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Road closure opposition gaining momentum

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Helen and Oscar Sosa of Artesia express concerns during a meeting Monday night called by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation at Los Cerritos. The group is asking sportsmen to take action to keep some county roads open in Chaves County. County officials at some requests close some roads. (Mike Smith Photo)

Around 60 sportsmen, ranchers, adventurers and citizens from Roswell, Artesia and even Carlsbad attended a meeting to show their opposition to the proposed county road closures at Los Cerritos at 6 p.m. on Monday.

Southern New Mexico Outreach Coordinator for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Gabe Vasquez speaks to a group of sportsmen in Roswell Monday night. His group is asking hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts to state opposition to Chaves County leaders on some proposed road closures. (Mike Smith Photo)

“Clearly, this shows that people are passionate about this,” Gabriel Vasquez said. “I don’t know how many issues that people of Chaves County can rally around, but public lands are just built into our lives — not just in Chaves County, but in southern New Mexico. Public lands are just a way of life.”

Gabe Vasquez of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation (NMWF) sponsored the meeting along with Access NM and the New Mexico Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. Vasquez said he is from Las Cruces where he is a city councilor and said he hunts in and around Roswell.

Vasquez said he hopes the meeting shows the Chaves County Board of Commissioners that there are more people interested in the issue than the three ranchers following their own interests.

A map of the closures, a copy of NMWF’s publication Outdoor Reporter, and a document listing the contact information for county commissioners, land council members, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and New Mexico Department of Game & Fish (NMDGF) representatives. Vasquez and other members of the NMWF encouraged the public to write letters to the editors of local press outlets, publish thoughts on social media and speak at the county commissioner meetings on the third Thursday of every month.

Helen and Oscar Sosa, avid hunters, came from Artesia and shared their stance with the Daily Record. Both said access to public lands was an ongoing issue they have been fighting for and they hope the public’s voice will come out as the winner this time.

Romine Ranch

David Romine, a rancher, said he had been fighting this issue for years when Old School House Road was going to be closed near his property, which is 80 miles away from Roswell in the Flying H Community near Picacho Road.

Romine said his property has access to nearly 1,500 acres of landlocked public land and when Romine and his wife Virgie were going to open their land up to hunters and their lives were threatened along with two of the hunters and sportsmen on state trust land. Law enforcement would not assist them after the threats according to Romaine.

“It’s the public’s!” he said. “I’m sorry — that’s just the way we feel.”

Access New Mexico

“The public needs to get out and oppose this closure,” David Archibeque said, “or eventually nobody will be able to get out and go hunt — not even hunters — hikers, any outdoorsmen. That area has a lot of history. It has some Billy the Kid ruins.”

Archibeque said he was in attendance to oppose three road closures ahead of time, instead of facing what happened with the Feliz Canyon closure. Vasquez called the actions at the Felix Canyon bad government because the voice of the constituents was not heard and called closing access to public lands a bad economic move since visiting hunters can boost the economy.

“It’s bad economic policy apart from keeping us out of our constitutional rights to access these public lands,” Vasquez said.

Archibeque and a few others started a group Access New Mexico in response to the Felix Canyon closure. Archibeque asked for more people to join with the group to prevent issues before they happened.

Dino Wilcox, another member of Access New Mexico, said the group is trying to gain nonprofit access within the year and wants manpower to help with the roads, fences, or whatever is needed to keep public lands accessible.

Locked out

“I’m tired of watching us get locked out of all of this,” Mark Pantuso said. “The only thing that these county commissioners understand is votes and money. That’s it. They don’t care about the truth. It’s just money. We are all here from all of the districts that they are in. We need them to know that every district has someone representing from all of the districts. We are holding them accountable to this.”

Pantuso encouraged everyone to speak their two minutes at the future meetings and at the public hearing on April 19. Pantuso said he found in a policy that the commissioners cannot vacate or close a county road when the road is necessary, beneficial or valuable for public use on that road.

Many of the attendees said that if the roads were closed, it would take 30 minutes longer for them to access Ruidoso, which would take away a primary route.

“We need this to be viral,” Vasquez said. “We need everybody to be against this so it makes it such an unpopular decision so that these county commissioners cannot close these roads.”

Vasquez said the groups would send a request for an inspection of public records for emails sent to commissioners if the concerned citizens cannot make the 9 a.m. meetings, which would then be shared online.

Vasquez said the BLM, NMDGF, NMWF and other stakeholders have created an agreement to consider for a two-track easement cut around the Casabonnes ranch and the Felix Canyon closure on BLM land once it is mapped out, which Vasquez is confident will work out. He said the new road is 13 miles and the NMWF is asking for help to make it happen.

Public comments 

City Councilor Barry Foster is the secretary of AccessNM and said every agency that spoke out said to not close the roads.

Romine shared his story again and also said the current sheriff refuses to send deputies into the surrounding land to enforce the law and closures of the county that has affected fire department access.

Toby Marrujo said he attended the road viewing at the Casabonnes and that Sheriff Britt Synder and the commissioners asked the group to leave without public comment, which Vasquez confirmed. Seth Taylor said to look at the friendship of Synder with the commissioners and compared it to the “Good Ole Boys.”

Vasquez asked the room to raise their hands if they supported not closing the county roads and every hand went up, which he videoed and took a couple photos to send to the county commissioners.

City reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.