Sabinoso Wilderness opening a ‘blessing’
Wyss Foundation donation helped provide public access to this rugged and remote landscape
This Thanksgiving, as I reflected upon my many blessings, I was especially thankful for the recent public opening of the previously inaccessible Sabinoso Wilderness Area. I am thankful for the many private organizations and public officials for their leadership, tenacity, and hard work to secure public access to this special place. And I am thankful that I was there when the gates opened.
Since its establishment by Congress in 2009, the 16,000-acre Sabinoso Wilderness has been surrounded by private land, with no public access. Over the years since, numerous organizations have attempted to negotiate easements or acquire private holdings to grant public access to the rimrock canyon landscape and its abundant wildlife. None were successful — until now.
The Wilderness Land Trust, whose mission is to acquire lands in and around wilderness areas to transfer them to the public, recently purchased the 4,000acre Rimrock Rose Ranch along the southwestern border of the Sabinoso. This acquisition was made possible by a generous $3 million donation from the Wyss Foundation with the intent that it be donated to the Bureau of Land Management for inclusion into the Sabinoso Wilderness upon approval from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Championing this transfer, Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich organized a tour of the Sabinoso for Zinke in July, highlighting the need for public access to this rugged and remote landscape. After considerable deliberation, Secretary Zinke did right by the citizens of New Mexico by approving the transfer of Rimrock Rose to the BLM’s Sabinoso, concluding a decadelong battle to open the only inaccessible American Wilderness.
Just before noon, while the rest of the federal government was observing Veterans Day, the BLM Field Manager arrived to unlock the gate to Sabinoso. She smiled and apologized for the delay. I had been waiting for years to set foot in Sabinoso, but only a few hours that morning. As she dialed the combination on the lock, I was struck by the modesty of the moment. There was no media frenzy. There were no cheering crowds or protesting mobs. There were no ribboncutting politicians seeking a front page photo op. There was a sole public land hunter and his dog. After years of anticipation, with as little effort and ceremony as when the lock was placed on the gate preventing public access, the lock came off. And just like that, the Sabinoso was open to its rightful owners.
On behalf of the New Mexico Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and public land owners everywhere, I give thanks to the Wilderness Land Trust, the Wyss Foundation, the BLM, Sens. Udall and Heinrich, and Secretary Zinke for their leadership and efforts in opening this amazing place to the public. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I invite my fellow New Mexicans to reflect upon the great many blessings we share as a state, such as our wild places and their wild creatures. Even in trying times, the Sabinoso represents what the American people can achieve when we work together for good. In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children.”
Canyon Largo in the Sabinoso Wilderness.