Land donation would provide access to Sabinoso Wilderness east of Las Vegas, NM

SANTA FE – A proposed land donation to the federal Bureau of Land Management would provide the first legal public access to the scenic and remote Sabinoso Wilderness in northeastern New Mexico.

The BLM is proposing to accept a donation of most of the Rimrock Rose Ranch from The Wilderness Land Trust and purchase the rest of the ranch property. As part of its deal with the land trust, the BLM also would eliminate two federal grazing allotments in the area.

In a news release, the BLM said the transaction would provide – for the first time – public access to the Sabinoso Wilderness, a roughly 16,000-acre area currently landlocked by private land about 40 miles east of Las Vegas, N.M.

Sam DesGeorges, a field manager with the Taos office of the BLM, rides a horse up a trail that overlooks Lagartija Canyon in what is now the Sabinoso Wilderness in 2008

Sam DesGeorges, a field manager with the Taos office of the BLM, rides a horse up a trail that overlooks Lagartija Canyon in what is now the Sabinoso Wilderness in 2008. A land donation to the federal Bureau of Land Management would provide legal public access to the 16,000-acre wilderness area east of Las Vegas, N.M., for the first time. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

The wilderness area, a dramatic piece of the high plains bordering the Canadian River and with cliffs and 1,000-foot-deep canyons, was designated by Congress and with President Barack Obama’s signature in 2009. But there is now no way for anyone who doesn’t own or have federal grazing rights on adjacent land to legally access the area.

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The BLM said, “Access would allow one of the primary purposes of the Wilderness Act of 1964 to be fully realized at Sabinoso Wilderness – the enjoyment of the area by present and future generations through hunting, hiking, horseback riding, and other recreational opportunities.”

“The benefits to the general public are unmistakable,” said Sarah Schlanger, field manager of the BLM’s Taos Field Office.

The Rimrock Rose Ranch property, recently acquired by The Wilderness Land Trust, consists of about 4,176 acres adjacent to the designated wilderness. Of the total acreage, about 3,576 acres are proposed for donation to the BLM, while the remaining acreage would be purchased by the federal agency at a “fair market” price determined by appraisal.

The BLM said, “Access would allow one of the primary purposes of the Wilderness Act of 1964 to be fully realized at Sabinoso Wilderness—the enjoyment of the area by present and future generations through hunting, hiking, horseback riding, and other recreational opportunities.”Map

As part of land deal, BLM livestock grazing allotments for which the ranch served as base property would be unavailable for grazing going forward, to protect riparian areas. This part of the proposal, involving two grazing allotments totaling 6,260 acres, is a condition placed on the donation by The Wilderness Land Trust. No one currently holds grazing permits on the two allotments. “The remaining 16 (grazing) allotments in and around Sabinoso Wilderness would not be affected by this proposal,” said the BLM.

Access to the wilderness area would be via San Miguel County Road C51A, off N.M. 419 between the communities of Trementina and Mosquero. The road entering the wilderness’s Canyon Largo would remain closed to the public. A gate would be placed on the rim of the canyon, where trailhead parking would be located.

“Public access to the Sabinoso Wilderness will come when the donation process is complete,” said Schlanger in an e-mail response to Journal questions. “We anticipate this may happen as early as November, 2016. Until that time, the lands remain in private hands. As is the case now, there is no public access to the Wilderness except through private lands, and with private landowner permission.”

The Wilderness Land Trust is a national, nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to purchasing lands for the federal wilderness system to ensure their preservation.

The BLM is asking that any public comment on the proposed land deal be provided by July 6. Comment can be submitted by mail to BLM Taos Field Office, Attention: Brad Higdon, 226 Cruz Alta Road, Taos, NM 87571; by email to blm_nm_tafo_comments@blm.gov; or by fax to 575-758-1620.

Additional information is available online at the Taos field office website.

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