By Gabe Vasquez, Las Cruces City Councilor

The New Mexico State Land Office is one of the largest land managers in the West, and does so with virtually unfettered discretion. Few agencies are able to act as nimbly and autonomously when it comes to supporting pro- or anti-conservation policies, so it’s particularly vital to ensure that a pro-conservation voice occupies the State Land Office.

After an extensive review process, Conservation Voters New Mexico Action Fund endorsed Garrett VeneKlasen to be the next Commissioner of Public Lands. While there are multiple candidates in the race with a strong conservation record, Mr. VeneKlasen stood out as the sole candidate running on an environmental platform with outstanding experience and vision New Mexico’s State Land Office needs.

Mr. VeneKlasen is the rare candidate who is both extremely ambitious and progressive with regard to environmental issues — and also prepared to hit the ground running on day one. While I personally know his experience as the executive director of New Mexico Wildlife Federation makes him prepared to manage the land office, it’s his experience as a user of state trust lands that truly sets him apart as a candidate. As a responsible and ethical hunter, Mr. VeneKlasen has used our state trust lands to provide for his family. In addition, Mr. VeneKlasen understands we must keep all public land users and their animals safe – he supports a ban on trapping on all public lands in New Mexico.

The Commissioner of Public Lands, commonly referred to as the state land commissioner, is charged with generating and optimizing revenue from state trust lands to support public education and other beneficiary institutions, while simultaneously striving to protect, conserve and maintain the lands so they may be used by future generations. There are broad avenues for revenue generation in renewable energy and recreation that have been underutilized. Mr. VeneKlasen’s plan to tap those revenue streams is simply more detailed and ambitious than other candidates in the race.

It has long been clear that the Stand Land Office requires fundamental change, both structurally and culturally. Mr. VeneKlasen is head and shoulders above other candidates when it comes to articulating values of transparency, accountability and a vision for what the land office can be.

Outside of his detailed plan and vision for the State Land Office, Mr. VeneKlasen is a strong advocate for public lands and public lands users in New Mexico. Because of the autonomy and authority of the office, the Commissioner of Public Lands can carve out different roles for him or her self. Because of his long experience with state trust lands, and the variety of stakeholders involved, Mr. VeneKlasen can be both a public leader and a convener to find solutions to the complex problems that arise when attempting to balance the interests of multiple uses and users. Mr. VeneKlasen has demonstrated comfort in the role of public leader and defender of our public lands over and over again over the years including as one of the public faces resisting the Bundy occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon and right here at home advocating for the creating of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

CVNM Action Fund’s endorsement identifies that Garrett VeneKlasen is the single candidate that clearly represents the best choice to secure forward progress on conservation policy.

Gabe Vasquez is the Las Cruces District 3 City Councilor and a supporter of Conservation Voters New Mexico, a statewide environmental nonprofit working to connect New Mexicans to their political power to protect our air, land and water for a healthy Land of Enchantment.