The Chaves County Land Council has added four new members and seeks to become a more effective advisory board to county managers and officials as it holds its second meeting of the year Thursday night.
“It has been in flux for a couple of years,” said Chaves County Planning and Zoning Director Marlin Johnson, whose office provides support and coordination for the group. “Apparently getting a quorum was difficult from 2013 to 2015.”
The plan at this point, Johnson said, is to return to regular monthly meetings. While some thought was given to reconfiguring the types or number of members, according to Johnson, a decision was made recently to appoint four new members, returning the council to nine members.
Three members represent agricultural interests, three represent recreation interests and three represent mining, oil and gas interests.
The new members, chosen by commissioners in consultation with county staff, are former county commissioner and local rancher and agritourism provider Kim Chesser; retired banker and hunter and conservationist Hud Rhea; Hinkle Shanor oil and gas lawyer Jared Hembree; and Roswell businessman, Badlands BBQ owner and off-roading enthusiast Eric Austin.
Both Rhea and Austin said that it is too early to have any specific goals as a council member, that they will need time to familiarize themselves with the issues and the council.
The new appointees join five existing members: rancher and real estate broker Scott McNally and rancher Mark Marley for the agricultural sector; Mack Energy and Chase Farms manager Dan Girand and Jeff Harvard of Harvard Petroleum Co. for the extraction sector; and Central Valley Electric Cooperative Board of Trustees President and hunting services operator Chuck Wagner for the recreation sector.
Formed in 1994 and given its current name in 2014, the council exists to advise elected officials and county staff on matters related to federal and state public lands, which represent about 60 percent of the county’s total acreage, according to the county’s long-term plan.
“It is a way to get some discussion going and get recommendations on how to proceed,” said Johnson, “so that way, by the time it reaches the commissioners, there already have been public discussions.”
At its 6 p.m. Thursday meeting at the Chaves County Administrative Center, the council is scheduled to talk about the Carlsbad Resource Management Plan. The plan, led by the Bureau of Land Management, includes portions of Chaves County. A draft is now under review by BLM staff in Washington D.C., prior to being published for public comment.
At previous meetings about the plan with the county commissioners, BLM staff engaged in intense debate about how some federal lands in the county have been designated as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern or Lands with Wilderness Characteristics, which could make that acreage unavailable to ranching and oil and gas activities in future years.
It is unclear at this time how the Carlsbad Resource Management Plan process will be affected by the recently announced restructure of the U.S. Department of Interior, which includes the reassignment of New Mexico BLM Director Amy Lueders to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.