Public access to Sabinoso Wilderness closer to reality

SANTA FE, N.M. — Public access to New Mexico’s 16,000-acre Sabinoso Wilderness – entirely “landlocked” by private land – moved closer to reality Thursday on news the nonprofit Wilderness Land Trust bought adjacent property that could soon allow hikers, hunters, backpackers and others access to it.

c01_jd_29jan_Sabinoso-WildernessThe purchase of the non-contiguous 4,176-acre Rimrock Rose Ranch properties, made possible by a $3.1 million contribution from the Wyss Foundation, could allow public access to the Sabinoso by summer, said Reid Haughey, president of The Wilderness Land Trust.

Although the BLM, which manages the Sabinoso, has tried for years to get landowners to allow public access through their properties by road or trail, that hasn’t happened.

The Sabinoso Wilderness, created by Congress in 2009, is a rugged back-country area east of Las Vegas that is home to mule deer, elk, mountain lions, bobcats, gray foxes, wild turkey and a wide range of high plains plant and animal species.

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Over the coming months, The Wilderness Land Trust will work with the BLM to donate the lands to public ownership. Before that happens, the BLM will need to conduct a review of the areas to determine whether they are suitable for addition to the Sabinoso, and meet the agency’s criteria for accepting a donation, according to a news release announcing the deal.

The Rimrock Rose Ranch comprises several separate parcels of land abutting the southern half of the Sabinoso.

Sam DesGeorges, a field manager with the Taos office of the BLM, rides a horse up a trail that overlooks Lagartija Canyon in the in the Sabinoso Wilderness Study Area in this file photo. JOURNAL FILE

Sam DesGeorges, a field manager with the Taos office of the BLM, rides a horse up a trail that overlooks Lagartija Canyon in the in the Sabinoso Wilderness Study Area in this file photo. JOURNAL FILE

Matt Lee-Ashley with the Wyss Foundation said the point of access for the public will most likely be the southwest corner of the ranch properties, on the far western edge of the Sabinoso.

There are numerous “landlocked” public lands, administered by both federal and state agencies, across New Mexico, and it’s becoming more common, according to outdoorsmen and wildlife conservationists.

Oscar Simpson, chairman of the New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, has said the problem has gotten progressively worse, especially on the eastern edge of the Gila National Forest, where outdoorsmen have slowly lost access to thousands of acres of public land.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who wrote the bill that created the Sabinoso Wilderness, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., who is shepherding the HUNT Act through Congress to provide public access to public lands with limited access, and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., a longtime supporter of the Sabinoso, praised the partnership that hopes to open the Sabinoso.

The Wyss Foundation, created by Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss in 1998, supports locally-led efforts to conserve public lands in the American West for everyone to experience and explore.

Since its founding in 1992, The Wilderness Land Trust has preserved more than 47,000 acres of wilderness in 93 designated and proposed wilderness areas across nine states.

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