SANTA FE – Although there’s no measure on the table at the Roundhouse about transferring millions of acres of federal lands in New Mexico to state control, a crowd of 200 to 300 gathered for a rally Thursday to let legislators know that they want their beloved fishing and hunting spots to stay in federal hands.
The New Mexico Wildlife Federation held the rally to bring attention to what it says is a growing threat of public areas now under control of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management being transferred to state ownership. Although advocates of such transfers say the feds own too much land, opponents fear states would be more likely to allow development of what’s now open country.
“All across the West, there’s been a big threat recently to take public lands that are currently in federal control and move them to state control, which is a big problem, especially here in New Mexico,” said Susan Torres, the federation’s communications director, referring to what’s been called the “transfer of public lands” movement.
“That could lead to them getting shut down for grazing or mining for coal companies, and it would be a real disservice to everyone who uses the public lands to hunt or fish or camp or hike,” Torres said.
For Tony Dorame, a member of Tesuque Pueblo and a science teacher at Santa Fe Indian School, the areas he wants to protect have been open to him and his people since before they were even part of the United States. He and several other young men wore camouflage hunting jackets and held signs that read “The original caretakers of public lands.”
“For us as indigenous people before these lands were classified as public and private, they were in our ancestral domain,” Dorame said. “As such, our culture holds that we are the original stewards of those lands. We have an obligation to protect them in every way possible.”
If public areas are closed off for other uses, there’s the possibility that New Mexico’s outdoor recreation economy will take a tumble, speakers said. Ivan Valdez, who owns The Reel Life, a sporting goods store inside the DeVargas Center, said his business would be hit hard if customers weren’t able to go to nearby hunting and fishing areas.
“If we sell off our public lands, tourists are going to be affected by it, because they’re not going to have a place to hunt or fish,” Valdez said. “What’s going to happen is they’re going to take their money and spend it in another state, and our tourist dollars are going to disappear. That’s the major source of our economy here in Santa Fe.”