Monument review could hurt land swap, Dunn says

April 27, 2017 GMT

President Donald Trump’s executive order to review the designation of dozens of national monuments could scuttle a land swap proposal with New Mexico intended to generate much needed revenue for public education, the state’s land commissioner warned Wednesday.

New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, a Republican, has been negotiating for months to transfer 41,000 acres of state land holdings within the Rio Grande del Norte Monument in Taos County to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which manages the monument. Dunn said the deal could turn the monument into “the Yellowstone National Park of the Southwest.” In exchange, the state would get BLM properties around the state that it could lease to generate revenues.

But Trump’s order could delay the negotiations past the end of Dunn’s term on Dec. 31, 2018, the land commissioner said, and his successor might not support the trade.


“I hope we will be able to move forward sooner than later but I fear that if we don’t finalize the exchange within the next couple of months, it won’t get done,” Dunn said in a news release.

Trump signed the controversial order at a ceremony Wednesday in Washington. It calls for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to produce an interim report in 45 days and issue a final report within 120 days. Trump has accused the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, of engaging in a massive federal land grab through Obama’s use of the 1906 American Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to designate national monuments without congressional approval. But Trump’s order reaches well beyond Obama’s administration, re-examining the designations of 24 monuments established by three former presidents, including at least four monuments in New Mexico.

Dunn said a delay of 60 days or more in the Rio Grande monument land trade to BLM would push the closing date for the deal past the end of his term.

Dunn said the proposed swap “is an example of officials on both sides of the aisle, at all levels of government, coming together to do a good thing for New Mexico. … If and when the exchange is completed, the public’s access to the monument will be greatly enhanced.”

Obama established the 242,500-acre Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in 2013. The Rio Grande cuts an 800-foot-deep gorge through the monument. Recreational opportunities include whitewater rafting, hiking, fishing, mountain biking, hunting and camping.

Dunn’s proposal would open more land to recreational opportunities by putting state holdings within the monument boundaries under BLM control. The State Land Office would receive surface and mineral estate in Chaves, Colfax, Guadalupe, Lincoln, McKinley, Mora, Otero, Rio Arriba, San Juan, Sandoval, Santa Fe, Socorro and Torrance counties.


“State Trust Lands and federal lands are often intermingled, which prevents us from effectively managing our respective resources,” Dunn said. “This exchange is significant because the BLM could fully implement its objective as a public land manager and the [state Land Office] could fulfill our mandate which is to generate much-needed revenue for public education.

“If and when the exchange is completed, the public’s access to the monument will be greatly enhanced,” Dunn added.

Another part of the proposed trade involves the 16,030-acre Sabinoso Wilderness Area in San Miguel County, which the BLM owns and manages. Under the proposed deal, the state would give the BLM about 2,000 acres within the wilderness area and the State Land Office would receive federal lands elsewhere in the state.

Trump’s executive order also could affect the 496,000-acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces, which was designated by Obama in 2014, as well the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument between Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Environmentalists and Democratic members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation criticized the Republican president’s ordered review of national monuments and questioned whether he had the legal authority to undo a monument designation. The lone GOP member of the state’s congressional delegation supported Trump’s action.

The Sierra Club released a statement saying, “America’s parks and public lands are not in need of corporate restructuring. We should not be asking which parts of our history and heritage we can eliminate, but instead how we can make our outdoors reflect the full American story.”

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in a statement, “I do not believe that President Trump has the legal authority to rescind a national monument designation, and if he attempts to do so, I will fight him every step of the way.”

Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján, whose district includes Taos County, said the decision to designate the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument was strongly supported by the local community.

Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., echoed Trump’s sentiment, saying, “The Obama Administration, and the administrations before it, repeatedly abused the Antiquities Act by creating expansive national monuments that blatantly disregarded input from local communities and governments that are directly affected by these designations.

“I support today’s action to review our national monument designations and look forward to working with the Administration to ensure that the beauty of New Mexico is preserved.”

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexica­ Read his political blog at­gs/politics.