2014

  • Las Cruces Sun-News report
    07/18/2014 

    LAS CRUCES >> Visitors to New Mexico’s national parks and monuments in 2013 spent about $83.2 million dollars and supported 1,136 jobs, according to a new National Park Service report.

    Sue Masica, director of the NPS’s Intermountain Region, said in a news release that the report highlights the importance of national park tourism in the New Mexico and national economies.

    In New Mexico, more than 1.5 million visitors spent time at national parks in 2013, an increase of 0.65 percent over the previous year. Visitor spending increased by 2.59 percent and the amount of jobs supported by tourism increased 1.16 percent from 2012.

    According to the report, most park spending was for lodging (30.3 percent), food and beverages (27.3 percent), gas and oil (12.1 percent) and admissions and fees (10.3 percent). Souvenirs and other expenses accounted for the remaining 10 percent.

    According to www.nps.gov/newmexico, New Mexico has one national park (Carlsbad Caverns), 10 national monuments (including White Sands) and more than 50 other national trails, areas, landmarks and historical parks.

    In May, President Barack Obama formally designated nearly half a million acres of land in Doña Ana County as Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

  • Djuna Carlton and Rivala García for The Taos News 

    For the past two months a local coalition planted 250 trees along the Río Grande in the new National Monument.

    Friends of the Río Grande Del Norte is made up of concerned citizens and community organizations dedicated to the conservation of our public lands in north-central New Mexico.

    On Nov. 9, an assorted group of individuals, the Taos Heartwood Coalition, and the Friends of the Río Grande Del Norte gathered to plant trees on the east side of the river in Orilla Verde Recreation Area.

    While planting trees, we were fortunate enough to see several elusive river otters hiding among river rocks and shy big horn sheep scaling the cliffs. This sighting reminded us of the importance of preserving our natural landscape.

    Many other community members and groups have become involved in this process. The tree planting happened thanks to many of community friends including: Heartwood Coalition, Rivala Tree Fund, Enos García Elementary School fifth-graders, Chrysalis High School, Trout Unlimited, Rivers and Birds, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Taos Archaeological Society, Taos High School Interact Club, Taos Devic Group, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Americorp VISTA, Conservation Lands Foundation, Rio Grande Restoration, Los Rios River Runners, Shay Kelly’s family, Wild Earth Llama Adventures and individual citizens.

    Roberta Salazar, the director of Rivers and Birds, has been instrumental in organizing these tree plantings. This fall, she organized school and community groups to plant the 250 cottonwood saplings.

    From the start, the project has focused on youth participation. Organizations such as the Rivala Tree Fund and the many participating schools are educating Taos youth about the endangered environment and its restoration.

    Jason Weisfeld, a teacher at Chrysalis Alternative School and a regular participant in Rivers and Birds events, comments that “planting trees … is one of those acts that not only connects kids with people but connects them with the land and the water that flows on it.”

    In this community effort to restore the native habitat along the Rio Grande, the Bureau of Land Management began to plant cottonwoods at the Orilla Verde Recreation Area in 1995.

    John Bailey, the manager of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, explains managing public land is all about partnerships, collaboration, and shared knowledge. “We are thrilled to have the Friends of Rio Grande del Norte collaborate with the BLM,” Bailey said.

    Their collective purpose this winter is to restore the river’s natural habitat.

    Rivers have unique types of water-loving native vegetation called riparian forests. Over the centuries of human habitation, those native riparian forests along the Río Grande have been declining due to encroachment by nonnative trees such as salt cedar.

    Today riparian habitat accounts for less than half of one percent of New Mexico’s landscape. Much of the native species are declining due to human manipulation of the river’s flow. Because of man-made dams, the Río Grande no longer floods in the spring. Riparian cottonwood trees cannot seed effectively without spring floods, and have been replaced by the invasive, non-native salt cedar.

    Thanks to volunteers and supporters such as the Friends of the Río Grande del Norte, our riparian habitats are gradually returning.

    Today, if you drive down to the Orilla Verde Recreation Area, thanks to the work of so many volunteers, you will see many cottonwoods in various stages of life.

    People camp beneath their shady canopies, children climb their sturdy trunks, and wild creatures dwell on or around these trees. It is obvious to see that this is the way the river should be.

    This natural symbiosis is only achievable through the continued presence of our native trees.

  • Djuna Carlton and Rivala García for The Taos News 

    For the past two months a local coalition planted 250 trees along the Río Grande in the new National Monument.

    Friends of the Río Grande Del Norte is made up of concerned citizens and community organizations dedicated to the conservation of our public lands in north-central New Mexico.

    On Nov. 9, an assorted group of individuals, the Taos Heartwood Coalition, and the Friends of the Río Grande Del Norte gathered to plant trees on the east side of the river in Orilla Verde Recreation Area.

    While planting trees, we were fortunate enough to see several elusive river otters hiding among river rocks and shy big horn sheep scaling the cliffs. This sighting reminded us of the importance of preserving our natural landscape.

    Many other community members and groups have become involved in this process. The tree planting happened thanks to many of community friends including: Heartwood Coalition, Rivala Tree Fund, Enos García Elementary School fifth-graders, Chrysalis High School, Trout Unlimited, Rivers and Birds, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Taos Archaeological Society, Taos High School Interact Club, Taos Devic Group, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Americorp VISTA, Conservation Lands Foundation, Rio Grande Restoration, Los Rios River Runners, Shay Kelly’s family, Wild Earth Llama Adventures and individual citizens.

    Roberta Salazar, the director of Rivers and Birds, has been instrumental in organizing these tree plantings. This fall, she organized school and community groups to plant the 250 cottonwood saplings.

