Representatives with the NMWF say outdoor enthusiasts are often kept out of accessing public lands due to a variety of reasons, including locked gates or problems with roads. They cite a 2012 survey that showed 23 percent of hunters nationwide have lost access to a hunting area within the previous year.
"Sportsman haven't been the best organized group history wise and it's organizations like ours that are really starting to make sportsman aware of our rights and what we can do if we're a unified voice," John Cornell, NMWF coordinator, said.
The group is trying to garner support from not just hunters, but firearm and bow enthusiasts, bird watchers, hikers, families and anyone else who enjoys the outdoors.
"Now, through the Federation and education, people are starting to get more and more in tune with, hey, this is our land and we do have a right to be there," Ray Trejo, Jr., Federation president, said.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Heinrich (D-NM) has three "key provisions." First, the bill would give federal land management agencies six months to compile a report showing lands of over 640 acres that have no public access, or where access is severely limited. The report must then detail which lands could be reasonably accessed and which are "highly valuable" for hunting and fishing.
The bill would then require those land agencies to list the routes leading to public lands on their websites. The Federation believes having a comprehensive database of accessible roads will make it more difficult to shut access in the future.
Lastly, the bill would allocate about 1.5 percent of Land and Water Conversation funds to help create access to public lands that are otherwise not accessible. The funds could be used to purchase easements to allow for public traffic, or to purchase small tracts of land that would allow people to access public lands surrounded by private property.
"Private property rights are still completely observed," Cornell said. "It has nothing to do with intrusion on private property at all."
Based on his knowledge of the proposed act, Cornell says the fund would likely be used to pay "willing land owners" for easements or access through property if they are willing to sell rights. But he stressed property owners would not be forced to participate.
They argued increased public access would make the lucrative hunting and fishing industries in New Mexico even more so. They cite the 2011 figure from the state Fish and Wildlife service that said hunting brought nearly $600 million into the state.
"I think the elected officials that are sportsman to start with understand it," he said on benefits to communities from hunting. "I think that those that aren't have heard from their constituents that this is something good. It's good for the local economy. It's something to get behind."
For more information on the act or the Federation, visit www.nmwildlife.org.
Matt Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org