Land Exchange Helps Preserve Taos Overlook (NM)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., 12/13/01 – The Trust for Public Land (TPL), the San Felipe Pueblo, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced today the successful completion of a complex land exchange that will preserve a portion of the breathtaking Taos Valley Overlook property while returning lands of cultural significance to San Felipe. The exchange allowed San Felipe to acquire a portion of the Taos Valley Overlook property with the help of TPL and convey it to the BLM in exchange for lands adjacent to the San Felipe Pueblo. Appraisals find the two properties-one a high desert mesa overlooking the Rio Grande and the other a vast expanse of range land near the Pueblo-to be valued equally at $1.89 million.

The Taos Valley Overlook property is located within the Orilla Verde Recreation Area, south of the town of Taos. TPL, a national land conservation organization, negotiated a purchase agreement with the former owner, Klauer Manufacturing Company, to acquire the property, which offers spectacular views of the Rio Grande Gorge and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. TPL facilitated the acquisition and permanent protection of Phase I of the Taos Valley Overlook in March 2001 and Phase IIa in September 2001. TPL facilitated this purchase by San Felipe Pueblo of a portion of the Overlook property in order to help complete the Pueblo’s exchange with BLM, ending five years of effort. TPL recently extended its national Tribal Lands Program to New Mexico, with the San Felipe exchange representing its first successful tribal project closing in the state.

Completion of the exchange helps to consolidate BLM land ownership in the Taos area. The exchange will also help reduce conflicts between public land users and private landowners, eliminate inappropriate development of private inholdings in specially designated areas, and increase the bureau’s management flexibility. The Taos Valley Overlook property provides critical habitat for the peregrine falcon, native cutthroat trout, and the federally-listed endangered southwestern willow flycatcher.

Once acquired by the BLM, the Taos Valley Overlook property will be open to residents and visitors for activities such as hiking, picnicking, bird watching, fishing, rafting, kayaking, painting, and enjoying the views.

“The federal lands acquired today by the Pueblo are of profound importance to our cultural identity and survival. The Pueblo’s sites in the exchange area are irreplaceable,” says San Felipe Governor Lawrence Troncosa. “We’re very pleased with the results of our partnership with BLM and the Trust for Public Land.”

Senator Pete Domenici, R-N.M., a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Interior subcommittee, said, “I commend San Felipe Pueblo for their very significant contribution toward the coordinated effort to preserve and protect this special property now and for generations to come. I am proud to have helped secure $4.5 million in second-year funding to preserve the Taos Overlook. We’re on the right course in setting aside this picturesque property for public enjoyment and habitat for delicate wildlife species.”

Senator Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said, “The Taos Valley Overlook is among the most special places in New Mexico and I am pleased that there continues to be progress in this important effort to preserve it.”

Representative Joe Skeen, R-N.M., chair of the House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee, said, “This is one of those ideal win-win cases. It was complicated, but in the end, everyone comes out ahead, especially the people of New Mexico and the nation who will be able to more fully appreciate one of the finest views in the country.”

Representative Tom Udall, D-N.M., whose district includes both Taos and San Felipe Pueblo, said, “This is another significant step toward conserving New Mexico’s precious natural resources for future generations. I share the enthusiasm of the residents of Taos County about this addition, and salute San Felipe Pueblo, BLM, and the Trust for Public Land for reaching accord on this project. For my part, I pledge to continue to support the Taos Valley Overlook preservation in any manner in which I can.”

“This is a great day for everyone involved in this land exchange,” said BLM-New Mexico State Director Michelle Ch?vez. “The exchange of these lands will benefit the people of San Felipe and the general public for years to come. More importantly, it underscores the great value of forging Nation-to-Nation partnerships-a policy that makes sound management sense.”

“We are delighted to help with this exchange, both to preserve the Taos Valley Overlook property and to help San Felipe Pueblo acquire lands of profound cultural significance,” said Deborah Frey Love, TPL’s New Mexico State Director. “And we are appreciative of the New Mexico congressional delegation, including Senator Domenici and Representative Skeen, for their strong support of this exchange.”

“With TPL’s help, and through the extraordinary efforts of BLM staff in Albuquerque over the past five years, we have been able to protect the Pueblo’s ancestral lands, while preserving a unique part of New Mexico for the community of Taos and the public at large,” said David Gomez, attorney for the San Felipe Pueblo with the Santa Fe firm of Roth, VanAmberg, Rogers, Ortiz, Fairbanks, and Yepa. “TPL’s mission and credibility as an organization, as well as progressive management decisions by the BLM, were key to a successful outcome to the Pueblo’s efforts.”