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Op-Ed, Albuquerque Journal

Published, May 4, 2016

Land Commissioner gets it wrong on wilderness

Re: “Wilderness proposal draws fire” by Michael Coleman, printed 4/28/16

By Mark Allison, Executive Director, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance

It is not news that NM State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn does not support Wilderness here, there or anywhere (“Wilderness proposal draws fire” by Michael Coleman, 4/28/16). Heck, he doesn’t even support keeping our national lands in public hands.

The Commissioner claims that the energy bill that was recently approved by the US Senate and which included additional protections for two areas within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County as Wilderness was a “land grab.” The reality is this is already public land and already within a designated national monument. They belong to all of us.

The truth is that, like the armed militia that seized and occupied the Malheur Wildlife refuge in Oregon, he is on record about his desire to take public lands from the American people so that he could sell them off to the highest bidder or make sweet heart deals to industry. That would be the real land grab. His message to New Mexicans if he got his wish: “Keep Out – No Trespassing.”

After all, this is the elected official who immediately installed a pump jack in front of the State Land Office near the Santa Fe plaza. Classy. While oil, gas and mining operations may be appropriate in some places, they aren’t appropriate everywhere and certainly not in the Cerro del Yuta or Rio San Antonio areas of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.

The land proposed to be permanently protected as Wilderness (representing 21,420 acres or approximately 9% of the national monument) consists of the most natural and remote gems (note to Commissioner - those are figurative gems). Is Commissioner Dunn seriously proposing that we ruin these rare wild places forever by opening mining operations there? Well, actually yes, that is exactly what he is saying.

That wouldn’t just be a “slap in the face of New Mexico’s schoolchildren” as the Commissioner claimed about protecting these areas, but a punch in the gut of all New Mexican’s who overwhelming believe that setting aside some very special areas for wildlife, water quality, recreation, traditional uses, cultural heritage and for the benefit of future generations is the right and prudent thing to do.  

Gracious, with 9 million acres of state trust land to manage, his breathless outrage seems a tad overwrought considering there are only 1,280 acres of state land within the proposed Wilderness areas. That and the fact that grazing, the current source of trust revenues in this area, would be allowed to continue.

The real question is what steps the Commissioner has taken to work with the Bureau of Land Management to identify lands outside of the national monument with higher revenue potential that could be exchanged? Swapping out remote state lands within the national monument and proposed Wilderness areas for those with greater potential for higher yields to benefit the Trust should actually be seen as a great opportunity for the State Land Office. Instead, the Commissioner would rather try to score cheap political points rather than roll up his sleeves and fulfill his office’s responsibility.

State Land Commissioner Dunn is seriously out of step with the vast majority of Taos County residents if he thinks the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument - or additional protections for a small percentage of it as Wilderness - is a bad idea. Senator’s Udall and Heinrich introduced this legislation because they listened to residents of Taos County. Who is Commissioner Dunn listening to?