2014

  • Associate Press
    Posted: 07/17/2014

    MEXICO CITY (AP) — The first known litter of Mexican gray wolves has been born in the wild as part of a three-year effort to re-introduce the subspecies to a habitat where it disappeared three decades ago, Mexican officials reported Thursday.

    Mexico’s National Commission for Natural Protected Areas said the wolf pups were sighted in June by a team of researchers in the western Sierra Madre mountains.

    “This first litter represents an important step in the recovery program, because these will be individuals that have never had contact with human beings, as wolves bred in captivity inevitably do,” the commission said in a statement.

    It said the pups appeared to be doing well.

    Mexico began reintroducing wolves in 2011, and the parents of this litter had been released in December with hopes they would reproduce. Authorities seldom reveal the exact location of breeding pairs in recovery programs, to protect endangered species.

    The commission did not respond to requests about how many wolves now live in the wild in Mexico.

    The Mexican gray wolf was almost wiped out in the U.S. Southwest by the same factors that eliminated it in Mexico: hunting, trapping and poisoning.

    The last five survivors in the U.S. were captured between 1977 and 1980, and then bred in captivity. The first wolves were re-introduced into the wild in the Southwest starting in 1998, mainly in Arizona and New Mexico.

    The Mexican gray wolf remains an endangered species in the United States and Mexico.

    But a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service annual survey released in January showed there are at least 83 of the endangered predators in Arizona and New Mexico, marking the fourth year in a row the population has increased.

  • Associate Press
    Posted: 07/17/2014

    MEXICO CITY (AP) — The first known litter of Mexican gray wolves has been born in the wild as part of a three-year effort to re-introduce the subspecies to a habitat where it disappeared three decades ago, Mexican officials reported Thursday.

    Mexico’s National Commission for Natural Protected Areas said the wolf pups were sighted in June by a team of researchers in the western Sierra Madre mountains.

    “This first litter represents an important step in the recovery program, because these will be individuals that have never had contact with human beings, as wolves bred in captivity inevitably do,” the commission said in a statement.

    It said the pups appeared to be doing well.

    Mexico began reintroducing wolves in 2011, and the parents of this litter had been released in December with hopes they would reproduce. Authorities seldom reveal the exact location of breeding pairs in recovery programs, to protect endangered species.

    The commission did not respond to requests about how many wolves now live in the wild in Mexico.

    The Mexican gray wolf was almost wiped out in the U.S. Southwest by the same factors that eliminated it in Mexico: hunting, trapping and poisoning.

    The last five survivors in the U.S. were captured between 1977 and 1980, and then bred in captivity. The first wolves were re-introduced into the wild in the Southwest starting in 1998, mainly in Arizona and New Mexico.

    The Mexican gray wolf remains an endangered species in the United States and Mexico.

    But a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service annual survey released in January showed there are at least 83 of the endangered predators in Arizona and New Mexico, marking the fourth year in a row the population has increased.

  • By Carol BeidlemanLas Cruces Sun News 300x47
    Guest column
    01/26/2014

    Recently, Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks Conservation Act (S. 1805) that would establish a national monument on public lands in Doña Ana County.

    As stakeholders have added their voices to the discussion around this proposal, we’ve heard about the value of protected public land as a place to recreate, hunt, or seek solitude. We’ve also learned that this designation in our county would boost tourism, create related jobs, and attract businesses, highly skilled employees, and retirees seeking to locate near these undeveloped open spaces and scenic landscapes.

    And while we all understand the need for natural areas to support wildlife like pronghorn, mule deer, and mountain lion, we don’t usually hear about the importance of these lands for our native bird populations.

    Yet the grasslands around the Organ Mountains region are vital for more than 20 bird species of conservation concern, of which the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish lists the aplomado falcon as endangered and the peregrine falcon and Baird’s sparrow as threatened. Other species of conservation concern supported by this habitat include the ferruginous hawk, long-billed curlew, burrowing owl, loggerhead shrike, sprague’s pipit, and chestnut-collared longspur — all of which, along with the Baird’s sparrow, are high priority grassland species throughout their entire range from Canada to Mexico. In fact, grasslands contain more high-priority species than any other habitat in New Mexico.

    As a group, grassland birds have suffered more severe population declines than any other bird species in the United States. According to the 2011 State of the Birds Report, the nation has lost more than 97 percent of its native grasslands, largely due to conversion to agriculture. The small percentage of the native grasslands that remain on Bureau of Land Management lands are especially important to grassland species in the western U.S. during both the breeding and non-breeding seasons.

    Given the ongoing transformation of Chihuahuan Desert grasslands in nearby areas of northern Mexico, the grasslands of southern New Mexico may be of even greater importance in the years to come if our nation’s remaining grassland bird species are to survive.

    It is for this reason that Audubon New Mexico endorses the proposal to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area as a national monument. For while most people focus on the colorful iconic peaks, we believe such protection offers an important opportunity to safeguard many of Doña Ana County’s most valuable grasslands, and the species they support.

    The 2011 State of the Birds makes the urgent case for grassland preservation. “Grassland has always been undervalued as wildlife habitat … a small amount of U.S. grassland (less than 2 percent) is both publicly owned and managed primarily for conservation. More public land specifically protected for grassland birds is needed, and a higher proportion of multiple-use lands should be managed with grassland birds in mind.”

    We thank Senators Udall and Heinrich for recognizing the importance of grasslands when introducing the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks Conservation Act and we thank New Mexico Land Commissioner Ray Powell for officially supporting this legislation. We urge President Obama to support our senators’ efforts and ensure that these irreplaceable public lands are protected.

    Carol Beidleman is director of bird conservation for Audubon New Mexico

  • By Carol BeidlemanLas Cruces Sun News 300x47
    Guest column
    01/26/2014

    Recently, Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks Conservation Act (S. 1805) that would establish a national monument on public lands in Doña Ana County.

    As stakeholders have added their voices to the discussion around this proposal, we’ve heard about the value of protected public land as a place to recreate, hunt, or seek solitude. We’ve also learned that this designation in our county would boost tourism, create related jobs, and attract businesses, highly skilled employees, and retirees seeking to locate near these undeveloped open spaces and scenic landscapes.

    And while we all understand the need for natural areas to support wildlife like pronghorn, mule deer, and mountain lion, we don’t usually hear about the importance of these lands for our native bird populations.

    Yet the grasslands around the Organ Mountains region are vital for more than 20 bird species of conservation concern, of which the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish lists the aplomado falcon as endangered and the peregrine falcon and Baird’s sparrow as threatened. Other species of conservation concern supported by this habitat include the ferruginous hawk, long-billed curlew, burrowing owl, loggerhead shrike, sprague’s pipit, and chestnut-collared longspur — all of which, along with the Baird’s sparrow, are high priority grassland species throughout their entire range from Canada to Mexico. In fact, grasslands contain more high-priority species than any other habitat in New Mexico.

    As a group, grassland birds have suffered more severe population declines than any other bird species in the United States. According to the 2011 State of the Birds Report, the nation has lost more than 97 percent of its native grasslands, largely due to conversion to agriculture. The small percentage of the native grasslands that remain on Bureau of Land Management lands are especially important to grassland species in the western U.S. during both the breeding and non-breeding seasons.

