Legislation that could significantly alter the landscape of New Mexico is currently under review at the Roundhouse. House Bill 292 and Senate Bill 404—or the New Mexico Transfer of Public Lands Act—demand federal agencies to “extinguish title” of public land across the state. If passed, the law would transfer all federally-controlled lands—excluding national parks and monuments, national historic parks, wilderness areas and tribal lands—into the hands of the state Legislature.
The federal government currently controls 47 percent of the land making up the 11 states west of Colorado—over 77 million acres alone in the state of New Mexico. These two bills, sponsored by state Rep. Yvette Harrell, R-Otero, state Sen. Richard C Martinez, D-Los Alamos (HB 292) and state Sen. Pat Woods, R-Curry (SB 404), represent another chapter in a growing effort on part of state governments in the West to drastically lower that figure.
In 2012, Utah passed a similar bill into law—also known as the Transfer of Public Lands Act—that wrested control of all public land in the state from the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service. Other western states, such as Wyoming and Idaho, may soon follow suit.
However, the constitutionality of the law is currently under dispute and could place Utah into a costly lawsuit with the US government. While the sponsors of New Mexico’s bill have not stated specific plans for use of the land, it could potentially be leased for oil and gas drilling contracts, as well as sold to private developers. Such deals could bring revenue into the state through land taxes and increased employment, while simultaneously restricting access to millions of acres of land to the public, including hunters, hikers and fishermen.
At the same time that state lawmakers consider challenging the US government’s right to manage public land, US Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, is leading a coalition of western senators, including Tom Udall, D-NM, that would reauthorize Congress’ ability to protect public land.
SFR has placed calls with the sponsors of both bills, as well as with the Sierra Club for comment on the potential impact of this legislation. We’ll update this post with details as soon as they become available.