A year ago, then-Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., introduced a proposal to finally catalog inaccessible public lands and identify feasible access routes, complete with a mechanism to purchase rights of way.
It didn’t make it through the House, in great part due to timing, so now-Sen. Heinrich is trying again.
His reintroduced HUNT Act – Hunt Unrestricted on National Treasures Act – remains important legislation that would not only provide recreational access to the real landowners in question, i.e. the public, but economic opportunity to the state’s vital recreation industry. Because right now, all too often, you simply can’t get there from here.
That’s the case with the more than 16,000 acres of Sabinoso Wilderness in northern New Mexico, Heinrich says. “It’s surrounded by private land and there is currently no legal access – not so much as an easement for a trail. It’s completely landlocked by private land. There are a number of places like that.”
And that leaves the private landowners “able to use that public land – even take clients hunting and fishing on it – but the broader public can’t.”
Heinrich has again proposed using 1.5 percent of the Land and Water Conservation Fund – around $12 million a year – to buy easements and rights of way from willing owners. That would address the tens of millions of acres of public lands that currently aren’t accessible, and because they aren’t cataloged, aren’t on a bureaucrat’s priority list to be made accessible. But it is also important to maintain and protect current access.
That’s because Sabinoso was accessible until surrounding land was sold off, piece by piece, by public entities and private owners whose successors then shut the proverbial gate, resulting in a wilderness landlocked by private holdings. Going forward, Heinrich’s catalog must also be used to ensure that what is accessible today remains accessible tomorrow.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.