monuments has been largely predictable.

Republicans praised the move to review monument designations made by presidents since 1996. Environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers, like Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, have condemned the order.

Related story: Trump review of national monuments includes two in NM

Meanwhile, New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, himself a Republican, said the order could “hinder” a proposed land exchange between the State Land Office and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. As planned, that exchange would consolidate state and federal land holdings within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico.

New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Aubrey Dunn

That monument, along with southern New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, are among those U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will now be reviewing.

Trump directed Zinke to provide an interim report within 45 days and a final report within 120 days. In that report, Zinke will suggest legislative changes or modifications to monuments that are more than 100,000 acres in size.

According to a press release from the State Land Office, Dunn and the BLM had been negotiating to transfer about 41,000 acres of state-owned lands within the monument boundaries to the BLM.

In exchange, New Mexico would receive 78,000 acres of lands—and the minerals rights—in Chaves, Colfax, Guadalupe, Lincoln, McKinley, Mora, Otero, Rio Arriba, San Juan, Sandoval, Santa Fe, Socorro and Torrance counties. Those lands, according to the State Land Office, are “more favorable for economic development.”

“This exchange is an example of officials on both sides of the aisle, at all levels of government, coming together to do a good thing for New Mexico,” according to Dunn.  “I hope we will be able to move forward sooner than later but I fear that if we don’t finalize the exchange within the next couple of months, it won’t get done.”

Dunn praised the northern New Mexico monument and said that when and if the land exchange were completed, public access would be enhanced, adding that “This could be the Yellowstone National Park of the Southwest.”