Land swap closes amid conflict

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Angry hunters, officials grill state land commissioner

By Special to the Monitor

SANTA FE - Angry hunters and skeptical public officials grilled state Land Commissioner Pat Lyons over a package of state trust-land trades around Whites Peak in northern New Mexico.

The confrontation Thursday at the state Land Office in Santa Fe came after the first such deal closed, involving the Stanley Ranch.

Lyons held the meeting to offer state legislators more information about the trade. But the session often turned into heated exchanges, with Lyons and hunting guide Albert H. Goke of Las Vegas, N.M., shaking fingers at each other.

“This is wrong,” Goke said.

Rancher David Stanley traded 3,336 acres of private land valued at $6.4 million for 7,205 acres of state trust land valued at $6.3 million.

The swap consolidates his holdings and state trust lands around Whites Peak, located northeast of Ocate. Exchanges are proposed with three other private ranches, including one that is expected to close within the next few weeks.

Lyons said the exchange will create 44,000 acres of contiguous state trust lands with more water sources, good big-game habitat and new permanent public access off N.M. 120.

However, hunters from Mora and Las Vegas who attended the meeting said the Stanley trade takes away some of the best elk-hunting areas.

“Those of us who know that area know what’s being lost. It’s painful,” Angelo Archuleta of Mora said.

State Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, questioned Lyons on why the meeting was held on the day the main land trade was completed.

“It is not good policy to explain a complicated exchange after the fact,” said Egolf, who has asked the attorney general to investigate appraisals conducted for the land trade.

Lyons said consolidating state trust lands increases the value of the lands and will allow him to make more money for New Mexico off grazing leases and through camping, recreation and other activities.

When Egolf asked for a revenue-source analysis, Lyons didn’t have one but offered a projection on increased grazing lease income.

State trust lands are managed to benefit 23 schools and hospitals in the state. Lyons is responsible for generating revenue off trust lands for beneficiaries and revenues have risen steadily under his two-term tenure as state land commissioner.