    Given the ongoing transformation of Chihuahuan Desert grasslands in nearby areas of northern Mexico, the grasslands of southern New Mexico may be of even greater importance in the years to come if our nation’s remaining grassland bird species are to survive.

    It is for this reason that Audubon New Mexico endorses the proposal to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area as a national monument. For while most people focus on the colorful iconic peaks, we believe such protection offers an important opportunity to safeguard many of Doña Ana County’s most valuable grasslands, and the species they support.

    The 2011 State of the Birds makes the urgent case for grassland preservation. “Grassland has always been undervalued as wildlife habitat … a small amount of U.S. grassland (less than 2 percent) is both publicly owned and managed primarily for conservation. More public land specifically protected for grassland birds is needed, and a higher proportion of multiple-use lands should be managed with grassland birds in mind.”

    We thank Senators Udall and Heinrich for recognizing the importance of grasslands when introducing the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks Conservation Act and we thank New Mexico Land Commissioner Ray Powell for officially supporting this legislation. We urge President Obama to support our senators’ efforts and ensure that these irreplaceable public lands are protected.

    Carol Beidleman is director of bird conservation for Audubon New Mexico

  • By Carol BeidlemanLas Cruces Sun News 300x47
    Guest column
    01/26/2014

    Recently, Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks Conservation Act (S. 1805) that would establish a national monument on public lands in Doña Ana County.

    As stakeholders have added their voices to the discussion around this proposal, we’ve heard about the value of protected public land as a place to recreate, hunt, or seek solitude. We’ve also learned that this designation in our county would boost tourism, create related jobs, and attract businesses, highly skilled employees, and retirees seeking to locate near these undeveloped open spaces and scenic landscapes.

    And while we all understand the need for natural areas to support wildlife like pronghorn, mule deer, and mountain lion, we don’t usually hear about the importance of these lands for our native bird populations.

    Yet the grasslands around the Organ Mountains region are vital for more than 20 bird species of conservation concern, of which the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish lists the aplomado falcon as endangered and the peregrine falcon and Baird’s sparrow as threatened. Other species of conservation concern supported by this habitat include the ferruginous hawk, long-billed curlew, burrowing owl, loggerhead shrike, sprague’s pipit, and chestnut-collared longspur — all of which, along with the Baird’s sparrow, are high priority grassland species throughout their entire range from Canada to Mexico. In fact, grasslands contain more high-priority species than any other habitat in New Mexico.

    As a group, grassland birds have suffered more severe population declines than any other bird species in the United States. According to the 2011 State of the Birds Report, the nation has lost more than 97 percent of its native grasslands, largely due to conversion to agriculture. The small percentage of the native grasslands that remain on Bureau of Land Management lands are especially important to grassland species in the western U.S. during both the breeding and non-breeding seasons.

    Given the ongoing transformation of Chihuahuan Desert grasslands in nearby areas of northern Mexico, the grasslands of southern New Mexico may be of even greater importance in the years to come if our nation’s remaining grassland bird species are to survive.

    It is for this reason that Audubon New Mexico endorses the proposal to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area as a national monument. For while most people focus on the colorful iconic peaks, we believe such protection offers an important opportunity to safeguard many of Doña Ana County’s most valuable grasslands, and the species they support.

    The 2011 State of the Birds makes the urgent case for grassland preservation. “Grassland has always been undervalued as wildlife habitat … a small amount of U.S. grassland (less than 2 percent) is both publicly owned and managed primarily for conservation. More public land specifically protected for grassland birds is needed, and a higher proportion of multiple-use lands should be managed with grassland birds in mind.”

    We thank Senators Udall and Heinrich for recognizing the importance of grasslands when introducing the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks Conservation Act and we thank New Mexico Land Commissioner Ray Powell for officially supporting this legislation. We urge President Obama to support our senators’ efforts and ensure that these irreplaceable public lands are protected.

    Carol Beidleman is director of bird conservation for Audubon New Mexico

  • Cissy McAndrew and Howie Morales join the chorus of voices against diversion

    By Susan Dunlap, Silver City Sun News
    02/04/2014

    SILVER CITY >> The issue continues to brew in Sante Fe. Will the state of New Mexico and the federal government divert the Gila River or will Grant County implement low-cost conservation alternatives?

    Two weeks ago, state senator and democratic hopeful for governor, Howie Morales, who represents Grant County in the Legislature, joined the growing chorus calling upon the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) to adopt conservation alternatives by signing onto Senate Bills 89 and 90, which require the ISC to secure all the funding necessary before they recommend diverting the Gila River to the Bureau of Reclamation.

    In addition, the bills require New Mexico to spend the federal dollars already available on conservation methods. The Senate bills were introduced by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Sante Fe. The fate of these bills will be decided within the next two weeks. If they do not pass, Grant County residents will have few options left available to try to sway the ISC, a governor-appointed board.

    “It’s important we have all options open to discuss the large amount of public dollars that would be spent on this,” Morales said. “We’re going to consider $200 to $300 million not funded by the federal government, so it’s important to look at this.”

    Last week Cissy McAndrew, executive director of the Southwest New Mexico Chapter of the Green Chamber of Commerce, also joined the voices of local people who are trying to make themselves heard in Sante Fe to support conservation efforts and protect the Gila River from damming or diversion. McAndrew and Morales both spoke at a press conference on the Gila River.

    “We really are trying to protect our future and our sense of place here,” McAndrew said. “These projects are literally going to change our world.”
    McAndrew said she spoke at the press conference because she is a concerned citizen.

    “This is like the Colorado River project, just on a smaller scale,” McAndrew said. “We know that didn’t work. We need to look at more long-term solutions.”
    One issue both Morales and McAndrew addressed has come up frequently. Who is going to pay for a diversion project, now estimated by Bohannan Huston, the engineering firm the ISC contracted to project construction cost estimates, to cost more than $300 million. Through the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA), passed in 2004, the state of New Mexico will receive an additional federal subsidy of $34 million to $62 million for diverting the Gila River. Taxpayers will likely be the ones left to take care of the rest, which could mean a serious increase in taxes.

    “We know people aren’t going to want to pay that,” McAndrew said.
    Morales agreed.
    “Taxpayers could get hit, so there has to be a justification for it,” Morales said. “These things have to be discussed.”

    The New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, and the Gila Conservation Coalition also attended the press conference last Tuesday.

    “I think Senator Wirth’s approach is fiscally responsible,” Executive Director of the Gila Conservation Coalition Allyson Siwik said of Senate Bills 89 and 90. “There’s a huge concern about the burden of a super expensive water diversion project on New Mexico taxpayers. We have a solution before us with nondiversion alternatives to get southwest New Mexico’s water needs met. We can also generate three times the amount of water with nondiversion projects.”

    There are additional concerns, as well, besides money. Morales spoke about the ecological impact of a diversion project on the Gila river and Public Lands Coordinator for Trout Unlimited, Toner Mitchell, did as well.

