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White Peak land swap reversed

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The Associated Press

SANTA FE — State Land Commissioner Ray Powell reversed a land swap Tuesday that his predecessor made in northeastern New Mexico.

The move by Powell returns the White Peak area in Colfax and Mora counties to the Land Office from a private citizen.

It reverses the decision of former Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons and complies with a state Supreme Court mandate.

Lyons negotiated the land exchange in 2009. But State Attorney General Gary King challenged it, claiming Lyons violated the law by approving the swap of 7,205 acres of trust land for 3,330 acres of ranch land without a public auction.

The state Supreme Court in January rejected the exchange, ruling the Land Office had not followed the requirement to hold a public auction of trust land.

The exchange is one of four proposed by the Land Office under Lyons that would have traded 14,000 acres of state trust land for 9,600 acres owned by White Peak ranches.
When Powell took office in January, he placed a moratorium on land exchanges and said the other three swaps proposed around White Peak would not go forward.

Lyons repeatedly defended the proposed land trades around the popular hunting area, saying the deals would consolidate land holdings, improve public access and resolve management problems.

Sportsmen’s groups opposed the exchanges, contending they were behind-closed-door deals benefiting private landowners rather than the public. Hunters complained that Lyons was giving away prime elk areas for less desirable tracts.

Powell said Tuesday that White Peak was economically important to the region.

“People come from all over the country to enjoy and experience this very special place,” he said. “They buy local products and support our local communities before returning home.”