The Sabinoso Wilderness near Las Vegas, N.M., would grow by 50 percent if the federal government accepts a 9,855-acre donation from a land conservation group.
The Bureau of Land Management recommends accepting the acreage known as Cañon Ciruela that the Trust for Public Land is offering. It would be the largest addition to a designated wilderness in U.S. history.
Aside from expanding Sabinoso to almost 30,000 acres, the additional land would create a second public entry point for outdoor enthusiasts who want to hike, fish, hunt, ride horses, camp or explore wilderness that relatively few people have traversed.
“It is a stunning, stunning landscape,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, northern conservation director for New Mexico Wild. “That river canyon is like a mini-Grand Canyon. Just a really neat addition to New Mexico’s really unique and diverse public lands portfolio.”
BLM will take public comments on the wilderness donation until May 21.
The trust bought the canyon lands in 2019 to increase public access and offer people more opportunities for a real wilderness experience. But the proposed land donation stalled under the Trump administration, which resisted establishing new outdoor areas that barred commercial activity.
VeneKlasen thinks the proposed Sabinoso expansion should sail through under the Biden administration and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who he says understands the value of acquiring land for public use.
“I see no reason why it wouldn’t happen in a very expeditious and supportive way,” VeneKlasen said.
Sabinoso was designated a wilderness area in 2009 but remained inaccessible for almost a decade because it was surrounded by private lands. Anyone wanting to enter Sabinosa had to obtain a property owner’s permission.
In 2016, the Wilderness Land Trust bought the 4,000-acre Rimrock Rose Ranch to create a public access point. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was initially reluctant to take the land donation but changed his mind after horseback riding with U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and former Sen. Tom Udall in Sabinoso.
In a statement, Pamela Mathis, the BLM’s Taos field manager, said if the agency accepts this donated property, it would enhance and further secure Sabinoso’s resource and conservation values.
The Cañon Ciruela is home to mule deer, elk, mountain lions, black bears and Rio Grande turkeys, Mathis said.
“This proposed donation includes land just outside of the wilderness, specifically for parking and staging access,” she said. “The public would have the ability to get to their wilderness and enjoy it, and that’s what is exciting.”
VeneKlasen said having gateways into two different areas of the wilderness would make it more appealing to visitors. That could boost tourism in nearby cities, he said.
“Sabinoso is such a feather in the cap for communities like Las Vegas,” VeneKlasen said. “What makes Sabinoso unique is its typography and habitat.”