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Time Runs Out on Proposed White's Peak Trade Tuesday

November 23, 2009

SPRINGER, N.M. - Just one day is left until the clock runs out on a deal that - as it stands now - could leave New Mexico sportsmen holding the short end of the stick. That's the view of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, which opposes a proposed land exchange involving public lands around White's Peak, west of Springer, that are popular with hunters. The trade involves transferring thousands of acres of mountainous public trust land to a few large private ranches in exchange for thousands of acres of lower-elevation parcels, mostly grasslands.

Ed Olona, president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, is a long-time resident of the area.

"For good, prime deer, bear and turkey hunting country they are trading prairie - prairie country."

According to the State Land Office, which manages the White's Peak land, the area has been hard to manage due to issues with access, vandalism and illegal off-road vehicle use; officials say the exchange would solve those problems. But Olona says those issues can be solved without trading away the land, and he complains that the deal was made largely out of the view of the public eye.

Olona says the exchange would unfairly affect local hunters, who can't afford to pay exorbitant fees to hunt on private lands.

"If they give it away to the wealthy, rich ranchers, the people of the state of New Mexico are going to suffer - they won't have a place to hunt any more. This is the reason why we're protecting these lands - for the poor."

Olona also notes that the trade could result in a loss for schools and other institutions like New Mexico Highlands University that currently benefit from the revenue generated from the trust lands by sportsmen and other users.

A map of the proposed exchange only recently was posted on the State Land Office web site, www.nmstatelands.org. If no one else bids or offers an exchange for the White's Peak lands by Tuesday, Nov. 24, at 5 p.m., the deal can move forward.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM