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Albuquerque Journal: Public access to NM’s Sabinoso Wilderness almost there

SANTA FE, N.M. — Public access to New Mexico’s 16,000-acre Sabinoso Wilderness – entirely “landlocked” by private land – moved closer to reality today on news the nonprofit Wilderness Land Trust bought adjacent property that could soon allow hikers, hunters, backpackers and others access to it.

The purchase of the 4,176-acre Rimrock Rose property, made possible by a $3.1 million contribution from the Wyss Foundation, could allow public access to the Sabinoso by summer.

“We’ve been working on creating access to the Sabinoso Wilderness since it was proposed for designation,” said Reid Haughey, president of The Wilderness Land Trust. “To the best of our knowledge, Sabinoso is the only wilderness area among the 762 wilderness areas within the National Wilderness Preservation System that does not have public access.”

The Sabinoso Wilderness, created by Congress in 2009, is a rugged back-country area east of Las Vegas, N.M., that is home to mule deer, bobcats, gray foxes and a wide range of plant and animal species that are home to the high plains. The headwaters of the Canadian River runs through the Rimrock Rose property and Canyon Largo.

“We are proud to be able to help local leaders and The Wilderness Land Trust as they expand access for fishing, hunting, hiking, and recreation in New Mexico’s prized backcountry,” said Molly McUsic, President of the Wyss Foundation.

Over the coming months, The Wilderness Land Trust will work with the Bureau of Land Management to donate the lands to public ownership. Before that happens, the BLM will need to conduct a review of the areas to determine whether they are suitable for addition to the Sabinoso and meet the agency’s criteria for accepting a donation, according to a news release announcing the deal.

“Acquisition of permanent access to Sabinoso is huge for New Mexican sportsmen and women as well as all our citizenry,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “This is a magical, game-filled landscape we’ve all been aching to use but until now could not utilize.”

“The Sabinoso Wilderness is one of New Mexico’s most spectacular landscapes …” said U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.

“Yet without a legal road or trail to get there, the public has effectively been locked out of this crown jewel of our public lands. The Wilderness Land Trust and the Wyss Foundation have been dedicated partners in unlocking the Sabinoso Wilderness and the agreement announced today is a major achievement,” he said.

Heinrich has been championing the “Hunt Unrestricted on National Treasures Act,” or HUNT Act, which seeks to provide public access to public lands with no, or limited, public access.