Green Guide

New Mexico land swap revived at national monument

Posted October 4

— A proposed land swap is moving forward that would hand over New Mexico holdings within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and Sabinoso Wilderness Area to the U.S. Interior Department in return for scattered federal parcels elsewhere, state and federal authorities announced Wednesday.

The plan has been on hold for months since President Donald Trump ordered a review of national monument designations. Boundaries of two national monuments in New Mexico that were part of the review would remain unchanged under recommendations made by U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

"It's been sitting in Washington DC since march, so we're happy to get it shook loose," New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn said of the swap proposal.

He said the plan is designed to increase public recreational opportunities on federal land while boosting state lease revenues from grazing, oil production, renewable energy development and other business purposes.

"Our interest is to generate income," said Dunn, whose agency collects more than $500 million a year from lease payments, oil and natural gas sales, and other royalties and fees on state trust land to help support public schools, universities and hospitals.

The Bureau of Land Management would acquire 67 square miles (147 square kilometers) of land, most within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument outside Taos. New Mexico would gain 122 square miles (316 square kilometers) of federal property scattered across 14 counties, mainly in the southern, central portion of the state.

The deal was designed to transfer land of equal market value. Appraisals will be required and subject to public review, along with environmental assessments, under a preliminary agreement signed on Wednesday by Dunn and Aden Seidlitz, acting state director for the BLM.

Dunn said some county governments likely would see a reduction in federal payments to local government that offset untaxable federal property.

He said wide expanses of state trust land within the Rio Grande del Norte currently generate no income from the state.

The exchange does not include state trust lands within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument surrounding Las Cruces.

The BLM would take control of about 3 square miles (5 square kilometers) within the Sabinoso Wilderness Area east of Santa Fe.

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