Luján, Leger Fernández Introduce Legislation to Strengthen Land Grant Communities’ Rights


U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.) introduced the New Mexico Land Grant-Mercedes Historical or Traditional Use Cooperation and Coordination Act to provide greater cooperation between the federal government and land grant communities. Theret are 27 community land grant-mercedes that are recognized as political subdivisions under New Mexico law.

Federal agencies have consistently sought to work more closely with these land grant-mercedes, as the majority of them maintain historical or traditional uses on public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM and the USFS require the public, including land grant-mercedes, to seek authorization for certain public land uses, while other uses do not require authorization. The approval and permitting process is complex, and in the past confusion and lack of coordination have resulted in adverse impacts on the historical or traditional uses of political subdivision land grant-mercedes.

In March 2022, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forest, and Public Lands held a hearing on a previous version of the legislation. In June 2022, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining held a hearing on the legislation. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives during the 116th Congress, Senator Luján unanimously passed similar legislation through the House to make it easier for land grant-mercedes to work with federal land management agencies.

Land grant communities have been responsible stewards of our land and are a critical part of New Mexico’s culture and history. The federal government must prioritize cooperation and coordination with land grant communities to strengthen these communities’ rights,” said Luján, member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.I’m proud to introduce legislation to improve the cooperation between federal agencies and traditional communities and ensure that the federal government considers historical traditional uses in federal land management planning.”

Land grant communities represent farmers and ranchers, families, and elders. They care for and sustain our lands,said Leger Fernández.The New Mexico Land Grant Council’s work to advocate for their communities is a perfect example of the beauty of democracy in action. Today, we are taking steps to improve cooperation and communication between federal agencies and our land grant communities to make sure these communities are able to access lands for the historical and traditional uses they have been practicing for centuries.”

“The introduction of H.R. 8262 by Representative Leger Fernández and S.4271 by Senator Lujan is a positive first step in addressing longstanding issues stemming from the implementation of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo,” said New Mexico Land Grant Council Chair Juan Sánchez.For more than a century Spanish and Mexican land grant communities in the New Mexico have struggled to ensure recognition, protection and access to natural resources located on their former common lands now managed by the federal government. These natural resources play a vital role in maintaining the traditional use practices that sustain the socio-economic and cultural integrity of many New Mexico communities. This bill will provide for greater cooperation and coordination between land grant-mercedes and the federal land management agencies.”

The New Mexico Land Grant-Mercedes Historical or Traditional Use Cooperation and Coordination Act:

  • Directs the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) and Department of Agriculture (USDA), through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the New Mexico Land Grant Council, to clarify existing agency processes that qualified land grant-mercedes may use to seek authorization for historical or traditional uses on Federal public lands, including permit requirements and associated fees;
  • Clarifies that the MOU does not directly authorize any uses or activities on Federal public lands;
  • Directs the DOI and USDA to consult with Tribes when the MOU is entered into, extended, renewed or revised;
  • Ensures that the MOU contains a description of the notice and comment procedures on agency land management planning decisions, and that qualified land grant-mercedes, the New Mexico Land Grant Council, and Tribes are notified of opportunities to comment on and be involved in agency land management planning decisions; and
  • Requires the DOI and the USDA to evaluate impacts on historical or traditional uses in Federal land use planning.

A summary of the bill is available HERE. Full text of the legislation is available HERE.

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