U.S. House passes public lands package containing 13 new wilderness areas in New Mexico
New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a public lands package that, in part, creates 13 new wilderness areas in New Mexico totaling more than 270,000 acres, including 10 wilderness areas within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument and two within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act, contains what would be the most acreage of wilderness designated in New Mexico in a single year since 1980 if the legislation is signed into law.
“We are ecstatic that some of New Mexico’s best remaining wild places are one step closer to permanent protection so that future generations can experience the richness of our shared cultural and natural heritage” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild. “Our nation’s public lands are a great unifier, as evidenced by the overwhelming bipartisan support for this legislation in both chambers of Congress. We thank our entire Congressional delegation for their commitment to protecting the wild places New Mexicans love to explore and share with our families.”
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 passed the House. The legislation would designate 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 111 Congress, and then again by Senators Udall and Heinrich in the 112 and 113 Congresses.
Hunting, livestock grazing, hiking, camping, horseback riding, firefighting, law enforcement activities, and border security would continue 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 initial bill passed the Senate without amendment in December 2017. Representative Ben Ray Lujan sponsored an identical bill in the House of Representatives, which was co-sponsored by former Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham.
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 ninety eight 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 would 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 would 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 13 new wilderness areas, the public lands package that passed 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.
On February 12, 2019, the Natural Resources Management Act passed the U.S. Senate by a voice vote of 92-8. The legislation will become law if it is signed by President Donald Trump.
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.