Councilor Joseph Eby, who asked for the item to be placed on the council's meeting agenda, said House Bill 292 was presented Monday to the state legislature and was headed to committee reviews. The law is modeled after similar legislation passed in Utah, but would not affect national monuments or wilderness areas.
"New Mexico is 70 percent U.S. government land," he said. "When New Mexico became a state, the federal government promised to extinguish title to public lands within a reasonable amount of time. We've been a state more than 100 years and are still waiting for that promise to be fulfilled."
With the transfer of public lands, the state would benefit economically from any sales of that land and for access to minerals and other natural resources, he said. In any case, the state, counties and communities would have more of a say in management decisions.
He cited a U.S. Forest Service forest fuels reduction and watershed improvement project around Bonito Lake that was delayed because of a protest by an environmental group, and in June, that habitat was destroyed in the Little Bear Fire.
"I'm not saying it wouldn't have happened, but it could have prevented the spread of the fire,"Eby said.
Councilor James Stoddard asked Village Attorney Dan Bryant if there was any reason the council should not support the legislation or if there were legal issues the resolution might raise.
"If the council passes the resolution (in support of the legislation), it will be sent to Santa Fe, our legislative delegation and other legislators asking them to vote affirmatively on the bill," Bryant said. The resolution also calls for the creation of a Public Lands Transfer Task Force.
"This battle over federal land management has been raging in the West my entire life," the attorney said.
Over the years, the viewpoint has shifted, he said. The BLM, the U.S. Forest Service and other management agencies were populated by the sons and daughters of farmers and ranchers and land users, "but today those agencies are no longer populated by those sons and daughters and local communities in the red part of this map have lost our voice."
"It all boils down to the bureaucracy and the jobs they have to lose if it happened," Stoddard said. "The bureaucracies that maintain those positions will lobby like crazy to keep this from happening."
Bryant, who also is attorney for the Otero County Commission, said 88 percent of that neighboring county is federal land, "so we run the society just south of here on 12 percent of the land mass. The numbers in Lincoln County are close, 78 percent to 85 percent, he said.
Mayor Ray Alborn asked about any restrictions if the bill passes. Bryant said as drafted, the bill, "would not undo national parks or monuments or any of those kinds of places, but there are tens of thousands of acres that could be turned over to the state that could be turned into productive ground that are sitting fallow and unused," he said.
The state and counties receive money from the annual Congressionally-authorized Payment in Lieu of Taxes program as some compensation for not being able to levy property taxes against the acreage, Bryant explained. Otero County runs on a $30 million budget and receives $1.4 million for 88 percent of the county's real estate, he said.
"Who then bears the cost of services (counties and cities provide), our taxpayers on that 12 percent of the real estate, because we are unable to get benefit from the balance of that real estate," Bryant said.
BLM probably manages double the number of acres contained in the Lincoln National Forest, he added.
"What it's really about is getting a voice into the local communities about the decisions that are going to be made on neighboring federal land," Bryant said. "In the last generation, we've had almost no voice. We have a great local forester. I'm not talking about personnel, but it's a larger question."