San Juan County Commission will meet to consider resolutions addressing land-use issues

Proposals apply to 30x30 initiatives, oil and gas drilling ban around Chaco

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • During their previous two meetings, commissioners have heard from representatives of both sides of the 30x30 issue.
  • The debate over the goals of the plan have taken on increased relevance in New Mexico recently with announcements of two large and prominent land conservation projects.
  • The commission will meet to consider the resolutions at 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 5 in the commission chambers in the San Juan County Administration Building.

FARMINGTON — Members of the San Juan County Commission will tackle two resolutions dealing with land use issues when they meet Tuesday, April 5 in Aztec.

Commissioners will meet to consider two proposed resolutions, one of which would express their opposition to federal and state so-called 30x30 initiatives and another that expresses opposition to a 20-year ban on oil and gas development within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

Both resolutions include an important caveat.

In the case of the 30x30 initiatives, the resolution states the commission's opposition would apply until more information can be obtained regarding their effect on land ownership and usage in San Juan County.

In the case of the oil and gas development ban, the commission would join the Navajo Nation and several of its chapters in supporting a ban on such activity in a 5-mile radius around the park — a distance half that proposed by the Biden administration.

During their previous two meetings, commissioners have heard from representatives of both sides of the 30x30 issue. The debate was set in motion when the Biden administration announced a goal of conserving 30% of the nation's land and waters by the year 2030 through a series of federal and state initiatives, but that announcement included few specifics.

During their March 1 meeting, commissioners heard a virtual presentation from Margaret Byfield, executive director of the American Stewards of Liberty, a nonprofit group based in Georgetown, Texas, dedicated to preserving private property rights.

Byfield criticized the plan and called on commissioners to adopt a resolution opposing its implementation, as some other local government entities around the country have done over the past several months.

Byfield described the initiative as a "land grab" and warned it was only the first step in a plan by the federal government and state governments to acquire even more land.

Representatives of the other side of the issue delivered a presentation two weeks later at the commission's March 15 meeting, as Sarah Cottrell Propst, secretary of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, and State Forester Laura McCarthy delivered virtual presentations in favor of a statewide version of the plan announced last year by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

B Square Ranch owner Tommy Bolack talks about his decision to place the sprawling San Juan County ranch in two conservation easements in September 2021.

The debate over the goals of the 30x30 plan have taken on increased relevance in New Mexico recently with announcements of two large and prominent land conservation projects.

The first applied to a project in San Juan County, as B Square Ranch owner Tommy Bolack, in conjunction with the nonprofit organization New Mexico Land Conservancy, announced in September 2021 that the more than 12,400-acre ranch would be placed in two conservation easements, protecting the property from subdivision or further commercial development. The ranch is said to be the largest privately owned contiguous property in San Juan County.

A bighorn sheep stands atop a ridge at the Armendaris Ranch in southern New Mexico, which has been placed in a conservation easement by owner Ted Turner.

The New Mexico Land Conservancy announced an even larger conservation project on March 21. The 315,000-acre Armendaris Ranch in Socorro and Sierra counties has been placed in a conservation easement by owner Ted Turner, assuring that the 482-square-mile property will remain intact and relatively undeveloped in perpetuity.

The proposed resolution that commissioners will consider cites the importance of land usage and land ownership for county businesses and citizens for their well-being, health, safety, welfare, economy and culture.

"Until more information, specifically peer-reviewed scientific data, is produced that alleviates the Board's concerns, it must oppose the 30x30 Initiatives," the resolution states.

The second proposed resolution the commission will consider, which would express opposition to a proposed 20-year ban on oil and gas drilling within a 10-mile radius of Chaco, became an issue when President Biden announced the move in November 2021. Officials at the federal Bureau of Land Management have been holding a series of public meetings in San Juan County and elsewhere to solicit input on the plan, recently extending the deadline for submitted comments from April 6 to May 6.

Additionally, BLM officials are planning two more public meetings to allow for oral comments on the proposal. The first meeting is set for 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 27 in the Henderson Fine Arts Center on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. The second meeting will be held at 8 a.m. Friday, April 29 at the National Indian Programs Training Center at 1011 Indian School Road, Suite 254, in Albuquerque.

The commission's proposed resolution points out the Navajo Nation Council withdrew its support for the proposed 10-mile ban on Jan. 23. It expresses support for the opinions of the Navajo Nation and its affected chapters, as well as their concern for the economic welfare of constituents who live in the area who would be affected by the proposed withdrawal of federal lands from mineral development.

The commission will meet to consider the resolutions at 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 5, in the commission chambers in the San Juan County Administration Building, 100 S. Oliver Drive in Aztec.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.