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Transfer federal land to states? NM’s governor open to looking at it

By   /   July 4, 2014  /   No Comments

LAND FIGHT: There’s a movement to transfer public land from the federal government to individual states. Nearly 42 percent of New Mexico is controlled by the federal government.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. — Proponents of transferring multiple-use land in the West from the federal government to individual states say it could generate millions of dollars a year for New Mexico.

Opponents question the numbers and the practicality of such a move.

But Gov. Susana Martinez says it’s at least worth considering and thinks forming a statewide task force is a good idea.

“It’s always better to have more information as to the costs,” Martinez told New Mexico Watchdog last week. “It’s always better to know what it would take. How many jobs would it create?”

Martinez made the remarks just one day after joining Utah Gov. Gary Herbert — a fellow Republican who is a leading advocate for the land transfer proposal — at an economic summit in Albuquerque.

In particular, Martinez said the threat of wildfires in New Mexico brings up questions as to whether the state might do a better job than the feds.

“When you have federal land, especially that’s in the forest and it’s not getting taken care of, and we end up with severe fires because of all of the fuel that’s within the forest, you end up losing homes and you end up losing life and they don’t seem to be interested in maintaining those forests,” Martinez said.

In marked contrast to states in the East, the federal government owns vast amounts of land in the West. In nine states — Alaska, California, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming — the feds own more than 40 percent of the land:

map of federal land in the us

Supporters say they won’t touch national parks, wilderness areas, military installations or tribal land, but they want to see land the federal government has already listed as open for multiple uses.

They point to a study from an economist in Wyoming who estimated transferring multi-purpose land from the feds to New Mexico would lead to the creation of between $600 million and $1 billion in additional tax money simply through additional jobs and production in the oil and natural gas industries.

But critics — led by environmental organizations — dismiss such claims.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said advocates of public land transfers are “prepared to waste millions of taxpayer dollars in their quixotic quest to send the federal government ‘a message.’ ”

John Horning, executive director at WildEarth Guardians New Mexico, has called the idea “laughable.”

“Public lands are a birthright for all Americans,” Horning said when the subject came up last fall. “I think the state is probably in over its head, acquiring federal land and managing it.”

But state Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, has been trying to create a task force in the New Mexico Legislature to look into the issue.

“Let’s have that dialogue,” Herrell said last September. “Do the risks outweigh the rewards for the state of New Mexico? Clearly, there’s a revenue benefit, but at the end of the day, can we do it? I think, yes. I think it’s worth looking into.”

A bill to set up a task force introduced by Herrell stalled in committee during the most recent legislative session, but Herrell says she plans on introducing it again in the 2015 session.

Here’s New Mexico Watchdog video of Martinez talking about the land transfer issue:


YouTube

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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Rob Nikolewski is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org based in Santa Fe, N.M. Contact him at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @NMWatchdog.

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