    “That money could be available for so many uses for water,” Mitchell said. “The Gila trout is a very important fish and it’s very threatened. It’s the budgetary egegriousness of it that is of concern. There are watershed projects that could benefit both humans and the Gila trout.”

    In addition, according to the Sante Fe New Mexican, Wirth has expressed a concern that New Mexico has significant water infrastructure demands ahead and money needs to be spent toward that. Morales also spoke about the larger water issues of the entire state.

    “There are so many water needs,” Morales said.

    Both bills are currently going through committee process. If they pass through committee, they will soon reach the legislature’s floor.

    “This has gotten a lot of attention,” Siwik said. “Given the drought, people are really watching what’s happening in New Mexico. This issue will show how New Mexico moves forward, especially in the face of climate change.”

    Susan Dunlap can be reached at 575-538-5893 ext. 5803.

  • Ben Thomas for the Taos News
    November 9, 2014

    I would like to provide some perspective from the mountain bike community with regards to a bill that will turn the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area into designated wilderness. First a little background, Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act (S.776) has been crafted to permanently protect 45,000 acres of national forest land while restoring a key recreation asset in the region, including the Lost Lake and East Fork trails in the Red River area for mountain bike use. It has come to my attention that a few mountain bikers in the community are inadvertently threatening this bill.

    Many stakeholders in the region, including ranchers, acequia associations, neighborhood associations, municipalities, Taos County, numerous corporations, Taos Pueblo, Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, Congresswomen Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Del Norte MtB Alliance, the local chapter of International Mountain Bike Association, have all joined other conservation-minded organizations, including the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition, to help shape the proposal. After a very lengthy and sometimes difficult coalition building process, this bill has the broad based support of the Taos community.

    The delicate balance of community support needs to stay strong if this bill is to stay on track and be signed into law. There are reports that some mountain bikers are riding in the Wilderness Study area, disregarding the management intent and ignoring the fact that mechanized travel, including biking, is not permitted. It is this ignorance or blatant disrespect for management practice that could unravel years of collaboration and progress. Because so much of this collaboration is built on trust and respect it is critical that those riding trails like Goose Creek, Lost Lake, and Long Canyon find alternatives.

    When passed, this bill will open up 20 miles of pristine, high-alpine single-track for us all to enjoy. Furthermore, by working with this collaboration of community members we are building relationships that will provide support for additional trails down the road. Furthermore, when mountain bikers support this bill we stand a good chance on getting support for other initiatives, like getting some more trails up by Horse Thief Mesa.

    Please, I urge all mountain bikers to respect the efforts of this coalition and recognize that in the big picture mountain bikers have so much to gain to be threatening this bill.

  • Ben Thomas for the Taos News
    November 9, 2014

    I would like to provide some perspective from the mountain bike community with regards to a bill that will turn the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area into designated wilderness. First a little background, Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act (S.776) has been crafted to permanently protect 45,000 acres of national forest land while restoring a key recreation asset in the region, including the Lost Lake and East Fork trails in the Red River area for mountain bike use. It has come to my attention that a few mountain bikers in the community are inadvertently threatening this bill.

    Many stakeholders in the region, including ranchers, acequia associations, neighborhood associations, municipalities, Taos County, numerous corporations, Taos Pueblo, Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, Congresswomen Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Del Norte MtB Alliance, the local chapter of International Mountain Bike Association, have all joined other conservation-minded organizations, including the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition, to help shape the proposal. After a very lengthy and sometimes difficult coalition building process, this bill has the broad based support of the Taos community.

    The delicate balance of community support needs to stay strong if this bill is to stay on track and be signed into law. There are reports that some mountain bikers are riding in the Wilderness Study area, disregarding the management intent and ignoring the fact that mechanized travel, including biking, is not permitted. It is this ignorance or blatant disrespect for management practice that could unravel years of collaboration and progress. Because so much of this collaboration is built on trust and respect it is critical that those riding trails like Goose Creek, Lost Lake, and Long Canyon find alternatives.

    When passed, this bill will open up 20 miles of pristine, high-alpine single-track for us all to enjoy. Furthermore, by working with this collaboration of community members we are building relationships that will provide support for additional trails down the road. Furthermore, when mountain bikers support this bill we stand a good chance on getting support for other initiatives, like getting some more trails up by Horse Thief Mesa.

    Please, I urge all mountain bikers to respect the efforts of this coalition and recognize that in the big picture mountain bikers have so much to gain to be threatening this bill.

  • Ben Thomas for the Taos News
    November 9, 2014

    I would like to provide some perspective from the mountain bike community with regards to a bill that will turn the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area into designated wilderness. First a little background, Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act (S.776) has been crafted to permanently protect 45,000 acres of national forest land while restoring a key recreation asset in the region, including the Lost Lake and East Fork trails in the Red River area for mountain bike use. It has come to my attention that a few mountain bikers in the community are inadvertently threatening this bill.

    Many stakeholders in the region, including ranchers, acequia associations, neighborhood associations, municipalities, Taos County, numerous corporations, Taos Pueblo, Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, Congresswomen Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Del Norte MtB Alliance, the local chapter of International Mountain Bike Association, have all joined other conservation-minded organizations, including the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition, to help shape the proposal. After a very lengthy and sometimes difficult coalition building process, this bill has the broad based support of the Taos community.

    The delicate balance of community support needs to stay strong if this bill is to stay on track and be signed into law. There are reports that some mountain bikers are riding in the Wilderness Study area, disregarding the management intent and ignoring the fact that mechanized travel, including biking, is not permitted. It is this ignorance or blatant disrespect for management practice that could unravel years of collaboration and progress. Because so much of this collaboration is built on trust and respect it is critical that those riding trails like Goose Creek, Lost Lake, and Long Canyon find alternatives.

    When passed, this bill will open up 20 miles of pristine, high-alpine single-track for us all to enjoy. Furthermore, by working with this collaboration of community members we are building relationships that will provide support for additional trails down the road. Furthermore, when mountain bikers support this bill we stand a good chance on getting support for other initiatives, like getting some more trails up by Horse Thief Mesa.

    Please, I urge all mountain bikers to respect the efforts of this coalition and recognize that in the big picture mountain bikers have so much to gain to be threatening this bill.

  • Phil Taylor and Kevin Bogardus, E&E reporters
    May 23, 2014

    President Obama’s designation Wednesday of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico showed that the second-term commander in chief is willing to take political risks to burnish his conservation legacy.

    Not only was it the largest monument — by far — that he’s designated using his Antiquities Act powers, but it was also the first that lacked universal local support.

    While the 500,000-acre monument was backed by a broad coalition of conservation, sportsmen’s, Hispanic and faith leaders, as well as key local government officials and the state’s two Democratic senators, it was opposed by the local sheriff, ranchers and Rep. Steven Pearce (R-N.M.), whose district includes those lands.

    Republicans on Capitol Hill lambasted the designation as a symbol of growing federal overreach with some pledging to redouble efforts to roll back the Antiquities Act.

    The proclamation showed Obama’s willingness to preserve lands his administration feels are in the nation’s interest — for recreation, scientific inquiry and historical preservation, among other reasons — even if some locals disagree.

