February 28, 2023

Following controversial land purchase, bill seeks to require legislative approval for large acquisitions

Trust for Public Land

The Senate Rules Committee voted unanimously to pass a bill on Monday that would require the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to seek legislative approval to purchase land that costs more than $1 million.

Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, sponsored SB 439.

The bill comes following the department’s controversial purchase of L Bar Ranch for $34 million. The purchase came through a variety of funding sources, including $1 million from the Trust for Public Lands, $5 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, $27 million in other federal funds and $6.2 million in state funds, according to the fiscal impact report.

The ranch includes sacred lands near Mount Taylor.

Related: Land acquisition near Mt. Taylor brings sacred sites out of private ownership, preserves habitat

It also comes amid the state and federal government’s efforts to conserve 30 percent of lands by 2030 and amid a push to reduce the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish’s focus on hunting and fishing.

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, argued that the Department of Game and Fish is funded by sale of hunting and fishing licenses and because of that the money should be spent on purchases that improve hunting and fishing opportunities in the state. He said money could better be spent to acquire easements that would allow hunters and anglers to access public lands that are currently surrounded by private lands.

The L Bar Ranch purchase does open up new hunting and fishing opportunities.

No opponents showed up to speak against the bill, nor did anyone from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

However, in the fiscal impact report, the department noted that large purchases are generally funded using money already appropriated by the Legislature and that seeking legislative approval prior to purchase would be redundant and create delays, possibly even discouraging private land sellers.

SB 439 now heads to the Senate Conservation Committee.