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Land boss proposes White Peak access deal

A00_jd_22aug_White Peak locater-01SANTA FE – State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn has proposed a new deal to the Game and Fish Department on access to state trust lands for hunters and anglers that he says also will resolve a long-running dispute over how to reach prime hunting territory and wildlife habitat in the White Peak area of northeast New Mexico.

Dunn recently proposed that Game and Fish pay $2 million a year for access by sportsmen to trust lands overseen by the Land Office, ten times the current rate of $200,000.

On Friday, Dunn released a new plan. It calls for Game and Fish to purchase 10,000 acres near White Peak from rancher David Stanley and then give the land to the State Land Office.

In return, Game and Fish would get a 20-year easement to state trust lands around the state, “guaranteeing 20 years of predictability and accessibility to all New Mexican sportsmen,” Dunn’s office said.

The University of New Mexico Carrie Tingley Hospital for Children in Albuquerque would be the beneficiary of any revenue the Land Office makes from the property. Trust lands come from territory the federal government ceded to New Mexico around the time of statehood in 1912 and benefit several entities, including public schools, universities and state prisons.

Land Office spokeswoman Emily Strickler said the purchase price of Stanley’s property would be based on an appraisal.

On Monday, Springler confirmed that $27 million is a price that Stanley feels “comfortable” with for the 10,000 acres. Stanley also would donate 1,280 acres of property in the White Peak area’s “lake district,” including Graham Lake, to the Land Office.

Dunn met with Game and Fish officials Wednesday. “We have not reached a final agreement but we are hopeful that Game and Fish can see the many benefits to this proposal for both parties, for New Mexicans and of course for the children of Carrie Tingley Hospital,” Dunn said in a news release.

Game and Fish issued a statement that said, “This proposal has not yet been reviewed by the State Game Commission for its potential legal implications, cost, feasibility or an assessment of public opinion.”

White Peak access has been controversial for years. In 2011, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against White Peak land swaps negotiated by former Land Commissioner Pat Lyons.

Lyons maintained the land exchanges near Ocate would have cleared up complicated boundaries between state and private land. The Stanley ranch property has often been at the center of the White Peak debates.

Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said Dunn’s new proposal raises several questions, most obviously that, if the idea is to get better hunter access to disputed lands around White Peak, “Why doesn’t Game and Fish just buy it and manage it as a wildlife area?” He said the overall easement to trust lands around New Mexico should be a separate negotiation and not linked to the White Peak problems.

VeneKlasen also asked “what happens after 20 years and the dispute is renewed? This is just kicking the can down the road.” He also said the proposal may not be legal, in part because Game and Fish would be diverting money raised from hunting and fishing fees to another purpose.

Dunn’s news release said rancher Stanley and Ed Olana of Springer, a longtime sportsmen advocate and player in the White Peak controversy, support the deal. “If this deal can get worked out and everything is legal, then this is a real good thing,” he’s quoted as saying. “I mean, I’ve been dealing with this dispute for 38 years. This is a real solution.”