There is a disturbing movement afoot among some elected officials in the West. They are advocating for state takeover and full control of our parks, forests, refuges and other national public lands. As a small business owner, I find this troubling for many reasons and New Mexicans should be wary of politicians who are promoting this agenda.
In New Mexico, bills calling for takeover of our national public lands were introduced in the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions but, fortunately, were defeated each time.
As the 2015 legislative session approaches, the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce and its members are speaking out against these efforts to take over national public lands. They would be disastrous for New Mexico’s heritage, local economies and small business owners like me.
This type of takeover, or more appropriately, land seizure, is a bad idea for several reasons.
First, my business and many others in New Mexico depend on visitation to public lands such as the Rio Grande Gorge and Gila National Forest. Businesses that depend on these and other national public lands make up the second largest private industry in our state, as tourism contributed $5.5 billion to New Mexico’s economy in 2011 alone.
Transferring national public lands to the state would impede and could even prevent public access.
For instance, camping on state lands in New Mexico requires written permission and even hiking requires a permit. Such requirements don’t exist for many national public lands.
And if the state decided to sell some of these lands, access would likely be lost altogether.
This is not a good deal for hunters, anglers, hikers, campers, sightseers, history buffs or others who value New Mexico’s outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities.
Then there is the issue of what a land seizure would financially cost hardworking New Mexicans.
Transferring national public lands to state ownership would mean that responsibility and costs for their management would fall on the shoulders of New Mexico’s taxpayers rather than American taxpayers as a whole.
Agencies that manage public lands, including the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service, spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually in New Mexico fighting fires, protecting historic sites and providing visitor services.
Fighting just one wildfire can cost tens of millions of dollars. If a state transfer was effected, New Mexico’s citizens would bear the entirety of these costs through a significant tax increase.
Another option for New Mexico to cover these costs is auctioning public lands to the highest bidder, something our State Land Office does regularly.
State land seizures proponents claim that this is not their agenda. But the reality is that our state requires a balanced budget. So selling off and locking citizens out of our national public lands is a very real possibility if state land seizures became a reality.
Elected officials pursuing this agenda reject a basic principle of American society – that national public lands belong to and are a birthright of and should continue to be accessible to all Americans. The Organ Mountains and Valle Vidal are American treasures and all Americans share in the responsibility of their stewardship.
These are the reasons why I recently joined other New Mexico business leaders in signing a letter to state policymakers urging them to take a stand against this wrongheaded idea and putting a stop to these imprudent efforts.
National public lands belong to all Americans and it is the job of our leaders to protect them rather than sell them off to the highest bidders.
I ask that you join with me and other New Mexico business owners in making sure policymakers protect our national public lands and stand against those looking to seize them from the American people.