    From the start, the project has focused on youth participation. Organizations such as the Rivala Tree Fund and the many participating schools are educating Taos youth about the endangered environment and its restoration.

    Jason Weisfeld, a teacher at Chrysalis Alternative School and a regular participant in Rivers and Birds events, comments that “planting trees … is one of those acts that not only connects kids with people but connects them with the land and the water that flows on it.”

    In this community effort to restore the native habitat along the Rio Grande, the Bureau of Land Management began to plant cottonwoods at the Orilla Verde Recreation Area in 1995.

    John Bailey, the manager of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, explains managing public land is all about partnerships, collaboration, and shared knowledge. “We are thrilled to have the Friends of Rio Grande del Norte collaborate with the BLM,” Bailey said.

    Their collective purpose this winter is to restore the river’s natural habitat.

    Rivers have unique types of water-loving native vegetation called riparian forests. Over the centuries of human habitation, those native riparian forests along the Río Grande have been declining due to encroachment by nonnative trees such as salt cedar.

    Today riparian habitat accounts for less than half of one percent of New Mexico’s landscape. Much of the native species are declining due to human manipulation of the river’s flow. Because of man-made dams, the Río Grande no longer floods in the spring. Riparian cottonwood trees cannot seed effectively without spring floods, and have been replaced by the invasive, non-native salt cedar.

    Thanks to volunteers and supporters such as the Friends of the Río Grande del Norte, our riparian habitats are gradually returning.

    Today, if you drive down to the Orilla Verde Recreation Area, thanks to the work of so many volunteers, you will see many cottonwoods in various stages of life.

    People camp beneath their shady canopies, children climb their sturdy trunks, and wild creatures dwell on or around these trees. It is obvious to see that this is the way the river should be.

    This natural symbiosis is only achievable through the continued presence of our native trees.

  • Djuna Carlton and Rivala García for The Taos News 

    For the past two months a local coalition planted 250 trees along the Río Grande in the new National Monument.

    Friends of the Río Grande Del Norte is made up of concerned citizens and community organizations dedicated to the conservation of our public lands in north-central New Mexico.

    On Nov. 9, an assorted group of individuals, the Taos Heartwood Coalition, and the Friends of the Río Grande Del Norte gathered to plant trees on the east side of the river in Orilla Verde Recreation Area.

    While planting trees, we were fortunate enough to see several elusive river otters hiding among river rocks and shy big horn sheep scaling the cliffs. This sighting reminded us of the importance of preserving our natural landscape.

    Many other community members and groups have become involved in this process. The tree planting happened thanks to many of community friends including: Heartwood Coalition, Rivala Tree Fund, Enos García Elementary School fifth-graders, Chrysalis High School, Trout Unlimited, Rivers and Birds, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Taos Archaeological Society, Taos High School Interact Club, Taos Devic Group, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Americorp VISTA, Conservation Lands Foundation, Rio Grande Restoration, Los Rios River Runners, Shay Kelly’s family, Wild Earth Llama Adventures and individual citizens.

    Roberta Salazar, the director of Rivers and Birds, has been instrumental in organizing these tree plantings. This fall, she organized school and community groups to plant the 250 cottonwood saplings.

    From the start, the project has focused on youth participation. Organizations such as the Rivala Tree Fund and the many participating schools are educating Taos youth about the endangered environment and its restoration.

    Jason Weisfeld, a teacher at Chrysalis Alternative School and a regular participant in Rivers and Birds events, comments that “planting trees … is one of those acts that not only connects kids with people but connects them with the land and the water that flows on it.”

    In this community effort to restore the native habitat along the Rio Grande, the Bureau of Land Management began to plant cottonwoods at the Orilla Verde Recreation Area in 1995.

    John Bailey, the manager of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, explains managing public land is all about partnerships, collaboration, and shared knowledge. “We are thrilled to have the Friends of Rio Grande del Norte collaborate with the BLM,” Bailey said.

    Their collective purpose this winter is to restore the river’s natural habitat.

    Rivers have unique types of water-loving native vegetation called riparian forests. Over the centuries of human habitation, those native riparian forests along the Río Grande have been declining due to encroachment by nonnative trees such as salt cedar.

    Today riparian habitat accounts for less than half of one percent of New Mexico’s landscape. Much of the native species are declining due to human manipulation of the river’s flow. Because of man-made dams, the Río Grande no longer floods in the spring. Riparian cottonwood trees cannot seed effectively without spring floods, and have been replaced by the invasive, non-native salt cedar.

    Thanks to volunteers and supporters such as the Friends of the Río Grande del Norte, our riparian habitats are gradually returning.

    Today, if you drive down to the Orilla Verde Recreation Area, thanks to the work of so many volunteers, you will see many cottonwoods in various stages of life.

    People camp beneath their shady canopies, children climb their sturdy trunks, and wild creatures dwell on or around these trees. It is obvious to see that this is the way the river should be.

    This natural symbiosis is only achievable through the continued presence of our native trees.

  • By Clarence “Mac” McKnight
    July 16, 2014
    RollCall.com

    U.S. Presidents have enjoyed and successfully implemented the privilege of designating national monuments for more than 100 years. To date, 15 presidents on both sides of the aisle have used their authority under the Antiquities Act, granted to the president by Congress, to protect scenic wonders and historic sites like the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty — places that have become symbols of America’s beauty and freedom around the world.

    Most recently, President Barack Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument. I added my name, along with 70 other retired military leaders, to a letter to President Obama, thanking him for his efforts to establish this new monument. These 496,000 acres of public lands in Southern New Mexico have significant American history and cultural and economic importance to the local community. While the excitement surrounding the new monument is palpable in southern New Mexico, some detractors in Congress are spreading false information and unfounded claims in an attempt to attack this designation. They claim that the monument will lead to border security issues and more crime.

