May 19, 2017
For immediate release
ROSWELL – Against the will of hundreds of local sportsmen and a room full of opposing constituents, the Chaves County Commission yesterday voted to close the primary access road to Hunting Unit 32 and thousands of acres of public lands.
The now-private 5-mile stretch of Felix Canyon Road served as the primary public access point to thousands of acres of recreational areas and public land, which hundreds of local sportsmen and women frequent every year, the home to trophy mule deer and Barbary sheep.
The closure of this road violates Chaves County’s own stated road closure policy, which states that the Commission “shall not permanently vacate a County road when the road will, in the foreseeable future, be necessary, beneficial, or valuable for public use as a County road … if it serves as primary access to recreational areas and public lands.”
“There is no other way around this — this was both an insult to constituents who showed to this meeting, and a blatant land grab,” said Garrett Vene Klasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “With utter disregard and disrespect to every person in that chamber, the Chaves County Commission not only acted in direct opposition to the interests of sportsmen and women, but to all Chaves County residents and New Mexicans who have paid to maintain Felix Canyon Road and who deserve fair access to the public lands that they own.”
On April 26, the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, which represents the interests of more than 80,000 hunters and anglers throughout the state, sent a letter to the Chaves County Commission stating its strong opposition to the closure of the road, citing the harmful impact it would have to the Chaves County economy and the overwhelming desire of local sportsmen to keep the road open. NMWF did not receive a response.
Our letter to the County Commission followed a tense meeting at the site of the proposed road closure, where more than 30 local residents showed up on a weekday morning to ask the Commissioners to keep the road open. Sportsmen were denied the opportunity to express their views to the Commissioners. They instead hurried into their vehicles and left as the public was starting to engage them in conversation.
In addition to the opposition from local sportsmen, the Bureau of Land Management and New Mexico Department of Game & Fish also publicly opposed the road closure and asked the Commission not to close the road at a previous Commission meeting, citing the unsubstantiated claims and concerns of the private land owner who asked to have the road closed.
“We are furious that the Commission has chosen to serve the interest of one private land owner over the interests of the majority of their constituents, this is a blatant disregard for the public, and a punch in the face to sportsmen in Chaves County,” said Joe Rivera, a sportsman from Artesia who has written several letters to the Commission asking them to keep the road open.
“Unfortunately we can’t say that we’re surprised, because it seemed that the Commissioners had their mind made up to close this road from the very beginning. They were not interested in what the public had to say — their own constituents.” said Roswell sportsman Mark Pantuso. “This is not just about closing a public road, this goes much deeper. This shows that the Commission is out of touch with the majority of its constituents and shows a blatant disregard for our way of life in Southeast New Mexico. Many of us hunt and fish here, and we deserve to have access, regardless of how many ranches we own or how much money we have. We should have a voice too.”