The Trust for Public Land announces addition to Gila National Forest

To the joy of local conservation organizations and recreation-enthusiasts of all kinds, The Trust for Public Land today announced the conveyance of 605 acres within the Gila National Forest to the Forest Service.

The property is on Upper Bear Creek about 6 miles north-northeast of Silver City in Grant County, New Mexico, almost completely surrounded by the Gila National Forest to the north and Bureau of Land Management land to the south.  Locals and tourists know the land well —a mile of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail runs through it, and two miles of the Trail of the Mountain Spirits National Scenic Byway runs along its length. The land will give visitors better access to the national forest for outdoor recreation of all kinds, including two miles of natural creek-side habitat for threatened and endangered species including southwestern willow flycatcher, Mexican long-nosed bat and gray wolf.

“Public lands such as this are vital to the local economy in New Mexico while also providing beautiful outdoor spaces for residents and visitors alike to enjoy,” said Greg Hiner, The Trust for Public Land’s Southwest Director of Land Protection, “Protecting scenic areas like this are key to preserving the integrity of the public lands Americans cherish.  The Trust for Public Land is thrilled to have helped made this project possible.”

The property was purchased for $1.8 million from a private landowner by The Trust for Public Land and was sold to the US Forest Service for the same price using funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The LWCF is funded by a small fraction of revenues generated by offshore oil and gas royalty payments; it is not supported with general taxpayer dollars.

"Upper Bear Creek in the Gila National Forest is a stunningly beautiful area that is both a great place to hike and camp and an important riparian habitat for plants and wildlife, and I am pleased that LWCF funds were available to enhance recreation opportunities for New Mexicans and protect the quality of the water for everyone who depends on it," Senator Tom Udall, D-NM, said. "A strong partnership between The Trust for Public Land and local stakeholders and the availability of funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund made the conservation of Bear Creek possible, as has been the case for many of New Mexico's important public lands. Conservation efforts like these create jobs, strengthen our economy and enhance the quality of life in New Mexico's communities — and the Land and Water Conservation Fund is critical to these efforts. I will never stop fighting to ensure the LWCF is permanently authorized and fully funded."

“New Mexicans have a deep connection to the outdoors and benefit from the recreation economy that public lands provide,” said Senator Martin Heinrich, D-NM. “This secures public access to parts of the mountains, rivers, and mesas of the Gila National Forest, including parts of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, Bear Creek, and backcountry hunting grounds and fishing streams. I am grateful for the efforts of the community, Forest Service, and The Trust for Public Land, to use the Land and Water Conservation Fund in getting this across the finish line. It is special places like the Gila National Forest that inspire us all to continue to work together to ensure our public lands are protected now and for generations to come.”

The Gila National Forest is internationally famous both as the workplace of Aldo Leopold, and as America’s first designated wilderness. It is rare for the Forest Service to have the opportunity in New Mexico to add land with free-running water that also includes outstanding recreational access.

“The Gila National Forest is excited to have the opportunity to manage this incredible place.  Providing opportunities for the public to access and enjoy public lands remains a high priority of the Gila National Forest.  These specific lands will provide positive opportunities for not only our communities but for visitors as well,” said Adam Mendonca Gila National Forest Supervisor.

 Shelby Hallmark, a Grant County resident and trail advocate, said “Adding this previously privately held land to the Gila National Forest is a significant benefit for our community. This kind of strategic addition to public lands is critical to making important features of our existing national forest truly open and usable by everyone. This parcel makes the area north of Pinos Altos much more attractive as a hiking, fishing, and horseback riding venue.  The Grant County community appreciates the effort of The Trust for Public Land, our New Mexico Senators, and the Forest Service in accomplishing this important acquisition.”