    But by calculation or by chance, all 11 of Obama’s national monuments have been designated in states that voted for him in 2012 — California, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.

    Many now wonder if he’ll venture into less-welcoming states.

    Obama’s green base is proposing that he extend his monument powers to Idaho, Utah and Arizona, states with strong libertarian streaks and deep-seated mistrust of federal meddling. They’re also pushing Obama to pen protections for — of all places — Nevada’s Gold Butte, the site of Interior’s recent standoff with rancher Cliven Bundy.

    “He doesn’t have a lot to lose if he does designate something in Utah,” said Tim Wagner, who leads the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign from Salt Lake City and is lobbying the president to designate the 1.4-million-acre Greater Canyonlands National Monument west of Moab.

    Obama’s Democratic allies on Capitol Hill are prodding him, too, saying monument designations, even in red states, can pay political dividends.

    “I don’t think there’s a political danger nationwide,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. “I think more people support it than oppose it. I would love to see some in Arizona.”

    Yet every monument Obama declares offers more fodder for Republicans, ranchers, off-highway vehicle groups and energy interests, who will take any shots they can to roll back the president’s Antiquities Act powers.

    “The more he does, the greater the push-back will be to change Antiquities,” said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the subcommittee’s chairman. “So if he really wants to keep the power long-term — for the next two years — he’ll be very discreet in how he does it.”

    Bishop has already pushed a bill through the House that would require environmental reviews of monuments more than 5,000 acres in size, while blocking Obama from designating more than one monument per state, per term — which would have halted Organ Mountains.

    President Clinton designated or expanded nearly two dozen monuments covering more than 5 million acres, including controversial monuments in Montana and Utah.

    Clinton’s 1.7-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument — designated in the heat of the 1996 election — in southern Utah blocked development of a major coal deposit and enraged Utah elected officials, fueling much of the state’s distrust of Washington, D.C.

    “The original presidents used [the Antiquities Act] to preserve special areas,” Bishop said. “These presidents are abusing it to make political statements.”

    While it carried a degree of controversy, Obama’s Organ Mountains designation put neither of New Mexico’s two Democratic senators — Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall — at risk, Bishop said.

    Obama could see blowback from monuments in conservative states, but the moves would be a boon locally, Grijalva said.

    “There’s an initial backlash,” he said. “When Clinton did Utah, Grand Staircase, there was huge opposition. And now, the same people that opposed, defend it, because eco-tourism and the revenue it brings into the state. So it turns around.”

    Other areas under consideration

    Interior Secretary Sally Jewell yesterday said there are no other monuments “on the radar” but said she’s undeterred by the Republican criticism. Jewell said she will continue exploring executive action for conservation proposals that are “mature.”

    “When we follow the guidelines of the Antiquities Act and work with communities and there’s the kind of support that has been seen in these monument designations, the criticism is a bit unfounded,” she said.

    Jewell, who will be in Las Cruces today to celebrate the Organ Mountains designation, said she spoke at length with the Border Patrol to ensure that Obama’s proclamation would not hamper border security and ensured that grazing, hunting and flood control projects could continue unfettered.

    Obama said earlier this week that he is “not finished” taking executive action to conserve public lands from oil and gas development, mining and roads.
    One proposal that may get more attention is central Idaho’s Boulder-White Clouds, which consist of nearly 600,000 acres or roadless forests, alpine lakes and salmon-filled rivers.

    Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) has spent more than a decade trying to designate much of those lands as wilderness and has urged the president to let the legislative process stay the course.

    Now that Simpson has won his primary — his re-election is seen as safe in November — Obama may see political room to start a monument discussion. 

    The proposal is already supported by one local county, wilderness advocates, local businesses, mountain bikers and former Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus, who is also the state’s former Democratic governor. It’s opposed by another county and some off-highway vehicle enthusiasts.

    Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) has his own bill to designate the 22,650-acre Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in the hills north of Las Vegas to protect and showcase the area’s dense array of ice age fossils of mammoths, ground sloths, American lions, camels and horses.

    Like Simpson, he’s not ready to give up on the legislative process. Bishop, for one, said he supports Horsford’s bill and is looking for ways to amend it to comply with House earmark rules.

    “We prefer for our legislation to go forward,” Horsford said yesterday. “It has been worked by the local community to create the boundaries in a very specific and tailored way that the president would not necessarily be able to do [under] the Antiquities Act.”

    Still, if Congress makes no progress, Horsford said Obama has a right to act.

    “Part of the reason we’re having this designation debate is the [Natural] Resources Committee has steadfastly refused to create any designation, expand any national park, do any refuge,” said Grijalva. “So the consequence is it kind of moves into the responsibility of the president.”

    Bishop said he fears that Obama is checking off lands the Bureau of Land Management identified for protections in a confidential memo he unearthed in 2010. From that list, Obama has already designated Organ Mountains, northern New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte and Washington state’s San Juan Islands.

    Other lands on that list include Gold Butte, Utah’s San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa, Arizona’s northwest Sonoran Desert and New Mexico’s Otero Mesa.

    A logjam in Congress?

    The committee has passed bills to designate wilderness in Michigan and Nevada and designate a national monument in Northern California, among others, though not nearly as many conservation bills as have been passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

    Congress has only passed one wilderness bill in the past five years, and both chambers share some of the blame.

    Antiquities Act critics insist that the president’s monuments agenda is being driven largely by his counselor, John Podesta, who founded the left-leaning Center for American Progress, which has been a driving force for new monuments. “It’s pretty good politics,” Podesta, who was Clinton’s chief of staff, said of monument designations back in summer 2012 while at CAP.

    Podesta shared the stage with Obama yesterday during the Organ Mountains signing ceremony at Interior Department headquarters, and the two made the walk there together from the White House.

    Obama in his speech cited a report co-authored by CAP last March that highlights 10 conservation bills that have been introduced in Congress a combined 52 times over the past 30 years — but have yet to be signed into law.

    “The more than three dozen bills that are logjammed in Congress, after all, are both Republican and Democratic bills, and members of both parties have an interest in getting conservation moving again,” said CAP senior fellow Matt Lee-Ashley, who is a former Obama Interior aide.

    He noted that Obama’s monuments protecting Colorado’s Chimney Rock and the home of Col. Charles Young in Ohio were supported the Republican lawmakers representing those districts and that future monuments will continue to enjoy “overwhelming support from the local community.”

    “I would expect that [Obama] will continue to take a community-driven approach, push Congress to get moving and — when needed — use his authority to help communities protect the places they love,” Lee-Ashley said.

  • Green Fire Times
    By Teri Shore

    Aldo Leopold famously wrote in his foreword to the Sand County Almanac that “there are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” About 1,200 of those who cannot converged on Leopold’s one-time hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the National Wilderness Conference in mid-October, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The location was fitting given that, at Leopold’s insistence, the high mesas, rugged mountains and steep canyons of the Gila Wilderness in southern New Mexico became the first designated wilderness area in the United States—four decades before the 1964 Wilderness Act.

