In the heart of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn and acting Bureau of Land Management New Mexico State Director Aden Seidlitz signed a proclamation Friday (Oct. 27), agreeing to work together on a land exchange that will consolidate state and federal holdings within the monument and the Sabinoso Wilderness Area.
Local and state officials celebrated the land swap that will officially add about 43,000 acres to Taos' monument.
New Mexico public lands are a checkerboard of federal lands interspersed with state trust lands, making it a challenge to manage the properties under separate rules. The state has worked before with the federal government to exchange land.
The trade was put on hold over the summer during the U.S. Department of Interior's review of national monuments, part of a sustained effort by the administration of President Donald Trump to deregulate industries that use public lands and resources.
Dunn, a Republican who narrowly beat the Democratic incumbent in the 2014 election, criticized the delay soon after the review was announced, worried that the finishing touches may be left to a different commissioner. He launched a campaign to run for the congressional seat in Southern New Mexico currently held by Steve Pearce, the front-runner in the race to be the Republican nominee for governor. Dunn has since ended his campaign.
However, the deal between the state and federal agency was revived and an "agreement to initiate" a land exchange was signed earlier this month.
"I am pleased that after two long years of negotiations we are finally able to proceed with this land exchange which once completed will create one of the most preeminent recreational spots in the United States and allow our respective agencies to effectively manage our resources," said Dunn.
Those 43,000 acres are intermingled within the monument, meaning that once the deal is final, the exterior boundaries won't dramatically change. The exchange is meant to "consolidate and pull [surface and mineral assets owned by the state] out of the monument," the land office spokesperson has previously told The Taos News.
New Mexico's land office manages oil and gas leases on state land and revenue from those leases help fund the state's public schools. The deal with the BLM will transfer approximately 78,000 federal acres in 13 counties - including Colfax, Mora, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe counties - that are "more favorable for economic development." The deal will also transfer about 2,000 acres of state-owned lands within the Sabinoso Wilderness in San Miguel County to the BLM, which manages the approximately 16,000-acre area that has been isolated from public access by private land.