- Associated Press - Monday, June 26, 2017

RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) - State land managers are teaming up with one of New Mexico’s Native American communities to curb illegal dumping on tribal and state trust land not far from one of the state’s fastest growing metropolitan areas.

Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn and Zia Pueblo officials gathered Monday in the desert north of Rio Rancho to mark the fencing of an area where people have long dumped everything from stolen cars to refrigerators and where the ground is littered with shotgun shells and spent brass casings from impromptu target practice.

The site offers a classic New Mexico vista framed by desert badlands and mountain ranges, but in the canyon below are the burned-out shells of cars and trucks with household trash strewn about.

“We’re just trying to start to clean up,” Dunn said of the site just a few miles (kilometers) north of Rio Rancho. “It’s a huge problem, not just here but all over New Mexico.”

Since 2015, the State Land Office has spent $2.7 million to remediate rangeland and forests, improve wildlife habitat and clean up dump sites around the state. In southeastern New Mexico, the agency has struggled to keep clay and gravel pits on state trust land from turning into garbage dumps.

The battle is overwhelming, Dunn said, given that his agency has just over a dozen field workers and about 9 million acres (3.5 million hectares) to manage.

State officials have said money spent to clean up messes could otherwise be used for public education. Lease payments, royalties and other revenues from oil and gas drilling, mining and other development on trust land is expected to provide some $450 million to public schools and other beneficiaries this year, Dunn said.

While the state is home to vast swaths of government-managed land, Dunn said the problem with illegal dumping tends to be exacerbated in uncontrolled areas near population centers such as Rio Rancho.

“Bigger population brings more trash,” he said.

The state has contributed about $21,000 for fencing material and Zia Pueblo is paying about $45,000 in labor to install six miles (20 kilometers) of fencing that will block access to more than 5 square miles (13 square kilometers) of state trust land on the northern edge of Rio Rancho.

State, tribal and local authorities acknowledged that the area has been heavily used by off-highway vehicles for years and it will be a challenge to keep the fence from being run over or cut. It’s also likely that the “No Trespassing” signs that will be installed will be used for target practice.

Zia Pueblo Lt. Gov. Jerome Lucero said the pueblo work crew plans to complete the fence line by September. Although the community’s police force is just starting out, patrols in the area are planned.

The pueblo and state are also working on a plan to remove cars and trash at the site officials visited Monday, but Lucero said there are many more spots along the escarpment that have become nuisance areas.

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