    A who’s-who of today’s wilderness heroes—far too many to name—joined together in the largest gathering of the wilderness community since the Act was signed in 1964. The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, Orion magazine and key federal resource agencies, along with many other partners, helped spearhead the jam-packed marathon.

    Former President Jimmy Carter, in a videotaped address, reminded us of the important scientific, ecological, educational, recreational, spiritual, cultural and intrinsic values of wilderness to all Americans. He urged action on the wilderness areas that were proposed but never designated inside places as iconic as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. Only Congress can designate wilderness through federal legislation. The Wilderness Act has successfully protected 110 million acres of public land in the United States as designated wilderness since it was enacted. But at least another 200 million acres of “forgotten” wilderness that qualify remain at risk inside national parks, refuges, forests and other public lands.

    In other highlights, U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recounted recent backpacking trips, and astronaut Joseph Acaba gave us a glimpse of life in outer space. I asked how we might protect wilderness in space as it gets increasingly commercialized.

    New Mexico is home to 25 wilderness areas, totaling 1.65 million acres. While it has some of the wildest public lands, it contains far less designated wilderness than other western states.

    New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich shared his passion for wild lands. He is the first elected official in a long time to talk so clearly and confidently about protecting our wild lands. He, along with Sen. Tom Udall, was instrumental in convincing President Obama to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico.

    Throughout the conference, wilderness advocates, Native Americans, natural-resource managers, land stewards, academics and politicians shared compelling perspectives on wilderness successes, threats and challenges ahead. The program featured stimulating keynote speakers, panel discussions, workshops, trainings and field trips to the nearby desert, mountains and Río Grande. Many of us visiting from outside New Mexico learned the word “bosque” for the first time, as we observed tall cottonwoods along the river peaking in yellow and sandhill cranes landing for the winter.

    Memorable Moments

    One of the most memorable moments was when Dave Foreman told how a musk ox charged and chased him across the Alaskan tundra on a recent expedition. Now, that’s wild! Foreman pointed out that many rivers within wilderness areas are not designated wild and scenic, leaving them open to dam building and diversions as water becomes scarce and populations grow. In New Mexico, the Gila River is currently threatened with water diversion (ProtectTheGila.org). Foreman’s activist history is featured in a new, must-see documentary about his late mentor Edward Abbey, titled Wrenched (http://wrenched-themovie.com).

    Utah-based author Terry Tempest Williams moved many of us to tears with her powerful testament to wilderness. She asked, “How serious are we?” about protecting wilderness, as she catalogued the rising threats to wild lands from fracking, mining and oil drilling.

    Gwich’in activist Sarah James drummed, sang and chanted. She urged us to help protect the “sacred place where life begins,” where porcupine caribou breed in the coastal plains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The story of the struggle is told in a new film, Gwich’in Women Speak (http://www.mihoaida.com).

    As a keynote speaker, Sierra Club President Dave Scott recalled the “17 years of blood, sweat and tears” that culminated in the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club worked closely with the Wilderness Act author, Howard Zahniser of The Wilderness Society. Scott reminded us that Sierra Club’s legacy of wilderness protection dates back more than 100 years to John Muir. Looking forward, he urged a broader, more diverse wilderness community and the need to tackle climate change in order to “leave for future generations the beautiful, wild and livable planet that is their birthright.”

    World-famous oceanographer Sylvia Earle wowed the wilderness crowd with her impassioned call for blue wilderness in our oceans. A hero to many and sometimes called “Her Deepness,” Earle showed amazing underwater photos as she spoke eloquently and passionately for conservation of sea life and underwater wilderness. Later, a panel discussed marine wilderness and suggested that the Wilderness Act may be a legal mechanism for designating ocean wilderness. I hope that Earle’s vision sparked the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the land- and sea-wilderness movements.

    Wilderness at Risk

    Most wilderness leaders agreed that wilderness is more important than ever, but that wilderness places and the idea of wilderness are more vulnerable than ever. Not only is wilderness threatened by extractive industries and motorized recreation, but many seasoned wilderness warriors warned that the very notion of wilderness is under attack by those who think that the wild has no place in the modern world. Even worse, natural-resource agencies are marring wilderness by using heavy equipment and trampling the landscape. Activists also pointed to border patrols devastating wild lands with roads and construction of the barrier along the México border to keep people from crossing, which has resulted in increasing the human death toll.

    “The greatest violators of the Wilderness Act are the public agencies themselves,” said Louise Lasley, president of Wilderness Watch, citing how agencies are too quick to make exceptions for the use of chain saws and trucks in wilderness. “We need to stop being embarrassed about wilderness,” scolded Chris Barns of the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center in Montana. He is Bureau of Land Management (BLM) representative on the multiagency center. He said that resource agencies are “trammeling” the wilderness through acts of omission and commission, and that there are no consequences to anyone’s agency career by “throwing wilderness under the bus.” Barns accused NGOs of being complicit and wanting to make wilderness “palatable” to everyone in order to maintain alliances with special interests and the public. “Wilderness areas are places of the no-self versus the selfie,” he said. “Don’t soft-pedal wilderness; it is a desirable thing, good to give, and it is not just about me.”

    What next?

    “Most Americans love the idea of wilderness,” said George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch. He and others concluded that we need to reignite America’s passion for wilderness. As Kenneth Brower stated, we need to “resell” the idea of wilderness to Americans, as his father David Brower did 50 years ago in partnership with Howard Zahniser. The wilderness movement must now mobilize young people to watchdog the Wilderness Act for the next 50 years. As a first step, 14 young activists were given full scholarships to attend the conference. And many more participated in the Wilderness Youth Leader Summit.

    Another key step is for wilderness lovers to get active locally to identify and pass new wilderness bills. There are 33 wilderness bills pending before Congress right now, according to The Wilderness Society. But only one has passed in the past five years. The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is working to establish new wilderness areas with the Columbine Hondo Wilderness and areas within the new Río Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monuments. In California, two new wilderness bills are pending to protect more lands along the central coast and in the desert. Bills to protect wild lands in Washington, Idaho, Montana and other states are also pending. Most will be reintroduced in the new 114th Congress. These bills will provide timely opportunities to protect additional wild lands and inspire wilderness lovers in 2015 and beyond.

    To reinvigorate the wilderness idea in America, we must remind our friends, families, allies and decision makers about the many benefits of wilderness protection. And mobilize them to support wilderness through organizing, letter writing, social media and just getting out into the wild. As Ed Abbey said, “Wilderness needs no defense, only more defenders.”

    Here are some resources for wilderness lovers:

    Wilderness 50 – http://www.wilderness50th.org/

    New Mexico Wilderness Alliance – http://www.nmwild.org/

    Wilderness.net – http://www.wilderness.net/

    Sierra Club, Río Grande Chapter – http://nmsierraclub.org/

    Wilderness Watch – http://www.wildernesswatch.org/about/staff.html

    Teri Shore is a Sonoma, California-based wilderness activist and backpack leader.

  • The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science is pleased to announce two photography related projects:

    1. Photography competition (Naturescapes photo salon – More information here)
    2. An online gallery of photographs (Naturescapes online – More information here)

    Both projects share the theme of “Wilderness in New Mexico.”

