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Archive for October, 2013

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Rich Holland of SmartEtailing.com fishes a stretch of water on public land. Photo by Lew Carpenter

We all know that access to our public lands has been shrinking. Everyone who has been around New Mexico for more than a decade has a story. My friend and co-worker Max Trujillo, for example, remembers hunting with his father and brothers on BLM land in San Miguel County that eventually was designated as the Sabinoso Wilderness. “There’s good hunting up there,” he said, but as private lands surrounding Sabinoso changed hands, public access routes were shut down and the public lost all access into the area. Now Sabinoso is landlocked and no one but the neighbors can hunt there. “My kids never had that chance,” Max said.

In Las Cruces, NMWF board member Jim Bates talks about a large area of BLM land in the Sierra de Las Uvas where he used to hunt 40 years ago. Then came a locked gate. At first the landowner charged $25 a year to get to the public land. Then the price jumped to $100. Last time he heard, Jim said, it was $400. “It’s a nice area and there’s some pretty good hunting in there. But that’s not why we need access. It’s the principle of the thing – that’s our land and we can’t get to it.”

John Cornell, NMWF’s sportsman organizer in Hillsboro, lives in the shadow of Gila National Forest. But because one landowner has blocked access up Berrenda Creek, the public is locked out of the entire southeast corner of the forest. “That’s tens of thousands of acres that we can’t reach, but it’s the landowner’s private playground,” John said.

These are exactly the kinds of access issues that a bill now before Congress would address. The HUNT Act, introduced by Sen. Martin Heinrich, would expand and protect access to millions of acres of landlocked public land nationwide.

If this sounds familiar, it is. Sen. Heinrich introduced the same legislation last year when he was in the U.S. House. The new bill (click here to read it) would require agencies like the BLM and the Forest Service to work with willing landowners to provide access to public lands currently off-limits to hunters and anglers like Max, Jim, John – and YOU.

Polls have found that access is sportsmen’s No. 1 concern. The Government Accountability Office found that more than 50 million acres of public land is literally off-limits to the public that owns it. Not surprisingly, the HUNT Act has proven popular with sportsmen’s groups. Outdoor Life called it a “helluva good bill for hunters and anglers.” ( Click here to read the full story.)

Specifically, the HUNT Act would:
– Require public land management agencies to publish annually a list of federal lands over 640 acres with recreational potential but without access;
– Require the agencies to identify existing access routes to those parcels and develop a plan to provide access, including the resources needed;
– Dedicate 1.5 percent of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (which comes from a portion of federal offshore oil and gas revenues) to purchase easements and rights-of-way from willing sellers to unlock federal public lands.

This is legislation sportsmen have been waiting for. Please take a moment now and thank Sen. Heinrich for continuing to push for improved access for hunters and anglers, and for searching for ways to provide access to millions of acres of landlocked public lands. Click here to send your message.

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