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New Mexico State Forestry And Land Trusts May Be Illegally Implementing The Forestry Legacy Program

"It is a crime under New Mexico law to practice real estate without a license. "  Lee McDonald, Chief Investigator, the New Mexico Real Estate Commission.

By J. Zane Walley

Up to 315 million Acres of Private land in New Mexico could be permanently restricted from development and other uses in a program being advanced by the New Mexico Forestry Division.  The Forestry Legacy Program, funded by the U.S. Forest Service, provides cash payments to landowners that place restrictive covenants, also called conservation easements, on their land.
Those restrictions would prevent the land from being subdivided or developed and would subject them to third party monitoring for environmental quality.
Toby Martinez, former U.S. Forest Service employee, now Chief Forester for New Mexico, said he believes the Legacy program is "good for New Mexicans."
"If it weren't good, I wouldn't have recommended it," he stated in a telephone interview.
Critics disagree with his position.  Hidalgo County Commission Chairman Lloyd Payne in a letter to New Mexico Governor Johnson stated, "It will be taken as another attempt to make an end run on the local entities by state and federal agencies."  Gary Whitehead, Sierra County Manager contended in a letter to Martinez,  "This practice abuses both the landowner and the taxpayer and if your agency sets up a program to purchase conservation easements, we urge you to structure it in a manner to prevent this abuse."
Auggie Shellhorn, Chairman of the Catron County Commission said, "Our main concern is the protection of the landowner and the taxpayers from the demonstrated greed of certain Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)." Fred Rossbach Forestry Division Preservation Chief said that the state intended to empower NGOs such as the Trust for Public Land (TPL) to purchase the conservation easements for the state.  "They will be paid a percentage of the purchase price either by the state or the land owner,"  Rossbach acknowledged in a telephone interview.
Lee McDonald, chief investigator for the New Mexico Real Estate Commission in a telephone interview said, "I believe that the land trusts would be operating in violation of New Mexico law.  This matter should be referred to the N. M. Attorney General's office.  It is a crime under New Mexico law to practice real estate without a license."
Members of the New Mexico State Real Estate community agree that the unlicensed NGO real estate agents could be illegal.  Pete Thompson, a Lincoln County realtor, noted New Mexico Statue 61-29-1 reads,  " It is unlawful for any person, business association, or corporation to engage in the business of, act of, or act as, a real estate broker or real estate salesman within this state without a license issued by the New Mexico Real Estate Commission."  New Mexico Realtor Earl Greer said the matter needs to be investigated by the Real Estate Commission.
Although the Forestry Legacy Program has not been approved for implementation, a least one rancher, James McDaniel of Lincoln County, reports that when he contacted New Mexico Forestry to inquire about the Legacy Program he was promptly referred to the TPL.  In a later statement to the Lincoln County Commission, Mr. McDaniels said "The Forestry Legacy
Program could be a good thing for landowners, but there are too many unanswered questions about how it works and how it really impacts landowners.  The program and the people selling it need to be subject to strict state regulation."
Martinez contended he "didn't know " if contracting with the NGOs was illegal, but that the same NGOs had done "like-business with other states." He also said that the Trust For Public Land, a San Francisco based multi-million dollar NGO, had been in on the Forestry Legacy Program from
"day one."
Much money is at stake for New Forestry and the participating NGOs.  New Mexico would receive 50 million dollars from the Forest Service to buy land rights. Rossbach declined to provide the amount of commission that would be paid to the NGOs.  The real estate industry standard for commissions on undeveloped land is 10 to 15%. This article made possible by a grant from the Paragon Foundation