    On Thursday July 10 the House Committee on Homeland Security held a subcommittee hearing to discuss the “implications for border security” presented by designating the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks a national monument. Some members of the subcommittee argued the monument designation will curtail border enforcement. It seems opponents of this designation in Congress are so determined to attack this monument that they are spending valuable congressional legislative time to discuss claims that have already been refuted by multiple security experts and have no basis in fact.

    Retired generals with 2,300 combined years of military service to this nation, unequivocally state that this line of pursuit to investigate border issues at the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is just plain wrong-headed. I question the wisdom of any further time on the matter spent by Congress for numerous reasons.

    The agency charged with protecting the border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said, “this designation will in no way limit our ability to perform our important border security mission, and in fact provides important flexibility as we work to meet this ongoing priority,” in a statement issued when the designation was announced.

    In fact, the monument proclamation signed by Obama clearly states, “Nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to affect the provisions of the 2006 Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding ‘Cooperative National Security and Counterterrorism Efforts on Federal Lands along the United States’ Borders.’”

    Additionally, law enforcement officials such as Sheriff Raymond Cobos of Luna County, New Mexico, (located next to the U.S. border) have already stated publicly that the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument will not create security issues or hinder law enforcement personnel from doing their jobs.

    This attempt to attack the widely celebrated Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is in line with other recent attempts by the House to undermine the president’s ability to protect our nation’s rich heritage. A bill passed earlier this year and another introduced in the last few days would impose additional hurdles for any monument designations made by Obama, or any president.

    On June 26, such a bill was introduced that would limit the president’s authority to designate new national monuments, and was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources. Essentially the bill would require both congressional approval and NEPA review of all national monument designations by the President. This is a real and potent attempt to begin nothing less than the dismantling of President Theodore Roosevelt’s great conservation legacy, and is a direct attack on one of our best tools to preserve America’s heritage and the story of our nation.

    The cadre of distinguished retired military leaders who thanked the president for his Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks action urge members of Congress to reject any efforts whatsoever to curtail the ability of communities to ensure their public lands and our American history and heritage is protected.

    As a former commander of Fort Huachuca, a large military installation within sight of these beautiful peaks, and the father of two daughters that each spent four years attending New Mexico State University in nearly Las Cruces, the area is particularly important to me personally. Nevertheless, you may be asking yourself, why would so many other retired generals care so much about new national monuments?

    We care because we believe that our military is not only charged with defending American values, it is also charged with defending the sacred public lands that help make up the American character. In this sense, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is filled with such character.

    It has been at the crossroads of America even before the United States existed. From American Indian pathways and petroglyphs, to the Camino Real and the Butterfield Stagecoach Trail, the area has been the site of peoples passing through for thousands of years. And when peoples pass through a place, they leave behind a treasure trove of history and culture.

    In the mid-20th century, the region now protected was also a critical training ground for U.S. pilots. To this day, you can visit the Deming Aerial Bombing Targets within the new monument, where Army Air Corps pilots trained during World War II using Norden bombsight technology. These bombing targets remain as tributes to the sacrifices made by the military personnel of previous generations.

    Ultimately there is no good reason for anyone to be negative about this new national monument. Studies have repeatedly shown that national monument designations lead to economic stimulation in nearby communities. But for former military personnel like us, what is most exciting about the new national monument is the preservation of recreation, historical, and cultural resources that our servicemen and women have long fought to protect.

    And for that we should all be grateful.

    Retired Lieutenant General Clarence “Mac” McKnight served 35 years in the U.S. Army, including a tour as Commanding General of Fort Huachuca in southeast Arizona, about 15 miles north of the U.S.-Mexican border.

  • The AP (1/26) reports that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Friday “toured Broad Canyon outside of Las Cruces before headlining a public meeting centered on federal legislation for protecting the Organ Mountains and other scenic areas in Dona Ana County.” Jewell said “the area has a rich history as well as many opportunities for enjoying the outdoors through hiking and hunting.” Jewell said, “Over the past few years, we’ve seen a groundswell of support from many in the community to ensure that these landscapes are celebrated and passed on to the generations of New Mexicans to come. Those efforts also have the potential to drive significant economic benefits to the region through a boost in tourism and outdoor recreation.” AP coverage was also picked up by the Washington Times (1/24, 417K), the Houston Chronicle (1/24, 2.26M), and the San Francisco Chronicle (1/26, 2.88M).

    In a separate story, the AP (1/26) reports that “several hundred people were expected to join Jewell, officials with the Bureau of Land Management and New Mexico’s two US senators for a public hearing Friday afternoon in Las Cruces to talk about the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.”

    The El Paso (TX) Times (1/26, Soular, 247K) reports that “supporters speculated” the visit “meant the Obama administration was at least considering a proposal to create the monument via a sometimes-controversial 1906 law that gives US presidents the power to grant monument status to public lands without approval from Congress.” Also, “many opponents to the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument interpreted Jewell’s visit in the same light, saying they worried Obama may be on track to declare the lands a national monument.” Opponents “argued that the president should allow the national monument issue to be decided via the legislative route.” The story also appeared at the Las Cruces (NM) Sun-News (1/26, 59K) and the Silver City (NM) Sun-News (1/27, 24K).

