Land Ownership in New Mexico

46.5% of New Mexico is Private Land

In our analysis, “private land” is all land that is not tribal, federally managed, or state managed.

Private land areas in each state are calculated here using:

\[A_{\textrm{private}} = A_{\textrm{total}}  –  \left[ A_{\textrm{tribal}} + A_{\textrm{state owned lands}} + A_{\textrm{BLM}} + A_{\textrm{USFS}} +A_{\textrm{USFWS}} + A_{\textrm{NPS}} + A_{\textrm{military}} + A_{\textrm{USACE}} + A_{\textrm{DOE}} + A_{\textrm{BOR}}\right],\]

The land ownerships in the square brackets include areas where hunting is allowed to those with valid public land elk licenses, depending on the land managing agency and location (e.g., USFS, BLM, USFWS).

Elk are not uniformly distributed across New Mexico.  Elk populations are highest in the mountainous, rural areas of the state.  Land ownership varies in these areas, with some Game Management Units (GMUs) having more private land than others.

Elk occupy and migrate through both public and private lands in New Mexico.  When elk are present on private land, the landowner does not own or have population control over the elk — the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) has jurisdiction over and sets the rules for managing elk on both public and private land.

In Primary and Special Management Zones, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish manages elk populations based on wildlife biology, not the demand for elk hunting licenses.  Elk populations are not actively monitored in the Secondary Management Zone. However, the NMDGF requires valid elk hunting licenses, tags, and written landowner permission for hunting private lands in the Secondary Management Zone.

NMDGF monitors and measures elk herd populations and spatial distributions and adjusts elk hunting license numbers based on wildlife biology goals in each GMU in the Primary and Special Management Zones.

The allocation of public land elk hunting licenses and private land elk authorizations is determined by the relative areas of public and private land in each GMU.

This is known as the “public/private” land split.  For example, if 100 elk hunting licenses are needed to manage the elk population in a given GMU, and 40% of that GMU is private land, and 60% is public land, then 40 private land elk hunting authorizations will be allocated to qualifying ranches registered in the Elk Private Land Use System (EPLUS), and 60 elk licenses will be available for that GMU in the draw for public land elk licenses.

Land Ownership in New Mexico


These maps show land ownership (surface) along with the NMDGF elk management zones. Blue boundaries signify the Primary Management Zone (PMZ), green boundaries indicate the Special Management Zone (SPZ), and areas outside the PMZ or SPZ are considered the Secondary Management Zone (SMZ). Private land ownership is white (see the landownership legend).

Public / Private Land Split per GMU

The fraction of each Game Management Unit (GMU) that is private land is shown here in shades of red, with darker reds indicating GMUs with a higher percentage of private land.  Note the actual locations of private lands in each GMU are also shown as shades of red.  Private land in this analysis includes land that an individual or corporation owns; it does not include tribal, federal, state, Department of Defense, or Department of Energy lands.  The boundaries of GMUs are color-coded by the NMDGF Elk Management Zones they are in (blue = Primary Management Zone (PMZ) and green = Special Management Zone (SPZ), anything outside these zones is considered in the Secondary Management Zone (SMZ)).

The fraction of each GMU by private land area is shown in this bar chart. Hover over the data to see details. Note the logarithmic scale. The public/private ratio of the GMU area is used to assign public land licenses in the draw and EPLUS authorizations to qualifying ranches in the GMU — in the primary (PMZ) and special (SPZ) management zones.  All private land licenses in the secondary management zone (SMZ) are over-the-counter (OTC) and unlimited — they are not assigned a priori by NMDGF to the landowner.

Land ownership in New Mexico is diverse due to the significant presence of the National Park Service, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, Native Americans, and large ranches.

The federal government owns 31.7% (24.7 million of 77.8 million acres) of New Mexico.  This includes the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) owning 54.7% of the federal lands in NM, the US Forest Service owning 37.4% of federal lands in NM, the Department of Defense (4.6%), the National Park Service (1.9%) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (1.3%)1

The land ownership fractions of each GMU are listed in this table.

BLM = Bureau of Land Management (federal)

BOR = US Bureau of Reclamation (federal)

DOD = Department of Defense (federal, military)

FS = US Forest Service Land (federal)

FWS = US Fish and Wildlife Service (federal)

I = Native American (tribal)

NPS = National Park Service (federal)

P = Private Land (owned by individual or corporation)

S = New Mexico State Lands (state)

SGF = New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (state)

SP = New Mexico State Parks (state)

The landownership fractions are listed for each GMU here.  Inside each GMU, the fractions of land ownership are sorted from the dominant land owner for that GMU to the smallest land owner.  The GMU acres column is the total acreage of the GMU across all land owners. Color coding relates to which NMDGF elk management zone the GMU is in. (Note the GMU values are treated as a string, not a number, so please scroll down to find the GMU of interest)

Land Ownership as Fraction of GMU area

Interactive chart showing the fraction of the GMU area owned by different land owners and managers.  Mouse-click on any of the sectors to expand to see the details, and click again on the sector to collapse back to the original layout.

This hierarchical chart breaks down elk management zones {Primary, Secondary, and Special} and the GMUs in each zone, followed by the fractional ownership of the GMU based on acreage.

The ownership categories are P = private; I = Native American/Indian Lands; Federal Lands { BLM = Bureau of Land Management, BOR = Bureau of Reclamation, DOD = Department of Defense, DOE = Department of Energy, FS = US Forest Service, NPS = National Park Service,}; and State Lands {S = New Mexico State Trust Land, SGF = NMDGF, SP = State Park}.

Geospatial analysis of private land fraction of the Primary and Special Elk Management Zones

The NMDGF measures and actively manages the elk populations in GMUs in the Primary Management Zones (PMZs) and Special Management Zones (SPZs).  Elk also exist in the Secondary Management Zones (SMZs).

We assume that the entire GMU areas in the PMZ and SPZ are elk habitats.

A conservative estimate of the fraction of elk habitat on private land in New Mexico follows.

  1. Assume the entire area of each GMU in the Primary and Special Management Zone is viable elk habitat.
  2. Sum the private land area for every GMU in the Primary and Special Management Zone.
  3. Divide this sum by the total area of all the GMUs in the Primary Management Zone to estimate the fraction of elk habitat on private land.

This calculation gives 33% of the PMZ and SPZ land (elk habitat) to be privately owned.

Our estimate is a lower bound on the fraction of elk habitat in New Mexico that is on private land since elk occupy some private lands in the SMZ GMUs, and these areas of habitat would add to this estimate.

In some GMUs, the fraction of elk habitat that is privately owned is much higher; see the histogram above.

  1. Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data, Updated February 21, 2020, Congressional Research Service,, R42346