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An Act Relating To Public Lands; Creating The Transfer Of Public Lands Act; Defining Public Lands To Be Transferred From The Federal Government To The State; Developing A Mechanism For The Transfer Of Federal Public Lands To The State; Creating The Public Lands Transfer Task Force

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This piece of legislation creates the Transfer of Public Lands Act (“this Act”) and requires the United States to extinguish title to public lands and transfer title to public lands to the State on or before December 31, 2015. It also creates a Public Lands Transfer Task Force and requires it to propose legislation before the next legislative session.


The bill defines “public lands” as land within New Mexico’s boundaries except:

  • privately owned land;
  • lands owned or held in trust by the State, a political subdivision of the State or an independent entity;
  • lands reserved for use by the State for education and internal improvements;
  • the national parks, national historic parks, national monuments and wilderness areas located in New Mexico as of January 1, 2013;
  • lands ceded by New Mexico to the United States such as Holloman Air Force Base and the Santa Fe National Cemetery, among others;
  • federal lands within a New Mexico municipality; and
  • lands, including water rights, belonging to an Indian nation, tribe, pueblo, band or community.


The bill explicitly states that nothing in the Act will “be construed as to prejudice or adversely affect any rights, claims or privileges of New Mexico’s historic land grants.”


If the State transfers any public lands to which it receives title from the United States pursuant to this Act, the State will keep 5% of the net proceeds and deposit that amount in the State’s Permanent School Fund and pay 95% to the United States.


Under this measure, a Public Lands Transfer Task Force will also be created composed of:

  • four members of the legislature;
  • the Commissioner of Public Lands;
  • the Secretaries of the following Departments: Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources (EMNRD); General Services; Transportation; Cultural Affairs; Finance and Administration; and, Indian Affairs;
  • the State Forester;
  • the Director of the State Parks Division of EMNRD;
  • the State Treasurer;
  • the President of the Land Grant Council; and,
  • the Executive Director of the New Mexico Association of Counties;


or their designees. The Commissioner of Public Lands and the Secretary of EMNRD

will co-chair the task force.


The task force will report to the Legislature and several of its interim and permanent committees. The task force will take testimony “from representatives of a wide spectrum of groups, including environmental organizations, farmers, hunting and fishing organizations, ranchers and outdoor sporting organizations.”


The proposed legislation that the Task Force must (not may) develop will, among other things:

  • create a Public Lands Commission to administer the transfer of title as required under this Act and to address the management of public lands, specifically including the sustainable yields of natural resources;
  • establish actions to protect the state’s rights and benefits should the United States not extinguish title to public lands as required under this bill;
  • modify the definition of “public lands” in the Act if needed;
  • determine interests, rights or uses related to easements, geothermal resources, grazing, land grants, mining, natural gas, oil, recreation, rights of entry, special uses, timber, water or other resources, or provide a process therefor.


The Task Force must study and determine whether to propose legislation that addresses:

  • administering the process for the United States to extinguish title to public lands, the State to receive those titles, or the State to transfer those titles;
  • establishing a prioritized list of management actions for the State and its political subdivisions to perform on public lands (both before and after the transfers from the Unites States) to preserve and promote the state’s interest in protecting public health and safety, preventing catastrophic wildfire and forest insect infestation, preserving watersheds, preserving and enhancing energy and the production of minerals, preserving and improving range conditions, and increasing plant diversity and reducing invasive weeds on range and woodland portions of the public lands;
  • subjecting public lands to property taxation;
  • establishing other requirements related to national forests, national recreation areas or other public lands administered by the United States;
  • indemnifying political subdivisions of the State for actions taken in furtherance of this Act; and,
  • any other issue related to public lands as determined by the task force.


One concern that may arise might be over the specific federal lands that would be transferred to the State such as the State’s national forests. Another concern might regard the composition of the task force in that no public interest, non-governmental interests are represented on it.


This bill is a companion bill to House Bill 292.



Date of Summary:  2/4/2013