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Officials decry BLM’s lack of coordination

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Members of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners expressed frustration Monday with what they said has been the Bureau of Land Management’s lack of coordination with the county on its revision of the Carlsbad Regional Management Plan.

Representatives appeared before the commission for a special public meeting with commissioners.

Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell said after the meeting that it was the first time the commissioners have met with BLM officials from the agency’s Carlsbad office since the 15,000-page revised management plan was released for public comment Aug. 30.

Three parcels in the boot heel of Chaves County have been among 2.1 million surface acres and 2.9 subsurface acres in Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties managed by BLM’s office in Carlsbad to be affected in the plan. Ezzell said about 18,000 to 20,000 acres in Chaves County would be impacted.

The option endorsed by the BLM would designate 36,595 acres as “lands with wilderness characteristics”, which would allow for development of oil and gas and other uses but with degrees of restriction.

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Commissioners said throughout the meeting that they disagree with BLM that the parcels in question meet the definition of lands with wilderness characteristics.

According to the The Bureau of Land Management website, lands that receive that designation must be 5,000 acres in size, roadless, must appear to be affected primarily by the forces of nature, and work by human beings must be “substantially unnoticeable.”

The land must also have “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.”

Commissioners noted that aircraft often fly over the land and that Mistic Inc., a private security training company, regularly conducts live fire exercises on land adjacent to that area.

“And they are out there shooting and blowing things up all the time,” Ezzell said.

Commissioners also said the BLM did not coordinate with them, and were inconsistent with the county’s own land use plan.

County Manager Staton Riggs asked BLM’s Jim Stovall, district manager for the Pecos District, what steps had been taken to address inconsistencies between the current BLM draft proposal and the county plan.

Stovall said representatives from the BLM received the land use plan produced by the county in 2016 and started receiving comment and meeting with hunters, recreationists and ranchers who use the land.

The BLM then changed the preferred alternative from managing the land solely for wilderness characteristics to managing the parcels for multiple use with certain restrictions.

The commissioners and representatives of the county though said that the BLM has not worked with the county as required by law.

Ezzell said that under the law, the BLM has also failed to coordinate with local governments in coming up with the latest draft of the regional management plan.

“You haven’t come close to coordinating with this government,” he said.

Margaret Byfield, a consultant for the county, said that the BLM should have addressed concerns before the latest draft of the BLM plan came out. She said the obligation is being “kicked down the road” by the BLM when it comes to addressing the county’s concerns that should have been included in the latest draft.

“And that is what you guys are doing is that you are kicking this down the road and your obligation is to have the analysis in this draft that is already published.”

After the meeting, Stovall said he thought the meeting was a good meeting and that he enjoyed hearing from the county.

Ty Adams, assistant field manager at the BLM Carlsbad Field Office, said the BLM has a process they work through to take input from different public and private entities and that the viewpoints and comments of local government will be incorporated.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.