BLM Adds Public Lands Access in Arizona

Acquisition opens up wilderness for hunters; more counties declare support for feds

Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017

By Mark Carter

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has acquired land in Arizona that will open up access to public lands popular with hunters.

The acquisition of a 600-acre ranch in Graham County will open public access to a 5,800-acre BLM wilderness area northwest of Safford as well as the nearby 26,800-acre Santa Teresa Wilderness Area in the Coronado National Forest. Both areas are located in the Santa Teresa Mountains, which are known for great hunting, biking and backpacking.

According to the Department of Interior, BLM purchased the land from the Trust for Public Lands (TPL) for $480,000 from the Sportsman's and Recreational Access component of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is funded through offshore oil and gas revenue. The acquisition was part of a conservation partnership between BLM, TPL, the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) and the South Eastern Arizona Sportsman Club (SEASC).

In a statement, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke noted his upbringing surrounded by public lands in northwest Montana and memories of hunting and fishing with his father and grandfather and of teaching his own kids to hunt and fish.

"That's something I want more families to experience,​ which is exactly why increasing access to public lands is so important,​" he said.

Funding for the public-access easement, currently held by SEASC, was provided by AGFD through its Landowner Relations Program, and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).

Santa Teresa Wilderness Area, Arizona. (BLM)

“These types of partnerships are vital to managing sustainable, working public lands,” said Scott Feldhausen, manager of the BLM’s Gila District Office.

The acquisition will provide permanent access to a wilderness area that had lacked access points and been closed to the public.

"This small acreage acquisition providing access to previously landlocked public land is an example of projects that need to be pursued in other areas, and the NWTF is proud to have been a partner in these efforts," said NWTF CEO Becky Humphries.

More support for public lands

Meanwhile, in neighboring New Mexico, another county resolved to help keep public lands in federal hands.

This week, Mora County joined Eddy and Harding counties as the latest New Mexico counties to pass a resolution affirming their desire to keep public lands from being transferred to states. In recent years, some Western lawmakers have filed legislation to transfer ownership of certain public lands to states.

Given the stir caused among many outdoors groups by the Trump administration's plans to possibly shrink the size of some national monuments, such public declarations of support for public lands are becoming common. 

A total of 29 resolutions in support of public lands have been passed by local and county governments across the West in the past two years; eight have now been passed in New Mexico, according to the TRCP blog

“These elected officials have proven their commitment to America’s public lands and they should be commended by sportsmen beyond their county limits,” said John Cornell, New Mexico field representative for TRCP. “This movement of support for keeping public lands accessible and well managed, which has been echoed in county governments across the West, further proves that New Mexico can be the posterchild state for strong coordination and multiple-use on our public lands.”