Sportsmen and women in Chaves County and southeast New Mexico recently got steamrolled by the Chaves County Commission.
The commissions vote to close a 5-mile stretch of Felix Canyon Road –– the primary access to public hunting unit 32 –– was not business as usual, as the commissioners would like us to believe. It’s part of a larger attack on the sportsman’s way of life, and an attack on public lands.
In Chaves County, for example, we’ve seen public roads closed left and right in recent years –– Felix Canyon Road, Squaw Canyon Road, Buchanan Road, to name a few –– denying the taxpaying public reasonable access to lands that belong to them. Public lands provide average New Mexican families a chance to hunt and fish for a reasonable cost.
Unlike our neighbors in Texas, who pay high dollar for access to private hunting ranches and access to private preserves, we New Mexicans have a rich tradition of hunting on public lands, and we don’t need gold coin in hand to open gates.
Because we have reasonable access to public lands, we can pass on our traditions to younger generations without having to be a wealthy rancher, or having the political connections to hunt on private land.
It’s clear where the Chaves County commissioners stand on public lands, but I must ask the question, which one of our elected leaders in southeast New Mexico will stand up for sportsmen?
I would hope our own Congressman Steve Pearce –– as our federal representative –– would go to bat for the New Mexican way of life. I would hope he would realize that his constituents in southeast New Mexico are public land hunters and anglers, and that he should be working to protect their interests and their way of life, just as much as the ranchers.
That means protecting public lands –– but also, encouraging adequate funding, management, and conservation of these lands to ensure that wildlife and fish in southeast New Mexico can thrive.
But on numerous occasions, Pearce has supported legislation that would sell off or transfer our public lands to western states or would otherwise reduce or remove public lands protections. These bills include H.R. 5836, the HEARD Act, H.R. 1581, the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act, H.R. 2852, the Action Plan for Public Lands and Education Act, and H.R. 995, a bill he introduced to reduce the protected status of significant wildlife habitat areas in the Organ-Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument.
Congressman Pearce still has a chance to get it right, where other of our elected leaders have shown a clear disregard for the opinions and way of life of their constituents. I sure hope he does, because the time for leadership is now. Once we lose these lands, we can’t get them back. Step up, Steve, the sportsmen and women of southeast New Mexico are depending on you.