Friday, February 1, 2013
Legislation that would move the ownership and management of U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands in New Mexico to the state has been introduced at the Roundhouse.
The Transfer of Public Lands Act is sponsored by Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, and Sen. Richard C. Martinez, D-Espanola.
In a prepared statement, Herrell said New Mexico has a rich history of farming, ranching, hunting, fishing and oil drilling.
"In our past we have also had a thriving timber industry that is unfortunately near nonexistent," Herrell said. "We have been fortunate to have vast expanses of land that can be utilized by New Mexicans to help feed their families and enrich their communities. However, we are currently not getting the full use of the land that could be available. Instead, we are paying a management fee to the federal government in order to allow them to make the rules on how our land is used."
The legislation, introduced on Monday, would exclude national parks, national historic parks, national monuments, wilderness areas, and tribal lands. The bill calls on the U.S. Government to extinguish title to the public lands and transfer title to the state on or before Dec. 31, 2015.
"In my home of Otero County, we would greatly benefit from this act as it has the potential to allow for a renewal of the timber industry," Herrell said. "A healthy timber industry, managed responsibly by New Mexicans, would not only help our economy by creating a large number of jobs, but it would also help to protect our watersheds and keep our forests as livable habitat for all wildlife. Additionally, by responsibly thinning our overgrown forests, we can help decrease the devastation of wildfires. As it is currently, the federal government has logging restrictions that keep our forests overgrown, creating a hazardous environment. When a fire starts, the overgrowth serves as kindling, creating a massive forest fire that threatens the safety of our homes and communities."
Herrell said it is time to put an end to the wildland fire danger.
The legislation is similar to the Transfer of Public Lands Act enacted last year in Utah. But an analysis by the Utah Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel cautioned lawmakers and the governor that the act would interfere with Congress' power to dispose of public lands. The review noted that any attempt by Utah to enforce the requirement would have a high probability of being declared unconstitutional.
Staff in the New Mexico Attorney General's Office normally reviews proposed legislation.
"This bill does not show up on our public records site yet," Phil Sisneros, director of communications for the AG's office said Thursday. "That means either it is still being reviewed or it has not come to us for analysis."
The New Mexico Transfer of Public Lands measure would establish a public lands transfer task force to facilitate the transfer of the federal lands to the state. The task force would also establish a prioritized list of management actions to in part preserve and promote the state's interest in protecting public health and safety, preventing catastrophic wildfire and forest insect infestation, preserving watersheds, preserving and enhancing energy and the production of minerals, preserving and improving range conditions, and increasing plant diversity and reducing invasive weeds.
Herrell said the transfer of national forest and BLM lands to the state would also provide revenues to New Mexico's coffers instead of the feds.
"If we follow suit with other states that have done exactly what I am proposing, we can bring in 100 percent of revenues from oil, gas, timber and other industries from this land instead of the less than 50 percent that we currently keep. Doing so will allow us to put more money into our education system to ensure that the children of New Mexico get the education that they deserve."
Herrell pointed to a study done for the Otero County Commission by the Southwest Center for Resource Analysis. She said the report indicated lands currently managed by the BLM and U.S. Forest Service generates more than $500 million in annual revenues for the federal government.
A Fiscal Impact Report for House Bill 292 had not been completed. Legislative Finance Committee staff analyst Mary McCoy said the report would likely be finalized on the day the bill is scheduled to be heard by its first committee, the Agriculture and Water Resources Committee. Rep. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, is a member of the committee. A date for a hearing had not been scheduled as of Thursday.
Herrell said five other Western states are looking at similar legislation.
"I am happy to blaze this trail along with other states in the west," Herrell said. "New Mexicans deserve better than the land management we are currently getting from the federal government."