News

Renee Blake, Public News Service-NM

(03/12/13) SANTA FE, N.M. – When both houses of the New Mexico Legislature failed to advance bills to transfer public land management from federal to state hands, it meant more than following the words of the U.S. Constitution.

According to Kim McCreery, a regional director and staff scientist at New Mexico Wilderness Alliance in Silver City, passing such legislation would have left the state to wrestle with the high costs of significant management issues.

“We’re talking about fire management and forest restoration,” she said. “There is a clause that would allow the state to sell off public lands to private interests. Extractive industries can then come in and we’ll have mining and oil and gas drilling on what were our public lands,” McCreery went on.

Ultimately that would mean fewer places for New Mexicans to camp, hike, hunt and fish, because the once-public lands would be privately owned.

Molly Brook, the program manager with Conservation Voters New Mexico, said this issue could be resolved by better conservation and collaboration between the federal government and the state.

“What ultimately would be effective is legislation aimed at identifying how to better collaborate with local government and local communities,” Brook said.

Kim McCreery said it’s more than a lack of cooperation. She said these bills were not based in grassroots concerns. Instead, they appear to be related to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization which produces model legislation to promote conservative ideas.

“If you go back to 1995, there was an ALEC bill called the Sagebrush Rebellion Act,” she recalled. “If you look at the current bills, you’ll see that a lot of the language is very similar.”

Although the bills in the New Mexico House and Senate did not advance, McCreery said she expects others like them to be introduced in future legislatures.

“I would say they will come back again, which is why it’s really important that the public is made aware that they’re the result of corporate interests that simply want to make a profit,” she charged.

This afternoon, the Senate will introduce Memorial 93, which calls for examining the idea of transferring national public lands to New Mexico.

The bills are SB404: 1.usa.gov/Zuwuz0; HB292: 1.usa.gov/10DVFoT. More information is at ALEC.org and at bit.ly/mZRT2A.

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