A message from Santa Fe

By Randy Scholfield

(Santa Fe) -- Hundreds of sportsmen and conservationists, businesses and community leaders, tribal members and young people crowded into the New Mexico state Capitol last week to show their support for public lands and to oppose efforts by fringe groups like the Bundy clan to seize public lands and transfer them to state or private control.

“Hands off our public lands!” they shouted, raising the rafters on the Roundhouse.

Gov. Martinez, can you hear us now?

The rally, organized by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation and supported by Trout Unlimited and other conservation groups, was held in part to send a message to lawmakers, who last year introduced a bill that would have studied the feasibility of a massive public lands sell-off.

“Hell no!” is perhaps the politest way to describe the mood of the crowd and their attitude toward any similar proposals this year to mess with public lands.

As one of the speakers noted, “Public lands are our birthright.” And if states and special interests succeed in taking control of them, say goodbye to access. These lands likely would be sold to the highest bidder, locking out sportsmen and other recreationists.

That would be trouble here in New Mexico, where 90 percent of hunters and anglers depend on public lands for access.

“If public lands are shut down and closed off, there won’t be places for me to take my clients, family and friends,” Ivan Valdez, owner of The Reel Life, a fly fishing shop in Santa Fe, told the crowd. “I want to be able to pass on the hunting and fishing spots I’ve learned to my son.”

“We’re proud to stand with other Americans who love our public lands and don’t want them seized by fringe interests or sold off to the highest bidder,” said Toner Mitchell, TU’s Water and Habitat program manager for New Mexico, in a statement. “I think we’re sending a clear message: We won’t tolerate hostile takeovers of land that belongs to all Americans, not just a radical minority.”

He added, “Armed intimidation won’t solve a single one of our public lands issues. All the stakeholders of our public lands—federal and state agencies, ranchers, recreationists, local communities—need to work together to address the huge challenges facing our public lands, from forest and water management to grazing and wildlife issues.”

Toner pointed out that our national forests in New Mexico are in serious trouble—the forests in many areas are overstocked and under attack by insects, riparian habitat is degraded, and soils are eroding and unstable. There’s also the tremendous threat posed by wildfires.

That’s why TU is actively involved in long-range forest management plan revisions currently being undertaken for the Carson, Santa Fe and Gila national forests in New Mexico.

TU’s Mitchell and other staff are digging in to do the patient, long-haul work of attending public meetings, educating sportsmen about road and recreation planning in forests, giving input on habitat and wildlife management-- all to make sure that sportsmen’s voices are heard in the stewardship of our public lands.

I have a feeling sportsmen’s voices were heard at last week’s rally.

Randy Scholfield is TU’s communications director for the Southwest region.



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