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Federal public lands are for all Americans

The League of Woman Voters of New Mexico (LWVNM) is seriously concerned about the Administration’s nomination of William Perry Pendley to be director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Mr. Pendley has a long history of favoring sales of public lands to private entities. We believe his appointment would be a threat to BLM lands, not only in New Mexico, but also throughout the West. BLM lands comprise the largest portion of our federal lands. This is an issue that affects not only New Mexico, but also other Western states with large swaths of BLM land.

LWVNM recently completed a study on whether it makes sense to transfer certain federal lands to the states where they are located. We concluded that such transfers are not justified by history or validated by law and would not make economic sense. Furthermore, such transfers are likely to limit public access and negatively affect the environment. For these reasons, we are concerned about the current nominee to head the BLM.

The League study was initiated in response to an effort by some New Mexico legislators to enact a large-scale transfer. Utah has passed a law demanding such transfers, and other Western states are now considering, or have considered, similar actions. Such transfers could result in these lands being sold off to private entities. There is also a risk that the federal government would attempt to sell federal lands directly to private entities.

Our study culminated in the adoption by LWVNM of a position that we will use to advocate for the federal government to retain ownership of federal lands. We focused on the lands most at risk, those managed by the BLM, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, such as wildlife refuges.

The core of our position is this paragraph: The League believes that federal public lands should benefit all Americans. The lands should remain under the jurisdiction of the federal government, with Forest Service and BLM lands managed according to a multiple-use, sustained-yield policy. We support improvements in management and regulation.

We also believe that if any sale or exchange is considered, it must not only be in the public interest, but also that a comprehensive assessment must be completed. Issues included in the assessment must include: environmental analysis, including air and water quality, biodiversity, endangered and threatened species; health impacts; environmental justice; suitability of the proposed land use; subsurface resources; financial/economic impacts; cultural resources; public access; management for fire and other natural disasters; and tribal consultation.

Our study committee reviewed legal analyses of the history of federal land ownership, as well as economic analyses related to proposals in specific states. We interviewed officials with the BLM, the Forest Service and the New Mexico State Land Office. We found no court-supported constitutional or legal basis requiring the federal government to relinquish ownership of its lands.

We thank our U.S. Senators Heinrich and Udall for their public statements of strong opposition to the nomination of Mr. Pendley. We will continue to monitor the status of federal public lands here in New Mexico.

Hannah Burling is president of the League of Women Voters of New Mexico and Christine Furlanetto is program chair. Both live in Santa Fe.

 

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