    The El Paso (TX) Times (1/26, Soular, 247K) reports that “some 750 people packed into a ballroom at the Ramada Palms Hotel in Las Cruces to express their views to Jewell and to US Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, who are sponsoring a congressional bill to create the half-million-acre monument. Some people were turned away at the door because the building was at capacity.” According to the article, “attendees had wide-ranging reasons for supporting the measure, such as preserving wildlands for future generations, providing places for recreation and keeping it from development.” However, “there was also diversity among opponents. Some criticized the national monument measure, contending it would hurt future growth, negatively impact ranching and result in more federal governmental control in the area.” The story also appeared at the Las Cruces (NM) Sun-News (1/26, 59K).

    The Albuquerque (NM) Journal (1/26, 288K) reports that “cheers and jeers erupted at a packed public meeting Friday in which US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell heard opinions for and against proposals to designate a ribbon of land in southern New Mexico a national monument.” According to the article, “applause and shouts accompanied nearly every comment, both for and against the broader monument footprint.” The article notes that “to close the two-hour meeting, Jewell asked for a show of hands in the somewhat thinned crowd: who supported no monument at all, a smaller monument or a larger monument – and the last show of hands won by far.”

    Also covering the story are the Albuquerque (NM) Journal (1/26, 288K), KDBC-TV El Paso, TX (1/26, 139) KTSM-TV El Paso, TX (1/26, 970), and KFOX-TV El Paso, TX (1/26, 2K).

  • The AP (1/26) reports that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Friday “toured Broad Canyon outside of Las Cruces before headlining a public meeting centered on federal legislation for protecting the Organ Mountains and other scenic areas in Dona Ana County.” Jewell said “the area has a rich history as well as many opportunities for enjoying the outdoors through hiking and hunting.” Jewell said, “Over the past few years, we’ve seen a groundswell of support from many in the community to ensure that these landscapes are celebrated and passed on to the generations of New Mexicans to come. Those efforts also have the potential to drive significant economic benefits to the region through a boost in tourism and outdoor recreation.” AP coverage was also picked up by the Washington Times (1/24, 417K), the Houston Chronicle (1/24, 2.26M), and the San Francisco Chronicle (1/26, 2.88M).

    In a separate story, the AP (1/26) reports that “several hundred people were expected to join Jewell, officials with the Bureau of Land Management and New Mexico’s two US senators for a public hearing Friday afternoon in Las Cruces to talk about the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.”

    The El Paso (TX) Times (1/26, Soular, 247K) reports that “supporters speculated” the visit “meant the Obama administration was at least considering a proposal to create the monument via a sometimes-controversial 1906 law that gives US presidents the power to grant monument status to public lands without approval from Congress.” Also, “many opponents to the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument interpreted Jewell’s visit in the same light, saying they worried Obama may be on track to declare the lands a national monument.” Opponents “argued that the president should allow the national monument issue to be decided via the legislative route.” The story also appeared at the Las Cruces (NM) Sun-News (1/26, 59K) and the Silver City (NM) Sun-News (1/27, 24K).

    The El Paso (TX) Times (1/26, Soular, 247K) reports that “some 750 people packed into a ballroom at the Ramada Palms Hotel in Las Cruces to express their views to Jewell and to US Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, who are sponsoring a congressional bill to create the half-million-acre monument. Some people were turned away at the door because the building was at capacity.” According to the article, “attendees had wide-ranging reasons for supporting the measure, such as preserving wildlands for future generations, providing places for recreation and keeping it from development.” However, “there was also diversity among opponents. Some criticized the national monument measure, contending it would hurt future growth, negatively impact ranching and result in more federal governmental control in the area.” The story also appeared at the Las Cruces (NM) Sun-News (1/26, 59K).

    The Albuquerque (NM) Journal (1/26, 288K) reports that “cheers and jeers erupted at a packed public meeting Friday in which US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell heard opinions for and against proposals to designate a ribbon of land in southern New Mexico a national monument.” According to the article, “applause and shouts accompanied nearly every comment, both for and against the broader monument footprint.” The article notes that “to close the two-hour meeting, Jewell asked for a show of hands in the somewhat thinned crowd: who supported no monument at all, a smaller monument or a larger monument – and the last show of hands won by far.”

    Also covering the story are the Albuquerque (NM) Journal (1/26, 288K), KDBC-TV El Paso, TX (1/26, 139) KTSM-TV El Paso, TX (1/26, 970), and KFOX-TV El Paso, TX (1/26, 2K).

  • The AP (1/26) reports that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Friday “toured Broad Canyon outside of Las Cruces before headlining a public meeting centered on federal legislation for protecting the Organ Mountains and other scenic areas in Dona Ana County.” Jewell said “the area has a rich history as well as many opportunities for enjoying the outdoors through hiking and hunting.” Jewell said, “Over the past few years, we’ve seen a groundswell of support from many in the community to ensure that these landscapes are celebrated and passed on to the generations of New Mexicans to come. Those efforts also have the potential to drive significant economic benefits to the region through a boost in tourism and outdoor recreation.” AP coverage was also picked up by the Washington Times (1/24, 417K), the Houston Chronicle (1/24, 2.26M), and the San Francisco Chronicle (1/26, 2.88M).

    In a separate story, the AP (1/26) reports that “several hundred people were expected to join Jewell, officials with the Bureau of Land Management and New Mexico’s two US senators for a public hearing Friday afternoon in Las Cruces to talk about the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.”

    The El Paso (TX) Times (1/26, Soular, 247K) reports that “supporters speculated” the visit “meant the Obama administration was at least considering a proposal to create the monument via a sometimes-controversial 1906 law that gives US presidents the power to grant monument status to public lands without approval from Congress.” Also, “many opponents to the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument interpreted Jewell’s visit in the same light, saying they worried Obama may be on track to declare the lands a national monument.” Opponents “argued that the president should allow the national monument issue to be decided via the legislative route.” The story also appeared at the Las Cruces (NM) Sun-News (1/26, 59K) and the Silver City (NM) Sun-News (1/27, 24K).

