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NM recognizes its public lands legacy

Amid the ongoing fringe attacks on public lands in America – most notably in the recent takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge by armed extremists – it was gratifying to see New Mexico lawmakers pass a memorial bill recognizing the immense value of public lands in the state.

We hope this sends a strong and clear message to the land grabbers: Keep your hands off our public lands.

For sportsmen, having unfettered access to millions of acres of land and waters for hunting and fishing is no small thing – it’s everything. We won’t stand idly by and watch our cherished places, enjoyed by generations of our families and communities, seized and sold off by self-styled patriots who claim to be “taking back” these lands for the people.

In fact, these lands already belong to the people, and we aim to keep them that way.

We already have the liberty to use them and enjoy them, and we stand to lose those benefits if these lands are handed over to states and sold off to special interests and developers.

If that happens, say good-bye to your favorite outdoor places. Locked gates and no trespassing signs will be the result.

In January, hundreds of New Mexican sportsmen and recreationists filled the Roundhouse with our shouts to protect and preserve our public lands. Apparently, New Mexico lawmakers got the message: Senate Memorial 11, meant to recognize and honor the public lands legacy in the state, received bipartisan support and passed unanimously.

These lawmakers deserve a hearty thank you for standing up for New Mexico’s public lands and the hunters, anglers and others who rely on these lands to sustain our heritage.

The memorial noted that 65 percent of New Mexicans participate in some form of outdoor recreation annually, and some 26 million acres of public land, owned by all U.S. citizens, offer incredible access to the state’s wildlife and wild places.

From the cool mountain forests of the Santa Fe National Forest, to the vast expanse of the Valles Caldera, from the rugged backcountry of the Gila wilderness to the sprawling high-desert of the Boot Heel – these public-land treasures provide multiple benefits, including:

• Outdoor recreation such as fishing, hunting, hiking, biking, camping, rafting and picnicking;

• Economic benefits to local communities such as watershed health, tourism dollars and outdoor amenities for attracting new businesses;

• Traditional benefits such as firewood, herb and pinon nut gathering;

• Habitat benefits for multiple species, from elk and bighorn sheep to rare native trout;

• Spiritual benefits such as space, solitude and scenic beauty.

Let’s not take these gifts for granted.

New Mexico, like most states, simply doesn’t have the resources to manage our vast public lands portfolio. The state would be overwhelmed by the massive resources needed just to fight wildfires. And if these lands are sold to the highest bidder, they’ll be privatized and exploited.

Sportsmen won’t let this happen without a fight.

It’s true that the federal management of public lands isn’t perfect. There’s room for more communication and coordination with local stakeholders.

But there are commonsense, pragmatic solutions to many of our land management issues, and it’s time to reject conflict and work together on those solutions. That’s how our democracy works, through listening, discussion and compromise – not armed conflict and ultimatums.

Public lands belong to all of us, uniting us as New Mexicans and Americans. Kudos to New Mexico lawmakers who, in bipartisan fashion, reaffirmed the value of our public lands system and democratic principles – two of America’s greatest achievements.

These lands are our lands. Stand up for them.

Also signed by Colleen Payne, New Mexico Chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation; Joel Webster, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership; Garrett VeneKlasen, New Mexico Wildlife Federation; Aaron Kindle, National Wildlife Federation; and John Gale, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

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