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Land Office, Game and Fish, agree to $1 million hunting easement

SANTA FE – State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn said Wednesday that he and the Department of Game and Fish have tentatively agreed to a one-year, $1 million easement giving hunters access to state trust lands.

The department has been paying $200,000 annually, which Dunn says is too low. He had recently suggested a $2 million fee for the 2016-17 year.

The tentative agreement would need the approval of the state Game Commission, which meets today in Santa Fe.

A spokesman at Game and Fish said the commission is expected to get an update on the easement at the meeting, but not vote on it until September.

The fee would cover the year from April 1, 2016, through March 31, 2017.

Dunn also proposed recently to tie the trust land easement to a deal aimed at resolving a long-standing dispute over access to White Peak, prime wildlife habitat in northeastern New Mexico.

Under Dunn’s plan, Game and Fish would buy 10,000 acres from a rancher for a proposed cost of $27 million and give the land to the State Land Office. In return, Game and Fish would get a 20-year easement to trust lands.

That proposal is still pending, according to a spokeswoman for Dunn. The Department of Game and Fish said the state Game Commission hasn’t yet reviewed its legal implications, cost or feasibility and hasn’t sought public opinion on it.

The New Mexico Wildlife Federation, which represents hunters, anglers and trappers whose license fees fund the department, says the $200,000 access fee is low and it supports a fee hike.

The proposed fivefold increase, however, is “more substantial than we would like to have seen,” said federation President John Crenshaw.

“At the same time, if we’re going to pay more, we would like to receive more,” Crenshaw said.

He said hunters want to be able to camp overnight where they’re hunting without having to get special permission, to have more time to scout areas before hunts and to have expanded daily hours of access to hunting areas. They also want better signage on trust lands, and they want penalties enacted for those who lease trust lands and then improperly block access to licensed sportsmen, Crenshaw said.

The State Land Office manages 9 million surface acres and 12 million subsurface acres, with the revenue going to schools, hospitals and other institutions. Dunn said the additional $800,000 could help fund new teaching jobs or early childhood programs.