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Editorial: High-handed process

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By The Staff

State Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons has tried to bypass the public with his proposal to trade White’s Peak land near Ocaté with apparently well-off ranchers. He has disregarded the input of the sportsmen of northern New Mexico, whose families have hunted at White’s Peak for generations.

Lyons’ office maintains that it has no legal duty to hold a public hearing on the transfer. But what would it hurt if the agency actually went the extra mile to keep the public it serves in the loop?

Lyons’ office has issued its share of press releases over the last year, but none have been about this controversial transfer. It seems as if Lyons wanted to sneak the deals through without any scrutiny. Fortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way. A number of sportsmen, including but no limited to Max Trujillo of Las Vegas, has put the spotlight on the proposed transfer. They have argued that the land the state would be getting is worse than the portions it would be trading away.

The Land Office has been dismissive of such criticism.

“They clearly don’t understand the situation. They’ve been wandering around the hills for all these generations, and back in the late 1800s, that land was designated as state trust land,” Land Office spokeswoman Kristen Haase said.

She speaks as if the people of northern New Mexico have no right to use the state land. As long as people have the proper hunting permits, they have every right to be there.

The Land Office contends that it wants to clear up the confusing checkerboard of land ownership in the White’s Peak area. But if its plan goes through, many locals would be priced out of prime hunting land. The Express UU Bar Ranch, near Cimarron, which is one of two ranches that want to trade with the state, lets people hunt on its land — for a hefty price. The ranch’s website advertises a 2009 bull elk hunt for $8,650, a 25 percent discount off its regular price. Spring turkey hunts cost $1,500.

“The 41,000 acres of state trust land in the White’s Peak area is land that the poor hunt, where anyone can hunt that can afford an $85 elk license or permit,” said Ed Olona, president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, which opposes the proposed trades.

The Land Office is taking bids, but the two ranches in question, the UU Bar and the Stanley Ranch, will probably be the only ones submitting.

If Lyons had been open with the public from the beginning, we would have more confidence in his intentions. But Lyons, who has little more than a year left in office, has kept his cards close to his chest. We urge him to stop this process and let his successor take a fresh look at this issue.