    The El Paso (TX) Times (1/26, Soular, 247K) reports that “some 750 people packed into a ballroom at the Ramada Palms Hotel in Las Cruces to express their views to Jewell and to US Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, who are sponsoring a congressional bill to create the half-million-acre monument. Some people were turned away at the door because the building was at capacity.” According to the article, “attendees had wide-ranging reasons for supporting the measure, such as preserving wildlands for future generations, providing places for recreation and keeping it from development.” However, “there was also diversity among opponents. Some criticized the national monument measure, contending it would hurt future growth, negatively impact ranching and result in more federal governmental control in the area.” The story also appeared at the Las Cruces (NM) Sun-News (1/26, 59K).

    The Albuquerque (NM) Journal (1/26, 288K) reports that “cheers and jeers erupted at a packed public meeting Friday in which US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell heard opinions for and against proposals to designate a ribbon of land in southern New Mexico a national monument.” According to the article, “applause and shouts accompanied nearly every comment, both for and against the broader monument footprint.” The article notes that “to close the two-hour meeting, Jewell asked for a show of hands in the somewhat thinned crowd: who supported no monument at all, a smaller monument or a larger monument – and the last show of hands won by far.”

    Also covering the story are the Albuquerque (NM) Journal (1/26, 288K), KDBC-TV El Paso, TX (1/26, 139) KTSM-TV El Paso, TX (1/26, 970), and KFOX-TV El Paso, TX (1/26, 2K).

  • On September 17, The Wilderness Society, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Sierra Club and Campion Advocacy Fund presented Senator Martin Heinrich with the John P. Saylor Wilderness Leadership Award for his service to wilderness conservation during his years serving in the House and Senate. 

    The award is named for former Representative John P. Saylor, a Republican from Pennsylvania, who was the lead sponsor and champion in the House of Representatives for the Wilderness Act, which was signed into law 50 years ago this month. Rep. Saylor served in Congress from 1949 until his death in 1973.

    Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, says, “Senator Heinrich has worked as a champion for many vital wilderness bills in the House and the Senate. He brings a balanced and broad approach to conserving New Mexico’s treasured public lands. The Senator works skillfully with a diverse array of community stakeholders who find common ground in their shared love of New Mexico’s wild landscapes for all Americans and for future generations to enjoy.”

    Specifically, Senator Heinrich’s leadership has been invaluable for conserving important public lands in New Mexico such as the Río Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains Desert Peaks regions, both of which have been preserved as national monuments with his strong support. He was also a leader in the campaigns to designate the Ojito and Sabinoso Wilderness Areas in New Mexico. 

    The Senator is a co-sponsor and champion of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act (S. 776/H.R. 1683), which would protect approximately 45,000 acres of forest land in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains – an area that contains the headwaters of the Rio Hondo and Red River, significant clean water sources for the central Rio Grande Corridor of New Mexico. The Columbine Hondo, which is popular among hunters, anglers, hikers and backpackers, has been under official consideration as a potential wilderness area for more than 30 years. 

    He is co-sponsor of Cerros del Norte Conservation Act (S. 241), which would establish two wilderness areas totaling about 21,000 acres within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico. He is also co-sponsor of Organ Mountains Desert Peaks Conservation Act, S. 1805, which would establish eight new wilderness areas, totaling more than 240,000 acres, within the new OMDP National Monument in New Mexico. 

    Protected wild places contribute to the New Mexico’s robust and sustainable outdoor recreation economy, which generates $6.1 billion in consumer spending in the state, 68,000 New Mexico jobs, and $1.7 billion in wages and salaries, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

    September is National Wilderness Month and this month marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act, which gave American people and Congress the ability to preserve special wild places for their value as sources of clean water, habitat for wildlife and outstanding recreational opportunities like hunting, fishing, camping and hiking. Today the National Wilderness Preservation System encompasses nearly 110 million acres of wild country in 44 states and includes lands in national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and Bureau of Land Management areas.

  • The Gila River is New Mexico’s last free-flowing river. Originating in America’s first wilderness, the Gila is rich in biological diversity and cultural history. The Gila’s natural flows support outstanding examples of southwest riparian forest, the highest concentrations of breeding birds in America including the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, a nearly intact native fish community including the endangered loach minnow and spike dace, and the threatened Gila trout. The Gila provides significant economic value to the region through outdoor recreation and wilderness experience.

    In 2004, Congress passed the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA) that authorized diversion of the Gila River if New Mexico agreed to buy water from Arizona to replace what we take out of the river. The AWSA provided $66 million for community water projects to meet local water needs and a perverse incentive of up to $62 million more if New Mexico elects to divert the Gila River. Proposed Gila River diversion projects may cost up to $300 million, leaving NM taxpayers responsible for the balance–$200 million or more.

    A Gila River diversion project is unnecessary, expensive and will harm the Gila River. An overwhelming majority of New Mexicans believe we should use our current water supplies more wisely and protect the Gila River for people, wildlife and future generations. Southwestern New Mexico’s future water needs can be met cost-effectively through non-diversion alternatives, such as municipal and agricultural conservation, sustainable groundwater management, effluent reuse and watershed restoration.

