Flickr: Jim Nix/ Nomadic Pursuits
A significant portion of the land area of New Mexico – nearly 30% – is public land. These public lands include national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, monuments, wilderness areas and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. New Mexico’s public lands feature a diverse range of landscapes, including scrubby deserts in the south to the tall ponderosa forests of the northern mountains. In addition, these lands contain remnants of 1500 years of human history: historic trails, prehistoric ruins and rock art.
New Mexico’s public lands support a wide variety of activities, from recreational pursuits such as camping, hunting, fishing, and hiking to natural resource development. They also provide clean air, clean water and picturesque scenery, resources enjoyed by all New Mexicans and visitors who flock to New Mexico from around the world. New Mexico’s public lands also provide habitat for hundreds of wildlife species, from popular game species like mule deer and big horn sheep, to the rare Mexican wolf and Mexican spotted owl.
Public lands have a substantial impact on the New Mexico economy. These lands support a booming tourism and outdoor industry. People travel to New Mexico from around the world to see and explore its natural marvels, such as Bandelier National Monument, and to camp, hunt and fish on thousands of acres of pristine wildlife habitat. In addition, the natural amenities offered by New Mexico’s public lands attract new businesses and a skilled workforce, which boost economic growth in communities located near public lands.
Outdoor recreation and tourism are a vital part of the New Mexico economy. The New Mexico Tourism Department reports that the state hosted 2.3 million visitors in 2011. Visitors spent $5.5 billion on travel-related expenses. This spending supported 85,766 jobs with total income of $2.1 billion and generated $1.2 billion in taxes in 2011, with $565 million accruing to state and local governments. The Outdoor Industry Association has found that active outdoor recreation contributes produces nearly $2.75 billion annually in retail sales and services across New Mexico (accounting for 4.6 percent of gross state product), supports 47,000 jobs, and generates $184 million in annual state tax revenue.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that each year over 783,000 people participate in wildlife-related recreation in New Mexico - 278,000 fish, 69,000 hunt and 566,000 participate in wildlife-watching activities. The Montana economy benefits from $937 million in annual spending on wildlife-related recreation.
Like other western states with a large percentage of public lands, New Mexico is outpacing the nation in economic growth. The competitive advantage offered by its public lands attracts talent, investment, and businesses to New Mexico, contributing to its high rate of employment and income growth. Nearly half of New Mexico entrepreneurs choose to do business in the state because of opportunities tied to public lands.
|New Mexico vs. Non-Western U.S., Percent Change, 2000-2011. Source: Headwaters Economics. West Is Best: Protected Lands Promote New Mexico Jobs and Higher Incomes. November 2012. http://headwaterseconomics.org/land/west-is-best-value-of-public-lands-nm/|
Public opinion polls prove that people and businesses come to New Mexico and choose to stay because of the quality of life tied to public lands. New Mexico residents enjoy spending time outside on public lands. A 2013 bipartisan poll conducted by the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project showed that half of New Mexico voters hike or campy regularly. Forty-one percent (41%) identify themselves as a hunter or angler. Sixty-seven percent (67%) of voters in the state plan to visit a national park this year. These New Mexicans recognize the economic and intrinsic value of public lands and want to see these lands protected for future generations.
New Mexico voters clearly value the impact public lands have on their economy – they overwhelming agree (84%) that public lands are an essential part of the state’s economy and 69% agree that the state's public lands help attract high quality employers and good jobs. Seventy-seven percent (77%) of New Mexicans believe public lands in the state support the economy, provide recreation opportunities and enhance quality of life, rather than being a fiscal burden and preventing creation of jobs in traditional industries. Among New Mexico small business owners, 36% agree that New Mexico’s national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife habitats are essential parts of the state’s outdoor culture and quality of life and great reasons to run a business there.
A solid majority of 52% of New Mexicans want environmentally sensitive public lands to be “permanently protected” from oil and gas production. Four in five New Mexico small business owners support designating more of New Mexico’s existing public lands as national monuments. Doing so would ensure natural areas and water in these regions would enjoy protections similar to those of the El Malpais, Bandelier and Tent Rocks national monuments in New Mexico.
Most New Mexicans (62%) oppose the sale of Colorado’s public lands as a way to reduce the nation’s budget deficit.
