Organ Mountains Designation Unlocks New Land Projects To The State

May 26, 2014

Officials businesses and residents came to the Onate High School Athletic Fields for the celebration of the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument.
Credit Simon Thompson

The Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument places nearly 500,000 acres of land under permanent federal management.  A recent study by the Las Cruces Green Chamber predicted the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument would generate more than $7 million a year through increased tourism, new jobs and commercial development.

But that may only be a portion of the total impact. 80,000 of the 496,000 acres of land in the monument boundaries actually belonged to New Mexico.

Jessie Juen is the State Director of the Bureau of Land Management.  He’s overseeing the area’s transition and says the agency is working to compensate New Mexico by offering new lands in the area.

“There won’t be a financial gain or loss-  they are all appraised lands- they will have a value- and that value that exchange will be a value for value exchange" he says.

But New Mexico State Land Office Commissioner Ray Powell says it is even better than a value for value exchange. The designation will continue conservation while opening up lands that are a better fit for developing commercial projects.

“This is a really big deal. One the creation of this national monument, the second  part of it is this trade-  Where we are trading out of the national monument to create- more economic development- for the entire county“ he says.

The State Land Office already looks after 13 million acres of land in New Mexico.   Powell says projects and public private partnerships on state lands are supporting research and nurturing innovation and industry in New Mexico.  

“We’ve got the largest solar array being built right now down by Deming, we have got the largest wind farm in New Mexico being built right now up by Albuquerque." he says. 

We’ve got a biofuels farm over by Hobbs that is using salt water from the oil from the oil and gas industry, using the New Mexico sun and using patented algae to develop jet fuel, diesel fuel, gasoline." he says

Powell says drawing industry to state land allows New Mexico to have a hand in projects and to position them to be environmentally sustainable from inception.

Between leasing of the land, profits from private-public partnerships and commercial development the state land office generates $800 million dollars for New Mexico every year.

But where’s that money going? 

Powell says it is reinvested back into New Mexico to create jobs and drive public initiatives like the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, University research and public education.

“That would not happen if we did not have these working land supply almost their entire budgets supporting their educational programs' he says.

"All of our universities including New Mexico State University and public hospitals here in New Mexico and our public school" he says.

"People are able to come to these  hospitals and facilities and get first class care because of the revenues that generated by these working lands- at no additional expense to our taxpayers” he says.

Powell says the state land office is still assessing the land available and how it could be used and he says more renewable energy projects are being considered.  

New Mexico Bureau of Land management Director Jessie Juen says the land exchange with the state will be a three-part process over the next few years…

Planning and identifying the viable land, evaluating environmental impact and receiving public comment.