    Tell Governor Susana Martinez to support cost effective, non-diversion alternatives to meet southwest New Mexico’s future water needs. Sign the petition at http://protectthegila.org/

    For more information and to find out how you can help go to http://protectthegila.org/

  • By Staci Matlock, The New Mexican
    Thursday, November 13, 2014 

    In a major policy shift, private landowners in New Mexico will need State Game Commission permission to keep endangered Mexican gray wolves for recovery and reintroduction purposes.

    The commission adopted the change unanimously Thursday at a public meeting in Española. Until now, permits have been administratively approved by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish director.

    Many see the commission’s action as one more blow to a 15-year effort to recover populations of the Mexican gray wolf, which is on both state and federal endangered species lists. There are currently 83 wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona.

    The change also will affect any private landowner seeking a permit to keep endangered black-footed ferrets in captivity for recovery efforts.

    Before Thursday’s vote, Game and Fish Department Director Alexandra Sandoval and State Game Commissioner Ralph Ramos said the change would allow more public comment before a permit is granted to keep carnivores on private land. “We are working hard to expand public comment and transparency,” said Ramos, a Las Cruces resident.

    But that’s not how many felt at Thursday’s meeting, where more than a dozen people spoke against the change and three for it. More than 300 people had sent letters to the Game and Fish Department in opposition to the change. Some said if the real intention was transparency, then all wildlife permits issued by the department should require commission approval.

    “This seems to tie the director’s hands unnecessarily,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, which represents sportsmen. “The Game Commission should direct policy, but not interfere with permits.”

    Katherine Eagleson, director of The Wildlife Center near Española, which rehabilitates injured wildlife, said the change was “unnecessary,” time-consuming and would hamper wolf recovery efforts.

    But Carlos Chacon of the Northern New Mexico Stockmen’s Association and the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association spoke in favor of the change, saying carnivores affect his private property rights. “I’m concerned about the impact on the safety of my family, my livestock and my ability to enjoy my private property.”

    The change in permit approval will become effective Dec. 15, according to Lance Cherry, a spokesman for the Game and Fish Department.

    Only two facilities for captive gray wolves for recovery and reintroduction are now permitted in the state: the Ladder Ranch in Southern New Mexico, owned by billionaire philanthropist Ted Turner, and the Wildlife West Nature Park near Edgewood. They won’t be affected by the change until they reapply for permits.

    The New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau and the New Mexico Council of Guides and Outfitters also spoke in favor of the change. The Sierra Club and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance spoke against it.

  • By Staci Matlock, The New Mexican
    Thursday, November 13, 2014 

    In a major policy shift, private landowners in New Mexico will need State Game Commission permission to keep endangered Mexican gray wolves for recovery and reintroduction purposes.

    The commission adopted the change unanimously Thursday at a public meeting in Española. Until now, permits have been administratively approved by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish director.

    Many see the commission’s action as one more blow to a 15-year effort to recover populations of the Mexican gray wolf, which is on both state and federal endangered species lists. There are currently 83 wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona.

    The change also will affect any private landowner seeking a permit to keep endangered black-footed ferrets in captivity for recovery efforts.

    Before Thursday’s vote, Game and Fish Department Director Alexandra Sandoval and State Game Commissioner Ralph Ramos said the change would allow more public comment before a permit is granted to keep carnivores on private land. “We are working hard to expand public comment and transparency,” said Ramos, a Las Cruces resident.

    But that’s not how many felt at Thursday’s meeting, where more than a dozen people spoke against the change and three for it. More than 300 people had sent letters to the Game and Fish Department in opposition to the change. Some said if the real intention was transparency, then all wildlife permits issued by the department should require commission approval.

    “This seems to tie the director’s hands unnecessarily,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, which represents sportsmen. “The Game Commission should direct policy, but not interfere with permits.”

    Katherine Eagleson, director of The Wildlife Center near Española, which rehabilitates injured wildlife, said the change was “unnecessary,” time-consuming and would hamper wolf recovery efforts.

    But Carlos Chacon of the Northern New Mexico Stockmen’s Association and the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association spoke in favor of the change, saying carnivores affect his private property rights. “I’m concerned about the impact on the safety of my family, my livestock and my ability to enjoy my private property.”

    The change in permit approval will become effective Dec. 15, according to Lance Cherry, a spokesman for the Game and Fish Department.

    Only two facilities for captive gray wolves for recovery and reintroduction are now permitted in the state: the Ladder Ranch in Southern New Mexico, owned by billionaire philanthropist Ted Turner, and the Wildlife West Nature Park near Edgewood. They won’t be affected by the change until they reapply for permits.

    The New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau and the New Mexico Council of Guides and Outfitters also spoke in favor of the change. The Sierra Club and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance spoke against it.

  • By Staci Matlock, The New Mexican
    Thursday, November 13, 2014 

    In a major policy shift, private landowners in New Mexico will need State Game Commission permission to keep endangered Mexican gray wolves for recovery and reintroduction purposes.

    The commission adopted the change unanimously Thursday at a public meeting in Española. Until now, permits have been administratively approved by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish director.

    Many see the commission’s action as one more blow to a 15-year effort to recover populations of the Mexican gray wolf, which is on both state and federal endangered species lists. There are currently 83 wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona.

    The change also will affect any private landowner seeking a permit to keep endangered black-footed ferrets in captivity for recovery efforts.

    Before Thursday’s vote, Game and Fish Department Director Alexandra Sandoval and State Game Commissioner Ralph Ramos said the change would allow more public comment before a permit is granted to keep carnivores on private land. “We are working hard to expand public comment and transparency,” said Ramos, a Las Cruces resident.

    But that’s not how many felt at Thursday’s meeting, where more than a dozen people spoke against the change and three for it. More than 300 people had sent letters to the Game and Fish Department in opposition to the change. Some said if the real intention was transparency, then all wildlife permits issued by the department should require commission approval.

