The Landlord

Ray Powell, V84, oversees public lands—and public resources—as New Mexico’s elected land commissioner

Ray Powell

As New Mexico’s land commissioner, Ray Powell, V84, manages a land trust roughly half the size of Pennsylvania. Those 13 million acres generate $500 million annually for the state’s public schools, universities and hospitals from leases for grazing, mining, oil and gas and producing renewable energy on wind and solar farms.

“What makes my job very unusual is that although it’s an elected position, the land commissioner in New Mexico can sell, lease or trade the land without anyone else’s approval,” says Powell, who was elected to a second 10-year term this year. “Given the enormous autonomy and responsibility, you have the power to do really good things in office—or be a real scoundrel.”

Typical Day at the Office: None

“If I look back at the 10 years I previously served as state land commissioner [1993 to 2002], literally no two days were the same. One day I was dealing with oil and gas issues. The following day I was dealing with predator/prey relations affecting agriculture and urban communities; the next, catastrophic forest fires. The only consistent thing is that I get to work with and learn from some of the brightest people around.”

Proudest Achievements

Helping pass legislation banning animal fighting and increasing penalties for animal cruelty. Bringing the first wind turbines to New Mexico. Brokering land swaps to protect wilderness areas, national parks and sacred tribal lands, deals that led to such projects as Mesa del Sol, a 13,000-acre, master-planned community in Albuquerque, and La Semilla, the 3,000-acre urban nature preserve next door. “Mesa del Sol will bring billions of dollars to our public schools over the next 75 years—while leaving the lightest footprint on the land possible. And even amidst an economic downturn, it has created thousands of high-tech jobs for New Mexicans.”

On His To-Do List: Renewable Energy

“We are blessed in New Mexico with huge amounts of nonrenewable resources—oil, gas, coal, potash, uranium—and those are mined to support our public schools. But we have just as many opportunities in terms of renewable energy. We are among the top five states nationwide when it comes to potential resources for solar, geothermal, wind and biomass energy production. Our land can support us, literally forever, if we care for it in a thoughtful and respectful manner.”

Inspired By: Jane Goodall

“After I served for 10 years as state land commissioner, I went back to my small animal veterinary practice. I got a call from the Jane Goodall Institute and joined them as a regional director of wildlife research, education and conservation. Dr. Jane has become a great friend and mentor.”

His Winding Path

Changing places, from the Southwest to the Northeast—and back again—and shifting interests, from anthropology to plants to animals. “I was captivated by native cultures’ use of the land and became a field botanist before I went to Tufts. I am originally from New Mexico, and Tufts at the time had a contractual agreement to take five students from the state because we didn’t have a veterinary school.”

Where His Heart Is: New Mexico

“It is really a dream location if you are a natural sciences person. Within a mile, you can travel from 5,000 feet to more than 10,000 feet above sea level. It’s a great place to study natural resource and ecological issues.”

This article first appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of Tufts Veterinary Medicine magazine.

Genevieve Rajewski can be reached at


Back to Top