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Agencies seek to boost access to public lands

A bighorn sheep grazes in the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument in 2017. Agencies are asking for help in identifying public lands that have limited access. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico has a wealth of public lands and wide open spaces. Now, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service and the National Parks Service are asking for help to identify public lands that have limited legal access or no public access. Agencies will use the input to create a priority list of public land parcels with restricted access.

A 2019 report from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and GPS hunting app creator OnX estimates more than 550,000 acres of federal land in New Mexico are landlocked or have restricted access.

To be eligible for nomination to the priority list, land parcels must be managed by one of the agencies and span at least 640 contiguous acres.

Agencies will use the priority list to report to Congress with options for improving access.

“Legal access to public lands can be increased by acquiring easements across non-federal lands that would provide legal access to public land parcels,” BLM Albuquerque District Office spokesperson Jamie Garcia said in an emailed statement to the Journal. “Access can also be increased by acquiring non-federal lands or easements through land exchanges, donations, or purchases.”

New Mexico has instituted an Open Gate program to boost access to state lands. Private landowners provide right-of-way access through their properties for hunters and anglers as part of the program.

Recent efforts to increase access to public lands are mandated by the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, a package of more than 100 bills President Donald Trump signed into law last March. The Dingell Act designated several new wilderness areas on federal land in New Mexico.

As part of the Dingell Act, BLM New Mexico “is also adding public outreach improvements in the form of signage, education, updates to area maps and brochures, and providing additional park rangers and recreation specialists, where possible,” Garcia said.

The BLM public nomination period will close on Feb. 29, and the Fish and Wildlife and Forest Service comment periods will close on March 11. The National Parks Service comment period closed in early January. Each agency will publish a priority list by mid-March.

Submissions must include the land’s location, potential for recreational use and the limits to public access. BLM submissions can be made online by visiting eplanning.blm.gov and searching for the Public Land Access Project. Fish and Wildlife is accepting email submissions at PriorityList@fws.gov. Nominations for Forest Service lands can be emailed to SM.FS.nominations@usda.gov.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

 


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