    “This seems to tie the director’s hands unnecessarily,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, which represents sportsmen. “The Game Commission should direct policy, but not interfere with permits.”

    Katherine Eagleson, director of The Wildlife Center near Española, which rehabilitates injured wildlife, said the change was “unnecessary,” time-consuming and would hamper wolf recovery efforts.

    But Carlos Chacon of the Northern New Mexico Stockmen’s Association and the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association spoke in favor of the change, saying carnivores affect his private property rights. “I’m concerned about the impact on the safety of my family, my livestock and my ability to enjoy my private property.”

    The change in permit approval will become effective Dec. 15, according to Lance Cherry, a spokesman for the Game and Fish Department.

    Only two facilities for captive gray wolves for recovery and reintroduction are now permitted in the state: the Ladder Ranch in Southern New Mexico, owned by billionaire philanthropist Ted Turner, and the Wildlife West Nature Park near Edgewood. They won’t be affected by the change until they reapply for permits.

    The New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau and the New Mexico Council of Guides and Outfitters also spoke in favor of the change. The Sierra Club and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance spoke against it.

  • By John Fleck / Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
    November 24, 2014 

    The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission on Monday said “yes” to a controversial proposal to divert water from the Gila River for use in southwestern New Mexico farms and cities – but with reservations.

    The commission agreed to formally notify the U.S. Department of Interior that it wants to proceed with a project that would divert water from the Gila during times of high flow, building reservoir storage so that it can then be piped for as yet unidentified uses.

    The vote allows the state to meet a Dec. 31 federal deadline to take the project’s next steps, a move that could free up $62 million in additional federal funding. But commissioners cautioned that more hurdles remain, chief among them the cost of a potential project and the ability of the state and local communities to pay for it, and that the state is not committed to build the project if it determines it is too costly.

    “New Mexico’s financial options will remain open for years to come,” acting Interstate Stream Commission Director Amy Haas said in a statement issued by the agency following the vote.

    “If New Mexico determines down the road that our options are overly costly or no longer feasible, we have the option to change course.”

    Opponents, who turned out in force at the hearing, said they believe the state knows enough to kill the project now. Bearing signs saying things like “No billion dollar boondoggle,” they say the cost – at least $575 million, according to a state consultant, and possibly $1 billion, according to an independent federal review – is too high, given the small amount of water the project will yield. They claim the project will cause environmental damage to the wild-flowing Gila with too little benefit.

    More than 60 people attended the hearing, held in Albuquerque City Hall.

    Project supporters say arid New Mexico cannot afford to pass up the water, an argument that carried the day with the commission, though the supply will be small. At Monday’s meeting, Interstate Stream Commission staff acknowledged that evaporation and reservoir seepage will eat up nearly half the water before it ever reaches any farms or cities.

    The law under which the project would be built authorized 14,000 acre-feet per year on average from the Gila, but the actual yield will likely be between 6,000 and 8,000 acre-feet, ISC staff member Ali Effati told the commission. An acre-foot of water is enough for a typical family for two years.

    The opportunity to develop a new water supply is too important to pass up, said state Engineer Scott Verhines, who serves as the commission’s secretary. “Few of New Mexico’s regions have an opportunity to develop new water. This one does,” Verhines said.

    Commissioner Blane Sanchez, the lone “no” vote, said he had reservations about the project because too little design work has been done to fully understand the costs. “It hasn’t been fully vetted,” Sanchez said.

    Commissioners Jim Dunlap, Phelps Anderson, Randy Crowder, James Wilcox, Mark Sanchez, Buford Harris and Verhines all voted yes. Commissioner Topper Thorpe, who owns irrigation land in the area that might be served by the project, did not vote.

    Verhines acknowledged the financial uncertainty, but said to vote “no” now, before the project is fleshed out, would close off the option of future development of the water.

    The decision starts a complex set of next steps for the project, which has been a decade in the making. The federal government already has allocated $68 million for southwestern New Mexico water projects, some of which can be spent now on design work for the diversion project. By voting “yes,” the state could get access to an additional $62 million if the diversion project proceeds to construction.

    In the meantime, New Mexico can continue studies in the project to flesh out details, including how much it will cost and how much water it will yield. The required federal studies, a necessity for the work to proceed, could take another five years to complete, staff told the commission.

    Critics said the money spent in design work and environmental reviews in the coming years will be wasted, because it already is clear that the project makes no economic sense.

    “I think they know enough now,” said Allyson Siwik of the Gila Conservation Coalition. The money spent on studies could better be devoted to conservation measures and other steps to help the region cope with water scarcity, she said in an interview following the decision.

  • By Tania Soussan / For the Albuquerque Journal
    PUBLISHED: Thursday, August 7, 2014 at 12:05 am

    “Wilderness is an anchor to windward. Knowing it is there, we can also know that we are still a rich nation, tending our resources as we should – not a people in despair searching every last nook and cranny of our land for a board of lumber, a barrel of oil, a blade of grass, or a tank of water.”

    — Clinton Anderson

    Some of the key pioneers of the national wilderness movement were inspired by New Mexico’s rugged and beautiful landscapes, so it’s only fitting that Albuquerque was chosen to host the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary celebration this fall.

    “You cannot separate the history of the conservation movement in the United States, the creation of the Wilderness Act and the history of New Mexico,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. “Our history is the history of the Wilderness Act.”

