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The New Mexico Wildlife Federation (NMWF) has joined a coalition of Chaves County and southern New Mexico sportsmen in strong opposition to the proposed closure of Felix Canyon Road on the Lloyd Treat Ranch.

Last week, the NMWF and a group of regional sportsmen’s organizations sent a letter to the Chaves County Commission urging them to vote against the closure of the road at the commission’s regularly scheduled May 18 meeting.

Ranch owner Mike Casabonne has petitioned the Chaves County Commission to close a stretch of the taxpayer-owned and taxpayer-maintained Felix Canyon Road, citing concerns of trespassing, vandalism, and poaching near his property. However, the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish (NMDGF), which also opposes the closure, has cited only two documented incidents of trespassing in six years on this stretch of Felix Canyon Road. The Chaves County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that assessment.

Felix Canyon Road serves as a primary access point to recreational areas and public land, including hunting Unit 32, which includes 1,600 public land deer licenses and 600 public land Barbary sheep tags issued every year.

“The proposed road closure would force hunters, sportsmen and sportswomen from Roswell, Midway, Hagerman and Dexter to have to detour an additional 100 miles, round trip, to get to the west end of the proposed road closure,” said Joe Rivera, an Artesia sportsman who opposes the road closure. “It doesn’t make much sense to inconvenience so many thousands of tax-paying citizens and voters just to appease one rancher.”

Following a tense commission meeting April 20 that brought opposition to the road closure from the NMDGF, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Department of Interior, Chaves County commissioners were met by more than 30 local residents, mostly sportsmen, during their mandatory inspection of the proposed road closure at the ranch April 24.

During the inspection, commissioners took no public comment, despite a large contingency of constituents who were there to oppose the road closure on a weekday morning. When a representative from the NMWF asked the attendees for a show of hands of who opposed the road closure, the vast majority of people raised theirs, an action that was met by commissioners getting in their vehicles and driving away without additional comment or engaging with their constituents.

“There are no sensible reasons to close this county road that can’t be resolved through normal cooperation with local law enforcement and the NMDGF,” said Garrett Vene Klasen, NMWF executive director. “Across the state, we continue to see a troubling pattern of more locked gates and vacated public roads in New Mexico that choke off access to the public lands that belong to all New Mexicans. There is no good reason to close this road, and plenty of good reasons to keep it open. We cannot continue to close public roads for the benefit of one or two wealthy landowners.”

Roswell resident and hunter Eduardo Onsurez, who started one of two petitions that gathered more than 300 of signatures to oppose the road closure, said closing Felix Canyon Road would greatly deprive Chaves County residents of access to public lands, with no guarantee that another connecting road would not be vacated either, leading to a total loss of access.

“These are public lands that would otherwise be landlocked if these roads are not kept open,” Onsurez said. “And this road belongs to the public. We have paid for the maintenance of this road and we should not turn it over into the hands of a private landowner for his own benefit. Bottom line, this road should not be closed, it will impact too many people.”

Other signatories to the letter opposing the road closure include Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Southwest Consolidated Sportsmen, and the Wild Turkey Sportsmen’s Association, among others.

The Chaves County Commission will likely take a final vote on the road closure at its May 18 meeting.