Fall hunting season is just around the corner, and sportsmen in northern New Mexico are eager to finally access the narrow mesas and rugged canyons of the Sabinoso Wilderness — the only legally inaccessible wilderness area in the entire nation.
Surrounded by private land and without a legal road or trail to get there, the public has effectively been locked out of this stunning landscape that we all own.
Located on just over 16,000 acres in San Miguel County, the scenic Sabinoso Wilderness is home to a variety of wildlife, including mule deer, elk, and wild turkey. Its dramatic landscape includes the 1,000-foot tall Canyon Largo and striking rock formations.
If the public could access this incredible place, it would surely become an important destination for hunters, hikers, and campers from nearby communities and around the nation. Outdoor traditions like hunting, hiking, camping and fishing are an integral part of our way of life in New Mexico, and they support a thriving outdoor recreation economy.
According to a new report by the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation activities support 99,000 jobs and generate $9.9 billion of consumer spending in New Mexico each year. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has found that hunters and anglers alone generate more than $613 million in annual consumer spending in our state.
Seeing those economic benefits from the Sabinoso depends on opening a way for the public to access these public lands. Last year, I welcomed the announcement that the Wilderness Land Trust purchased a 4,176-acre property neighboring the Sabinoso, with the purpose of donating the land to the Bureau of Land Management so it could be added to the existing wilderness.
In addition, the property includes a legal road easement allowing access to the edge of Largo Canyon and by extension the entire Sabinoso Wilderness. Local sportsmen’s groups as well as the San Miguel County Commission have enthusiastically endorsed this proposal, which represents a major economic opportunity for Las Vegas and the surrounding communities. New visitors drawn to the Sabinoso will shop in local stores, fill up at gas stations, hire local outfitter guides, spend the night in nearby hotels, and eat at local restaurants.
The only step left in getting this major victory for the community over the finish line is the support of the new Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Through my role on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I have called on Secretary Zinke to accept this donation and open up the Sabinoso.
In June, I invited him to come visit the community and hear directly from New Mexicans about the overwhelming public benefits of acquiring this land. The weekend of July 30, Secretary Zinke joined Senator Tom Udall and me on horseback to ride into Canyon Largo with local sportsmen, public land advocates, and community leaders.
Now that he has seen this landscape in person, I’m optimistic the Secretary will do the right thing and agree to a plan to unlock the Sabinoso Wilderness so outdoor enthusiasts from near and far can finally experience all that this special area has to offer.
I’m dedicated to ensuring our kids and grandkids can learn the joys of catching fish and chasing mule deer on all of our public lands. The next generation of hunters and anglers will fund tens of billions of dollars in conservation and restoration through buying habitat stamps and Duck Stamps and by paying taxes on ammunition, tackle and motorboat fuel, all of which are dedicated to conserving fish and wildlife.
If we protect and open up access to our public lands, New Mexicans will enjoy the benefits of our watersheds, wildlife and wild lands for generations to come.