  • For Immediate Release
    January 24, 2014

    Contact:
    Mark Allison, 505-239-0906

    The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild), backed by its more than 5,000 members, joined Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today as she visited Las Cruces for a town-hall meeting about the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area.

    At the public meeting, business owners, local elected officials and residents joined the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and other conservation groups in urging Secretary Jewell and the Obama administration to safeguard the Chihuahuan desert grasslands, sky island peaks, dramatic canyons, historic ruins and wildlife that are integral to the area’s character, economy and quality of life.

    “We are so pleased that Secretary Jewell took the time to personally visit this magnificent area to see for herself what a rare and important place it is and to have the opportunity to hear directly how overwhelming the community support is to preserve it. The secretary saw today how proud New Mexicans are of this national treasure,” Mark Allison, executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance said. “We call on the Secretary to take this experience back to President Obama and to urge him to designate Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks a National Monument so that this special landscape receives the national recognition it deserves and the additional protection it needs.”

    On Dec. 12, 2013, Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall introduced the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act, which would protect 500,000 acres of culturally and ecologically rich Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Doña Ana County.

    NM Wild applauded the senators for their work to protect this important landscape.

    “New Mexico is fortunate to have two senators with such vision and commitment to permanently protecting these very special places,” said Allison.
    The national monument would include the Organ Mountains, Sierra de las Uvas Mountains Complex, and Greater Potrillo Mountains. Among the wildlife that call this their home are golden eagles, many hawk species, owls, desert mule deer, three quail species, mountain lion, pronghorn, javelina, bobcat, coyote, bats, rock squirrels and other rodents, and numerous other birds.

    The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks is not just important for its biological features—it also contains important archaeological, geological, and historical sites. Places like Conklin’s Cave in the Organ Mountains and Shelter Cave in the Robledo Mountains have yielded artifacts dating the area’s human history back more than 8,000 years. Archaic petroglyphs in areas like Providence Cone and parts of the Sierra de Las Uvas are tantalizing signs of likely habitation sites that, if properly and respectfully studied, could open new windows into the movements of ancient cultures that called these areas home.

    The national monument is broadly backed by the local community—in a recent survey, nearly three-fourths of Doña Ana County voters favor a national monument to protect its special characteristics.

    Last year, President Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate the 242,455-acre Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County. After more than seven years of working on the campaign, NM Wild is thankful to former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, congressmen Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, and President Obama for their work on the permanent protection of Rio Grande del Norte. NM Wild is committed to a similar future for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.

    ###
    The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) is a non-profit 501(C)(3), grassroots, environmental organization dedicated to the protection, restoration, and continued enjoyment of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. The primary goal of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is to ensure the protection and restoration of all remaining wild lands in New Mexico through administrative designations, federal Wilderness designation, and ongoing stewardship.

  • For Immediate Release
    January 24, 2014

    Contact:
    Mark Allison, 505-239-0906

    The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild), backed by its more than 5,000 members, joined Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today as she visited Las Cruces for a town-hall meeting about the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area.

    At the public meeting, business owners, local elected officials and residents joined the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and other conservation groups in urging Secretary Jewell and the Obama administration to safeguard the Chihuahuan desert grasslands, sky island peaks, dramatic canyons, historic ruins and wildlife that are integral to the area’s character, economy and quality of life.

    “We are so pleased that Secretary Jewell took the time to personally visit this magnificent area to see for herself what a rare and important place it is and to have the opportunity to hear directly how overwhelming the community support is to preserve it. The secretary saw today how proud New Mexicans are of this national treasure,” Mark Allison, executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance said. “We call on the Secretary to take this experience back to President Obama and to urge him to designate Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks a National Monument so that this special landscape receives the national recognition it deserves and the additional protection it needs.”

    On Dec. 12, 2013, Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall introduced the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act, which would protect 500,000 acres of culturally and ecologically rich Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Doña Ana County.

    NM Wild applauded the senators for their work to protect this important landscape.

    “New Mexico is fortunate to have two senators with such vision and commitment to permanently protecting these very special places,” said Allison.
    The national monument would include the Organ Mountains, Sierra de las Uvas Mountains Complex, and Greater Potrillo Mountains. Among the wildlife that call this their home are golden eagles, many hawk species, owls, desert mule deer, three quail species, mountain lion, pronghorn, javelina, bobcat, coyote, bats, rock squirrels and other rodents, and numerous other birds.

    The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks is not just important for its biological features—it also contains important archaeological, geological, and historical sites. Places like Conklin’s Cave in the Organ Mountains and Shelter Cave in the Robledo Mountains have yielded artifacts dating the area’s human history back more than 8,000 years. Archaic petroglyphs in areas like Providence Cone and parts of the Sierra de Las Uvas are tantalizing signs of likely habitation sites that, if properly and respectfully studied, could open new windows into the movements of ancient cultures that called these areas home.

    The national monument is broadly backed by the local community—in a recent survey, nearly three-fourths of Doña Ana County voters favor a national monument to protect its special characteristics.

    Last year, President Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate the 242,455-acre Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County. After more than seven years of working on the campaign, NM Wild is thankful to former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, congressmen Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, and President Obama for their work on the permanent protection of Rio Grande del Norte. NM Wild is committed to a similar future for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.

    ###
    The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) is a non-profit 501(C)(3), grassroots, environmental organization dedicated to the protection, restoration, and continued enjoyment of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. The primary goal of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is to ensure the protection and restoration of all remaining wild lands in New Mexico through administrative designations, federal Wilderness designation, and ongoing stewardship.

  • For Immediate Release
    January 24, 2014

    Contact:
    Mark Allison, 505-239-0906

    The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild), backed by its more than 5,000 members, joined Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today as she visited Las Cruces for a town-hall meeting about the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area.

    At the public meeting, business owners, local elected officials and residents joined the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and other conservation groups in urging Secretary Jewell and the Obama administration to safeguard the Chihuahuan desert grasslands, sky island peaks, dramatic canyons, historic ruins and wildlife that are integral to the area’s character, economy and quality of life.

    “We are so pleased that Secretary Jewell took the time to personally visit this magnificent area to see for herself what a rare and important place it is and to have the opportunity to hear directly how overwhelming the community support is to preserve it. The secretary saw today how proud New Mexicans are of this national treasure,” Mark Allison, executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance said. “We call on the Secretary to take this experience back to President Obama and to urge him to designate Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks a National Monument so that this special landscape receives the national recognition it deserves and the additional protection it needs.”

    On Dec. 12, 2013, Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall introduced the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act, which would protect 500,000 acres of culturally and ecologically rich Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Doña Ana County.

    NM Wild applauded the senators for their work to protect this important landscape.

    “New Mexico is fortunate to have two senators with such vision and commitment to permanently protecting these very special places,” said Allison.
    The national monument would include the Organ Mountains, Sierra de las Uvas Mountains Complex, and Greater Potrillo Mountains. Among the wildlife that call this their home are golden eagles, many hawk species, owls, desert mule deer, three quail species, mountain lion, pronghorn, javelina, bobcat, coyote, bats, rock squirrels and other rodents, and numerous other birds.

