New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
U.S. President Donald Trump yesterday signed a package of public lands legislation that, in part, establishes 13 new wilderness areas in New Mexico totaling approximately 272,586 acres. Ten of the new wilderness areas are within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument and two are within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. The amount of new wilderness for New Mexico contained in S. 47, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act represents the most acreage of wilderness designated in New Mexico in a single year since 1980.
“It is a historic day for New Mexicans who overwhelmingly support permanent protections for our most wild places,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild. “This result is the culmination of decades of hard work by citizens throughout the state who have relentlessly advocated for more wilderness designations. We are fortunate to have leaders representing us in Congress who understand the importance of public lands to our communities and help push legislation like this across the finish line.”
A wilderness area designation is the highest level of protection for federal public lands. Only Congress may designate wilderness areas or change the status of existing wilderness areas. The designations that became official today bring the total amount of protected wilderness in New Mexico to approximately 1,968,184 acres.
Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich co-sponsored the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Conservation Act, which was absorbed into the public lands package that was signed into law today. The legislation includes ten wilderness areas within the national monument totaling 241,554 acres.
Legislation to safeguard the wilderness in Doña Ana County was first introduced by former Senator Jeff Bingaman in 2009 in the 111th Congress, and then again by Senators Udall and Heinrich in the 112th and 113th Congresses.
Hunting, livestock grazing, hiking, camping, horseback riding, firefighting, law enforcement activities, and border security will still be permitted in the wilderness areas. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks contains approximately 306 bird species and 78 mammal species including golden eagles, mule deer, javelina, cougar, ring-tail cat, and quail.
A 2016 poll showed 78 percent of citizens in Doña Ana County support the protection of wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
Also included in the public lands package was the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act, which was also co-sponsored by Senators Udall and Heinrich, to designate the Cerro del Yuta Wilderness and the Rio San Antonio Wilderness within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. The bill passed the Senate without amendment in December 2017. Congressman Ben Ray Lujan sponsored an identical bill in the House of Representatives, which was co-sponsored by former Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham. The original version of the legislation was first introduced by former U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman in 2009.
A poll conducted by Third Eye Strategies in 2016 found that 93 percent of registered voters in Taos County believe that wilderness is important to them. Of those surveyed, 95 percent believe it is important for public lands to be preserved for future generations.
Designated in 2013, Río Grande del Norte National Monument continues to enjoy overwhelming community support, including the backing of business owners, sportsmen, tribal leaders, land grant heirs, local elected officials, and grazing permittees.
During last year’s review of national monuments by the Department of Interior, New Mexico had the most comments submitted per capita of any state. Nearly 98 percent of the comments received for Rio Grande del Norte opposed the executive order and wanted the monument to remain as is.
The potential wilderness areas within the national monument serve as some of the world’s great avian migratory routes. They are also home to wildlife, including bear, pronghorn, and elk. The new designations safeguard world-class recreation opportunities already enjoyed within the national monument, such as hiking, hunting, and fishing.
Overall, the two wilderness areas created by the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act comprise 21,540 acres of the 243,140-acre national monument northwest of Taos, New Mexico.
The public lands package also includes the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Area comprising approximately 7,242 acres and a 2,250-acre expansion of the existing Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area near the Four Corners region.
In addition to New Mexico’s thirteen new wilderness areas, the public lands package reauthorizes the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has provided funding for public lands and open spaces in all 33 New Mexico counties since its creation. Congress failed to reauthorize the fund in September 2018, leading to the loss of tens of millions of dollars for America’s public lands. Senators Heinrich and Udall have been two of the fund’s most ardent supporters in the Senate.
On February 12, 2019, S. 47 passed the United States Senate by a voice vote of 92-8. On February 26, 2019 the package passed the United States House on a motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill by a count of 363-62.
About the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance or “New Mexico Wild” is a non-profit 501 (C)(3), independent, homegrown, grassroots, conservation organization dedicated to the protection, restoration and continued respect of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas.
With staff and thousands of supporters throughout the state, New Mexico Wild is dedicated to the rights and the value of citizen involvement in protecting increasingly rare wild places within public lands.
Just as freedom is every American’s birthright so too is Wilderness.