The battle for White Peak, that craggy wilderness straddling Mora and Colfax counties, continues. Last week, news broke that Ed Olona, a sportsman accustomed to hunting in the area (and the president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation), had discovered an earth-mover doing roadwork.
Olona forwarded photos of exposed red dirt to Democratic State Land Commissioner hopeful Ray Powell, who posted one on Facebook, eliciting mild outrage. (Powell faces Republican Matt Rush on the November ballot).
As SFR’s May 5
explained, hunters and ranchers have been engaged in a decades-long tug-of-war over rights to the area. Hunters want access to public hunting grounds via an old logging road that bisects private ranch land—but the ranchers are tired of playing highway to hunters on four-wheelers.
Last fall, outgoing Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons attempted to swap state trust lands for private acreage—but Attorney General Gary King sued to stop the trade.
As the New Mexico Supreme Court deliberates over the suit, rancher David Stanley has taken matters into his own hands: He’s rebuilding an obscure dirt road that skirts his land entirely. Stanley tells SFR he’s footing the bill; when it’s finished, he says, he’ll hand it over to the Department of Game and Fish for management.
But Olona is having none of it.
“Was this project put out for bid?” he writes to SFR in an email. “Were there any applications to the [State Land Office] or [Game and Fish] for improvements made to Trust Lands?”
No and no. But Game and Fish Director Tod Stevenson says he’ll consider reimbursing Stanley for the road. Stevenson says he needs that road—especially since Stanley, who currently lets hunters cross his land via an “open gate” agreement with the department—wants to close the old logging road.
In essence, Stanley has created the need for…the very road he’s building.
“I really don’t care,” Stevenson says. “My concern is how can we best afford our sportsmen access onto state land.”