Landowners wonder about future for bombing range

Map courtesy of the New Mexico State Land Office

MELROSE — A State Land Office official said Wednesday the future is uncertain for more than 20,000 acres of state land used for ranching and farming near the Melrose Bombing Range.

Larry Kehoe told farmers and ranchers who lease state lands they should continue their operations until the Air Force determines whether more land is needed to expand the range.

“Until they finish their due process we won’t know what they (Air Force officials) want,” Kehoe said. “Nothing’s going to change until we hear something from the Air Force.”

Rancher Chris Barnard said the meeting at Melrose School did little to shed light on his business’ future. He said he leases about half the land he uses for ranching from the state.

“It’s hard to make a future if you don’t know what the future holds,” he said.

Kehoe said the meeting was designed to start a dialogue as the Air Force and the Department of Finance develop an action plan to purchase land now leased to ranchers.

The Air Force has a year to decide if it will accept the land offered by Gov. Bill Richardson, according to a memorandum of understanding that took effect in June.

Kehoe said the governor appropriated $5 million from the state Legislature to purchase between 17,000 and 20,300 acres of state trust land for Cannon Air Force Base.

Base officials said the Air Force has not agreed to accept any land until it determines whether it’s needed.

Lt. Col. Toby Corey, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron commander, said base officials are working on a comprehensive plan to determine how the bombing range will be used to train personnel for missions.

The plan should be completed by the fall, according to Capt. Justin Swick, 27th Special Operations Wing judge advocate chief of civil law.