Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Santa Fe Reporter--Trust Issues

Two sides have locked horns over white peak—which land commissioner candidate can sort out the tangle?
By Alexa Schirtzinger

In the far northeast corner of New Mexico, there’s a rugged sanctuary where eagles wing silently overhead and elk roam unmolested through forests of pine and juniper—at least until hunting season begins. Come autumn, this place roars to life with all-terrain vehicles and gunfire as hunters collect on this season’s elk licenses.

This is the now-infamous White Peak, a patchwork of state and private lands that has become a focal point for a series of political and ideological conflicts.

The brouhaha began last summer when New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Patrick Lyons proposed to exchange state trust land for private ranch holdings. Just a few days before the first swap was set to close, on Nov. 20, a firestorm of criticism erupted. Jeremy Vesbach, the executive director of the hunters’ conservation group New Mexico Wildlife Federation, calls it a “sweetheart deal.” In a public statement, Gov. Bill Richardson condemned the swaps as “a behind-the-scenes deal with virtually no public input.” Hunters rallied and decried the loss of land they had accessed for decades. Others speculated the deal would lead to housing developments, and oil and gas drilling on one of the state’s most scenic corners.

Lyons and supporters of the deal say the swap will ease mounting tensions between hunters and ranchers. More pointedly, Lyons has reiterated the potential financial gains the cash-strapped state could realize under the deal.

These competing narratives in the White Peak controversy reveal larger tensions in New Mexico’s fraught oversight of its land and the concomitant conflicts between conservation and generating revenue.

Add politics to the mix: It’s an election year, and the open seat for land commissioner (Lyons is term-limited) has drawn a crowded field for the June 1 primary, which will lead to a partisan race come November.

The candidates—like so many others in the White Peak debate—see the outcome of the White Peak deal as one that could redefine not just the State Land Office but also the strategy behind public lands in New Mexico for years to come. More>>>


Marc Choyt said...

As a progressive, Green environmentalist, what I find most astonishing is that a small group of hunters, effectively welding the Northern New Mexico political machine spearheaded by AG Gary King, strive so hard a pyrrhic victory. If the Supreme Court overturns the land exchange, Commissioner Lyons will almost certainly lease White Peak to oil and gas and David Stanley will definitely follow.

For that reason, Commission Lyon’s efforts transcend party politics and should be drawing the wide support of anyone who cares about conservation and hunting. Shamefully, the Sierra Club and NMWF are attempting to sabotage what no previous land commission would ever attempt: end a 40 year range war and preserve the heart of a million acre of wildlife habitat for our children and grandchildren.

Marc Choyt

Anonymous said...

Those interested in the White Peak Land exchange should view the pictures and read the content on the new website, The website counters the untrue assertions made by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation such as "the State is getting shortchanged" and "trespassing is not out of control."

The website also explains the history of the area which include threats, intimidation, and arson.

The checkerboard nature of the area -- chunks of private land embedded within larger State land areas, and chunks of State land embedded within larger private lands -- is the source of the problem. Such a checkerboard is nearly impossible to manage and hunters go from State land to private land with impunity, removing 'no trespassing' signs and cutting fences at will.

The exchange will relieve the checkerboard/embedded problem and produce vast areas of continuous State lands with improved recreation opportunities for all New Mexicans.

Bob Funkhouser
Santa Fe, NM