Give the public access to public land

July 24, 2017 GMT

The Sabinoso Wilderness lies hidden in the plains east of Las Vegas, N.M. Unique to the region, the area features breathtaking, sinuous canyons lined with towering sandstone cliffs. Water in the canyon bottoms creates riparian meadows that provide lush habitat for game species including elk, mule deer, Barbary sheep, mountain lions, wild turkey, and migratory waterfowl. Golden eagles, hawks and peregrine falcons ride thermals coming off the canyon walls, and the canyons’ springs, creeks and pools host the largest concentration of amphibians in Northern New Mexico.

Congress designated the area wilderness in 2009 in recognition of its pristine backcountry and in response to local support for its preservation as a place where sportsmen and outdoor recreationalists can interact with the beautiful and wild landscapes that we, as New Mexicans, value deeply.

The Sabinoso has changed little in the last several hundred years. The area shows signs of the ancient hunters that frequented this region, but there are few marks of modern society. These ancient hunting grounds are full of game, but modern hunters, including veterans who fought to protect these lands, cannot access the Sabinoso because it is entirely cut off from public roads by private land.

Pursuing game in the solitude and grandeur of wild public lands is a deep-seated Western American value. Hunting the Sabinoso would give sportsmen a rare opportunity to pursue bountiful game in a picturesque and pristine environment that offers a window into the origins of our hunting heritage. Without access, we cannot lose ourselves in the experience of stalking trophy mule deer in the timeless canyons of the Sabinoso, nor can we teach our children and grandchildren to call in turkeys in these lands where the presence of the generations of hunters that came before us is palpable. The hunting grounds of the Sabinoso are a rich public resource that should not be squandered.

It is not only hunters who are missing out. Outfitters, guides and other local businesses in San Miguel County would get a boost from increased hunting activity in the area, and increased sales of licenses and tags would mean more resources for Game and Fish to devote to habitat and wildlife management statewide. Allowing the Sabinoso to remain locked in by private land represents a missed economic opportunity for San Miguel County and the state of New Mexico.

Thanks to the generosity of a local rancher and landowner, these issues could be easily resolved. In coming weeks, the Department of the Interior will decide whether to allow a private landowner to open up the Sabinoso. A local landowner recently chose to sell his ranch in order to link the wilderness to a nearby county road. The land is now held in trust by a nonprofit, and all that is required to permanently integrate it into the Sabinoso is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s signature.

Congress directed the Department of the Interior to manage the Sabinoso for the “use and enjoyment of the American people.” But the American people can neither use nor enjoy it today. New Mexico sportsmen are already scouting this year’s big game hunts; unless the Department of the Interior moves quickly, those hunting and guiding in Unit 42 will once again be shut out of some of the richest and most beautiful public hunting grounds in our region.

Let your voice be heard by contacting Secretary of the Interior Zinke at nmwildlife.org/news/tell-secretary-zinke-new-mexico-sportsmen-women-want-sabinoso-access/.

Garrett VeneKlasen is executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. He also is running for New Mexico land commissioner in the Democratic primary.