White Peak area now accessible by new road

A new road in Mora County provides long-sought access to the White Peak area in northeast New Mexico. (Courtesy of State Land Office)

SANTA FE – The State Land Office has announced completion of a new road into prime hunting territory and wildlife habitat in the White Peak area of northeast New Mexico, where legal fights over access have been the subject of legal and administrative fights over two decades.

The 2.5-mile road has been bladed across state trust land and private property, off Mora County Road 10, commonly known as White Peak Road, to tie into existing ranch roads and old logging roads. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation provided $20,000 for the cost of the road.

Also, Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn granted a 35-year right of way to the state Department of Game and Fish, paid for by the Elk Foundation. The road provides egress to 12,000 acres, including Halls Peak, Cooks Peak and Gallinas Mesa, according to the Land Office.

The road traverses state trust lands leased by Bernard L. Martinez, David Stanley, and C.E. Blattman, according to the Land Office. Trust lands come from territory the federal government ceded to New Mexico around the time of statehood in 1912 and leases of the land for uses such as grazing benefit several entities, including public schools, universities and state prisons.

Deer make their way through a valley in the White Peak area. A new road recently completed by the State Land Office provides access to the area after two decades of legal battles. (Journal File)

Also new is seven-acre primitive campground, off County Road 10. It has no amenities such as running water, electricity, picnic tables or restrooms. The campground will be open during hunting season to people with a valid licenses.

Dunn said the State Land Office will spend about $100,000 in forest and watershed restoration programs in the area, including removal of trees and shrubs encroaching on meadowlands.

In 2015, Dunn proposed that Game and Fish buy 10,000 acres, valued at $27 million, from rancher Stanley, then deed it to the Land Office, which would have given hunters and anglers unrestricted access for 20 years. Game and Fish concluded the deal would be illegal.

The use of roads to access State Trust Lands in the White Peak area has been a source of contention for many years, with ranchers claiming people trespass across their property to hunt or fish. In 2011, the state Supreme Court nullified land exchanges planned by former Land Commissioner Pat Lyons intended to facilitate access. In federal court, Stanley has sued Taos District Attorney Donald Gallegos and others for opening a locked gate across one of the disputed roads, also in 2011. That case has been to a federal appeals court on one issue and is still pending.

Garrett VeneKlasen, head of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said Friday the new road is “a great initiative” by the Land Office and a “good start” to providing more access to the White Peak region. But he said the new road is only incidental to broader issues of road access that are still being contested in court.

At issue is whether roads through White Peak are “legacy” county roads open to the public or private ranching roads.

VeneKlasen said there are two other roads, in poor condition, that currently provide uncontested vehicle access to limited parts of the White Peak area, which totals more than 100,000 acres.

VeneKlasen is one of three Democratic candidates for land commissioner in the 2018 primary. Dunn, a Republican, isn’t running for another term as land commissioner and is instead seeking southern New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District seat.

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