    The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks is not just important for its biological features—it also contains important archaeological, geological, and historical sites. Places like Conklin’s Cave in the Organ Mountains and Shelter Cave in the Robledo Mountains have yielded artifacts dating the area’s human history back more than 8,000 years. Archaic petroglyphs in areas like Providence Cone and parts of the Sierra de Las Uvas are tantalizing signs of likely habitation sites that, if properly and respectfully studied, could open new windows into the movements of ancient cultures that called these areas home.

    The national monument is broadly backed by the local community—in a recent survey, nearly three-fourths of Doña Ana County voters favor a national monument to protect its special characteristics.

    Last year, President Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate the 242,455-acre Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County. After more than seven years of working on the campaign, NM Wild is thankful to former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, congressmen Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, and President Obama for their work on the permanent protection of Rio Grande del Norte. NM Wild is committed to a similar future for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.

    ###
    The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) is a non-profit 501(C)(3), grassroots, environmental organization dedicated to the protection, restoration, and continued enjoyment of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. The primary goal of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is to ensure the protection and restoration of all remaining wild lands in New Mexico through administrative designations, federal Wilderness designation, and ongoing stewardship.

  • Contact:

    Mark Allison, 505-239-0906

    The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild), backed by its more than 5,000 members, joined Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today as she visited Las Cruces for a town-hall meeting about the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area.

    At the public meeting, business owners, local elected officials and residents joined the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and other conservation groups in urging Secretary Jewell and the Obama administration to safeguard the Chihuahuan desert grasslands, sky island peaks, dramatic canyons, historic ruins and wildlife that are integral to the area’s character, economy and quality of life.

    “We are so pleased that Secretary Jewell took the time to personally visit this magnificent area to see for herself what a rare and important place it is and to have the opportunity to hear directly how overwhelming the community support is to preserve it. The secretary saw today how proud New Mexicans are of this national treasure,” Mark Allison, executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance said. “We call on the Secretary to take this experience back to President Obama and to urge him to designate Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks a National Monument so that this special landscape receives the national recognition it deserves and the additional protection it needs.”

    On Dec. 12, 2013, Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall introduced the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act, which would protect 500,000 acres of culturally and ecologically rich Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Doña Ana County.

    NM Wild applauded the senators for their work to protect this important landscape.

    “New Mexico is fortunate to have two senators with such vision and commitment to permanently protecting these very special places,” said Allison.
    The national monument would include the Organ Mountains, Sierra de las Uvas Mountains Complex, and Greater Potrillo Mountains. Among the wildlife that call this their home are golden eagles, many hawk species, owls, desert mule deer, three quail species, mountain lion, pronghorn, javelina, bobcat, coyote, bats, rock squirrels and other rodents, and numerous other birds.

    The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks is not just important for its biological features—it also contains important archaeological, geological, and historical sites. Places like Conklin’s Cave in the Organ Mountains and Shelter Cave in the Robledo Mountains have yielded artifacts dating the area’s human history back more than 8,000 years. Archaic petroglyphs in areas like Providence Cone and parts of the Sierra de Las Uvas are tantalizing signs of likely habitation sites that, if properly and respectfully studied, could open new windows into the movements of ancient cultures that called these areas home.

    The national monument is broadly backed by the local community—in a recent survey, nearly three-fourths of Doña Ana County voters favor a national monument to protect its special characteristics.

    Last year, President Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate the 242,455-acre Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County. After more than seven years of working on the campaign, NM Wild is thankful to former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, congressmen Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, and President Obama for their work on the permanent protection of Rio Grande del Norte. NM Wild is committed to a similar future for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.

    ###
    The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) is a non-profit 501(C)(3), grassroots, environmental organization dedicated to the protection, restoration, and continued enjoyment of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. The primary goal of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is to ensure the protection and restoration of all remaining wild lands in New Mexico through administrative designations, federal Wilderness designation, and ongoing stewardship.

  • For Immediate Release
    November 7, 2014

    Contact:
    Mark Allison; 505-843-8696, ext. 105

    Largest concentration of wilderness advocates in the world convene
    to talk about the past, present and future of wilderness in America


    Albuquerque—Nov. 7, 2014—New Mexico could now be considered the headquarters of the wilderness protection movement.

    The single greatest concentration of wilderness advocates on the planet gathered in Albuquerque in October to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act in the birthplace of the concept of wilderness—New Mexico.

    The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance was proud to co-host this historic event. A conference of its kind has not taken place in 25 years.

    The Gila Wilderness was the world’s first designated wilderness in 1924. The state has also been home to a number of people who were essential to the wilderness movement:

    • Edgar Lee Hewitt, who authored what became known as the Antiquities Act
    • Aldo Leopold, whose vision and efforts led to the creation of the Gila Wilderness in 1924
    • Senator Clinton P. Anderson, the floor manager of the Wilderness Act
    • Private citizens like Ed Abbey, environmentalist and author

    “We’re proud of the special role that New Mexico has played,” said Mark Allison, executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “During this special anniversary year, we want to remind ourselves why wilderness is essential, honor the vision and efforts of those who came before us and renew our commitment to preserve additional deserving lands now under threat.”

    With only about 2 percent of qualifying wilderness in New Mexico federally protected, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance works on the ground to fight for more protected wilderness within the Land of Enchantment.

    “The National Wilderness Conference left us rejuvenated, and we rededicated ourselves to protecting the wild lands we still have left,” Allison said.

  •  Contact: Mark Allison; 505-843-8696, ext. 105

    Largest concentration of wilderness advocates in the world convene to talk about the past, present and future of wilderness in America

    Albuquerque—Nov. 7, 2014—New Mexico could now be considered the headquarters of the wilderness protection movement.

    The single greatest concentration of wilderness advocates on the planet gathered in Albuquerque in October to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act in the birthplace of the concept of wilderness—New Mexico.

    The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance was proud to co-host this historic event. A conference of its kind has not taken place in 25 years.

    The Gila Wilderness was the world’s first designated wilderness in 1924. The state has also been home to a number of people who were essential to the wilderness movement:

    • Edgar Lee Hewitt, who authored what became known as the Antiquities Act
    • Aldo Leopold, whose vision and efforts led to the creation of the Gila Wilderness in 1924
    • Senator Clinton P. Anderson, the floor manager of the Wilderness Act
    • Private citizens like Ed Abbey, environmentalist and author

    “We’re proud of the special role that New Mexico has played,” said Mark Allison, executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “During this special anniversary year, we want to remind ourselves why wilderness is essential, honor the vision and efforts of those who came before us and renew our commitment to preserve additional deserving lands now under threat.”

    With only about 2 percent of qualifying wilderness in New Mexico federally protected, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance works on the ground to fight for more protected wilderness within the Land of Enchantment.

    “The National Wilderness Conference left us rejuvenated, and we rededicated ourselves to protecting the wild lands we still have left,” Allison said.

  •  — New Mexico’s most powerful water planning commission voted Monday to notify the U.S. Interior Department that it wants to take advantage of federal funding to build a diversion and storage system along the Gila River, a project that is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take decades to complete.

