Public Lands

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Modrall Sperling lawyers serve large and small businesses and individuals in matters relating to their activities on our federal and state public lands, providing advice and counsel, and representing clients in permitting, environmental compliance efforts, administrative proceedings and appeals, and litigation and other dispute resolution proceedings. Our goal is to efficiently and effectively assist our clients in meeting the complex challenges presented by doing business on public lands.

Stan Harris chairs our Public Lands Practice Group. The lawyers involved include:



Modrall Sperling's experience in the federal public lands arena is extensive and includes work on federal public domain lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, on National Forest lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and on state lands overseen by the New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands and the State Land Office.  Our experience includes administrative practice and litigation involving federal land use planning, minerals (oil and gas, hard and precious minerals, and coal) development activities, royalty valuation, mining claim location and staking, environmental permitting and compliance, reclamation, remediation, and regulation, and land exchanges. We also advise clients regarding the National Environmental Policy Act, including EA and EIS requirements, the National Historic Preservation Act and other cultural resources and sacred sites management matters, and issues arising under the Endangered Species Act and related wildlife management regulatory schemes.

Our public lands attorneys work closely with our real estate, commercial, tax, land use, and zoning attorneys on appropriate issues. Because of the range of knowledge among our colleagues, we also have the ability to bring to bear a diverse multi-disciplinary legal team for matters where an interdisciplinary approach to a particular problem is warranted.

Representative Matters and Creative Problem Solving

Among the matters in which the firm has been involved are the following items:

  • Mount Taylor Traditional Cultural Property Designation: Modrall Sperling represents a major resources development company and a group of mineral estate owners in a judicial challenge to a highly controversial State of New Mexico designation of a 500,000-plus acre area encompassing Mount Taylor and surrounding environs—located northeast of Grants, New Mexico—as a Traditional Cultural Property ("TCP").  The designation impacts or has the potential to impact companies and individuals owning lands, interests in land or development rights inside and near the designated TCP area. The challenge asserts that the State violated applicable constitutional and statutory provisions, regulations and procedures in designating the TCP.  The challenge was successful before the state district court, and is now pending before the New Mexico Court of Appeals, Rayellen Resources, Inc., et al. v. New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee, et al., Cause No. CV-2009-812S (Fifth Judicial District Court 2011), on appeal, New Mexico Court of Appeals Cause No. 31,064.

  • Successfully represented San Juan Coal Company in obtaining injunctive relief authorizing the coal company to mine through oil and gas wells in a matter involving a federal coal vs. private oil and gas development conflict arising from a split estate resulting from patents issued under the Coal Lands Act of 1910.  See San Juan Coal Company v. Redwolf Production, Inc., Cause No. CV-2008-1253 (Eleventh Judicial District 2008).

  • Represented the Sandia Peak Tram Company, a special use permit holder on national forest lands, in litigation and alternative dispute resolution proceedings that resulted in an amicable Indian land claim settlement requiring ratification by federal legislation, the T'uf  Shur Bien Preservation Trust Act legislation (2003).  Representation included participation in a lengthy mediation process, lobbying, and testimony before Senate Committees on Indian Affairs and on Energy and Natural Resources.

  • Successfully represented San Juan Coal Company ("SJCC") in attempts by the Navajo Nation and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") to place federal lands subject to SJCC's coal leases in trust as part of the Navajo Reservation.  Specifically, the case involved the validity of BLM's decision to implement Navajo Nation land selections of federal public lands for transfer into trust under provisions of the federal Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act.  Obtained an immediate stay of BLM's decision from the Interior Board of Land Appeals ("IBLA").  After efforts to find an amicable resolution acceptable to a wide range of stakeholders, obtained a favorable ruling from the IBLA that the Navajo Nation's and BLM's actions were unauthorized.  See San Juan Coal Company, 155 IBLA 389 (2001).

  • Barrick Gold Corporation's Cortez Hills Mine and Horse Canyon/Cortez Unified Exploration Project:  We represent Barrick Cortez, Inc. in relation to present and proposed operations in and near the Crescent Valley, Nevada.  We are providing counsel regarding tribal consultation and cultural resources management compliance relating to mineral resources development and exploration projects, including consideration of National Historic Preservation Act, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and related statutes, regulations and Executive Orders.

  • Represented multiple clients in permitting and environmental compliance efforts regarding developments on federal public lands, including National Environmental Policy Act, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Endangered Species Act, and related regulatory schemes.