Far too many of New Mexico’s public lands are under attack by Congress and the state legislature. For example, throughout the 112th and 113th Congresses, elected lawmakers introduced dozens of bills that sought to roll back protections for public lands. In addition, New Mexico is one of seven western states that have passed, introduced, or explored legislation in the past year demanding that the federal government turn over millions of acres of federal public lands to the state. If the sponsors of these proposals succeed in their aims, these lands will be used in whatever way the new owner – state or private – wants to use them. This generally means maximizing private profits through resource extraction rather than managing for the long-term benefit and use of the public. To learn more about why these proposals are problematic, read the full report, Valuing Our Western Public Lands: Safeguarding Our Economy and Way of Life.
New Mexico’s “Transfer of Public Land Act,” introduced in early 2013, calls on the federal government to turn 23 million acres of New Mexico’s public lands over to the state by the end of 2015 and creates a public lands transfer task force to study the process of taking ownership of these federal lands.
Several bills proposed in the U.S. Congress would force the sale of public lands in New Mexico:
For decades, cornerstone conservation laws like the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) have protected public lands and natural resources. Recently, many members of Congress have been working to dismantle these vital protections and open public lands to increased resource exploitation and development. For example, in the first session of the 112th Congress, House Republicans voted 191 times to weaken environmental protections, halt wilderness designations, and remove protections for wildlife. For a list of some of the legislation that poses significant risks to our public lands, read the full report, Valuing Our Western Public Lands: Safeguarding Our Economy and Way of Life.
Why is there an ideological gap between the actions of our elected officials and the values of their constituents? Clearly the power and influence of industry lobbying and campaign contributions plays a role. But the Colorado College State of the Rockies poll offers an additional explanation: the majority of voters in western states are not aware of their representatives’ view on public lands issues. Indeed, survey data indicates that while most New Mexico voters take a positive view of a candidate who supports protecting public lands and espouses pro-conservation positions, a majority (53%) say they are not sure what position their member of Congress has taken on protecting land, air and water.
It’s up to individual citizens to hold elected officials and decision makers accountable to the values that define New Mexico’s public lands heritage. The most important thing you can do is let decision makers know that you are paying attention. To have your voice heard and demonstrate your commitment to preserving our public lands:
1. Inspire your children and grandchildren to become the next generation of conservation leaders by taking them outside to hike, fish, hunt, and watch wildlife. Visit OPL’s New Mexico Resources page for information about visiting New Mexico’s public lands.
2. Join local, regional, and national groups like the National Wildlife Federation that fight for your priorities. Visit OPL’s New Mexico Resources page for a list of wildlife and conservation groups that work in New Mexico.
3. Take advantage of opportunities for citizen involvement in decisions affecting our public lands: public meetings and hearings with decision makers, public comments periods, town hall meetings, and other forms of citizen engagement.
4. Reach out directly to your elected officials through letters, phone calls, or social media platforms. Tell them you value our public lands. Your representatives are duty-bound to listen. Visit the links below to find and contact your elected officials.
Contact Elected Officials About Public Lands Issues
Center for American Progress, Goad, J. and Kenworthy, T., State Efforts to ‘Reclaim’ Our Public Lands http://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/GoadLandsReclaimBrief-1.pdf
Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, Conservation in the West Poll http://www.coloradocollege.edu/other/stateoftherockies/conservationinthewest/
Headwaters Economics, West Is Best: Protected Lands Promote New Mexico Jobs and Higher Incomes http://headwaterseconomics.org/land/west-is-best-value-of-public-lands-nm/
New Mexico Tourism Department http://nmindustrypartners.org/?page_id=14
Outdoor Industry Association, The Outdoor Recreation Economy, New Mexico http://www.outdoorindustry.org/images/ore_reports/NM-newmexico-outdoorrecreationeconomy-oia.pdf
Small Business Majority, New Mexico Small Business Owners Support ‘All-of-the-Above’ Energy Policy that Protects Public Lands http://www.smallbusinessmajority.org/small-business-research/public-lands/062112_new-mexico_public_lands_poll.php
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, New Mexico http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/fhw11-nm.pdf
U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce Minority Staff, The Anti-Environment Record of the U.S. House of Representatives 112th Congress, 1stSession http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/sites/default/files/image_uploads/_Anti-Environment%20Report%20Final.pdf
Transfer of Public Lands Act, State of New Mexico H.B. 292, available at http://www.nmlegis.gov/lcs/_session. aspx?chamber=H&legtype=B&legno=%20292&year=13; Stella Davis, “Bill would move New Mexico’s federal lands into state custody,” Carlsbad Current-Argus, February 7, 2013, available at http://www.currentargus.com/ci_22539422/bill- would-move-new-mexicos-federal-lands-into.