    The Interstate Stream Commission also decided during its meeting in Albuquerque that some of the money should go toward municipal conservation efforts and other projects aimed at stretching the drought-stricken region’s water supplies.

    State Engineer Scott Verhines, New Mexico’s top water official and a member of the commission, said the point of regional water planning is to identify and implement strategies to balance supply and demand. He said the options approved by the commission will do that for cities and farms in southwestern New Mexico.

    Verhines conceded he’s concerned about the costs of the projects as well as the ability of the state and local governments to pay.

    “However, I’m personally unwilling to preclude the development of this water for New Mexico by preventing it from going to the next steps,” he said.

    The commission’s vote on the diversion recommendation was not unanimous. Commissioner Blane Sanchez objected and Topper Thorpe chose not to vote, a decision that spurred cheers from people in the audience who have been critical of diversion.

    One woman yelled out “Boondoggle.” Other members of the audience held signs that read “Save the Gila.”

    The commission’s action comes after more than 200 meetings, volumes of public comment, million-dollar engineering studies and a flood of complaints by environmental groups and the commission’s former director that the planning process was shrouded in secrecy and that the outcome was predetermined.

    The commission dismissed those claims, and a state district judge decided last week to clear the way for the panel to continue deliberating the contentious issue. The commission faced a Dec. 31 deadline under the Arizona Water Settlements Act to decide what to do with its share of the river.

    Under the 2004 settlement, New Mexico is entitled to 14,000 acre-feet of water a year, or about 4.5 billion gallons. Up to $128 million in federal funding would be available if the state builds a diversion system, or about half that if the state pursues other water projects in the region.

    While it’s still unclear how much the water would cost consumers in southwestern New Mexico, critics are concerned the price tag of diverting the water would far outweigh what federal subsidies are available and result in skyrocketing water bills.

    “A billion-dollar Gila River diversion project is a bad idea for New Mexico taxpayers and water users. It’s infeasible, it’s too expensive, the project will provide little to no water, and will harm the wildlife of the Gila River,” said Allyson Siwik, head of the Gila Conservation Coalition.

    Amy Haas, the commission’s chief counsel, acknowledged that developing the water would be expensive. Estimates have put the cost of diversion and storage between $575 million and $1 billion.

    “We’re not going to spin this,” Haas said. “The water that is at issue here, this opportunity for New Mexico to develop the additional up-to 14,000 acre-feet of Gila River water is a one-time opportunity. We’re not going to see a new supply of water like this again.”

    Critics say there’s not enough water in the river to make diversion viable and that restoring watersheds and boosting conservation would offer a bigger return on the investment. But municipal leaders in Luna and Grant counties have said water supplies are so thin in southwestern New Mexico that they have to turn businesses away.

    The commission’s vote is just the first step. Commission staff and consultants have already said permitting, endangered species issues and financing will present challenges.
    Read more at http://www.wral.com/new-mexico-commission-makes-gila-river-decision/14217609/#aqOKgWLugAQjUCOW.99

  • By Mónica Ortiz Uribe for Fronteras
    January 10, 2014

    Southern New Mexicans are caught in a debate over preserving a stretch of borderland as a national monument. The state’s two Senators and a Representative are pushing separate bills that set different boundaries for the monument. One of the issues at stake is border security.

    The land that stretches south from Interstate 10 outside the city of Las Cruces is a desolate expanse of desert that from a distance looks unremarkable. But those who know the land also know its hidden treasures.

    “It seems every time we come we find either a new petroglyph or a new ceramic tide or a cool new arrowhead,” said Angel Peña, a graduate student at New Mexico State University. 

    On a recent afternoon Peña prances across a mini rock mountain known as Providence Cone. He comes here often to do research for his master’s thesis, a study of the ancient pottery typical of this region.

    Providence Cone is littered with chiseled images of lizards, snakes and four-legged fish. It was the site of a settlement dating back some 1,400 years. 

    “In the morning right when the sun isn’t directly over here, these petroglyphs shine like they’re brand new, like they were carved yesterday,” Peña said.

    This site is within the boundaries of a proposed national monument that would be called Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. It would include four separate chunks of land within Doña Ana County that together total 500,000 acres. Part of the land reaches down to the Mexican border. The details are outlined in a bill co-sponsored by Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich.

    “You have these incredible landscapes and mountains…that have some really important wildlife habitat for southern New Mexico as well as a cultural tapestry, a story of who we are as a country,” said Heinrich.

    The most identifiable landmark is the craggy Organ Mountain range, which towers above the city of Las Cruces like the pipes of its namesake instrument. West of those mountains, across the Rio Grande River, are sections of land that travel across time. There are volcanic craters and ancient animal tracks. There are battle scars from Apache raids and World War II aerial target sites.

    “One of the great things about New Mexico is we have this incredible history of conservation,” Heinrich said. “We have 68,000 New Mexico jobs that are directly tied to public lands, from outfitter guides to jobs in tourism and many other facets.”

    But those jobs mean little to local rancher Dudley Williams. He lives within the proposed monument boundaries north of the border where he leases federal land for his cattle. When he first moved to New Mexico, he was blunt with his real estate agent. 

    “I said, ‘I don’t want any rivers, I don’t want any trees and I don’t want any scenic boulders. I want cattle grazing land,'” Williams said.

    Over the years Williams said he’s seen evidence of illegal smuggling on his land, including bundles of drugs. He fears a national monument designation would attract more illicit traffic.

    “I don’t go out of the house without a pistol, even to go over to feed the horses or walk the dog,” he said.

    Even so, U.S. Border Patrol statistics show that in recent years New Mexico has among the lowest apprehension rates in the southern border.

    But that’s of no comfort to local law enforcement. They fear national monument status may reduce their access to the area.

    “The types of crimes that we’ve see were homicide victims to stolen vehicles, narcotics smuggling, human smuggling, weapons smuggling,” said Capt. Manion Long of the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Department. “Our concern is if we’re not allowed to provide that basic type of patrol then these instances will become more frequent.”

    As written, the Senate bill specifically states law enforcement will have access inside the monument, even within designated wilderness areas. But Long remains wary of those promises. The sheriff’s department supports an alternative bill filed by New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce which excludes borderlands from the proposed monument.

    Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, in neighboring Arizona, is an existing park located along the Mexican border. Parts of it are closed due to the amount of illegal traffic that comes through. Visitors can still request to tour the closed sections, but must be accompanied by law enforcement.

    Sue Walter, public information officer at the park, said both Border Patrol and local law enforcement have full access to the monument land.

    “There have been no negative encounters between visitors and the illegal traffic,” she said. “We are slowly opening the closed sections back up again.”

    Back in Las Cruces, at a local coffee shop, engineer David Soules sat sipping his favorite brew. He’s been a lifelong hiker and hunter in Southern New Mexico and supports including the borderlands in a national monument proposal. He said it’s area rich with wildlife and history.

    “When I joined the Boy Scouts, the first camping that I did was in these areas,” Soules said. “Now I’ll do some star gazing and take a telescope and maybe see the moons of Jupiter the rings of Saturn.”

    Soules said the beauty and character of the Southwest is inextricably tied to these wide open spaces.

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