    New Mexico is, after all, home to the Gila Wilderness, which became the nation’s first administratively designated wilderness area 90 years ago at the urging of conservationist Aldo Leopold, who was then working for the Forest Service in New Mexico. Leopold started seeing roads and vehicles in the forest in the 1920s and thought wilderness protection would preserve places for primitive travel. By the 1930s, he also saw a need to protect the land for ecological reasons.

    Leopold inspired his friend, New Mexico Sen. Clinton P. Anderson, to tackle conservation issues in Congress. Anderson went on to become the Wilderness Act’s lead sponsor. He and Interior Secretary Stewart Udall – who originally was from Arizona but later chose New Mexico as his home – helped shepherd the act to passage in 1964.

    The act, which was written by Howard Zahniser of The Wilderness Society, went through more than 60 revisions over eight years before being passed and signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Sept. 3, 1964. The act protected 9.1 million acres of federal land and created the legal definition of wilderness, barring roads, vehicles, permanent structures and activities such as logging, drilling or mining.

    “It is really important to take a step back, pause and really celebrate what was a pretty radical notion at that time,” said Mark Allison, executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “The world had not seen legislation protect wild places for their intrinsic beauty.”

    Today, there are almost 110 million acres of protected wilderness across the country, including roughly 1.6 million acres in 25 wilderness areas in New Mexico. Although development and mechanical vehicles, including bicycles, are banned, livestock grazing and all kinds of recreation – hunting and fishing, hiking and camping, rafting and kayaking and horseback riding – are allowed.

    Allison said New Mexicans should be proud of the state’s role in the creation and evolution of the wilderness protection movement. “There’s a rich legacy here,” he said.

    The committee planning the Wilderness 50 celebration acknowledged that legacy when it chose to have the national conference in Albuquerque.

    The Oct. 15-19 conference will include speakers such as noted oceanographer Sylvia Earle and CBS News history commentator Douglas Brinkley. The celebration also will feature a free, family-friendly “Get Wild” Festival on Civic Plaza, a People’s Wilderness Film Gala and field trips.

    But there’s no need to wait until then.

    “The best way to celebrate the 50th is to get out and enjoy a wilderness,” said Karl Malcolm, regional wildlife ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service’s southwest region.

    Wilderness offers several benefits in addition to the obvious preservation of undeveloped land. It provides habitat for rare plants and animals, protects watersheds that are the source of drinking water and ensures that future generations will have wild places to enjoy.

    That permanent inventory of places to go to enjoy nature and solitude is vital to Malcolm.

    “I draw my personal sustenance from the natural world. It puts me in my place. It makes me feel mortal,” he said.

    “It’s humbling there was this foresight by conservation leaders working together 50 years ago,” Malcolm added. “We have lost so many wild landscapes over the last 50 years …This is a prime time for us to take a breath, pause and focus on what a dwindling resource wildness is.” New Mexico has such diverse, protected landscapes as the Sandia Wilderness on the doorstep of Albuquerque and the more remote Bisti/De-Na-Zin badlands in San Juan County. Still, there is much work to be done, said Henrich and Allison.

    Heinrich, along with Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., has sponsored legislation to designate the 45,000-acre Columbine-Hondo area in Taos County as wilderness.

    The Wilderness Alliance also is working to win permanent wilderness protection for wilderness study areas within the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in the Gila country and in the San Mateo Mountains west of Socorro, Allison said.

  • Thank You Ad To President Obama – Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Designation

  • Thank You Ad To President Obama – Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Designation

  • Thank You Ad To President Obama – Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Designation

  • The landmark Wilderness Act is 50 years old, and it’s still working.

    By Ben A. Minteer
    Slate.com

    his September marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the piece of federal legislation that created a national system of wilderness areas and established the principles for their management. Its passage was a shining moment in American environmental ethics: the statutory affirmation of a nation’s deep regard for the wild and a determination to devote considerable political and material resources to protecting it. Yet today there is a debate brewing about whether the act is still a vital and useful part of our environmental inheritance—or whether its best days may now be behind it.

    Public appreciation of the wild, we must remember, took some time. Although precocious wilderness advocates like John Muir wrote in 1901 that “None of Nature’s landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild,” not many of his readers were yet willing to join the intrepid naturalist in wholeheartedly commending the rights of alligators, the beauty of swamps, and the moral worth of the wilder places and creatures on the planet.

    Muir’s shadow, though, would prove long. A founder of the Sierra Club in the 1890s, his blowtorch rhetoric and religious zeal for the wild (for instance, he said that developers seeking to dam a valley in his beloved Yosemite were demonic “temple destroyers”) would gain a following as the 20th century wore on, inspiring a wide range of American wilderness writing and activism. Muir’s wilderness ethic would be magnified and diversified by a procession of prominent artists, writers, scientists, and advocates, from Ansel Adams to Aldo Leopold to David Brower.

    But times have a habit of changing. Since at least the early 1990s, geographers, ethnoecologists, archaeologists, historians, and others have challenged Muir’s ideal of a wild and “untrammeled” pre-European North America. The notion of a pristine, pre-contact landscape has been obliterated by the mountain of historical evidence documenting the significant Native American technological alteration and control of the environment, from earthworks and forest clearing to the wide use of fire and wildlife management. Even Muir’s wild Yosemite has not been spared: Scholars have highlighted the historical role of California Indians in shaping the modern landscape of the Sierra Nevada.

    Still, in 1901 Muir took comfort in thinking that there were parts of the Earth that he assumed would always have to be wild, forever impervious to the human footprint: the seas, the sky, the granite domes of Yosemite. We can breathe easy, Muir wrote, because we can “change and mar them hardly more than can the butterflies that hover above them.”

    He was obviously wrong about that one.

    Today we recognize (though not always without argument) the degree to which we’ve influenced and changed Muir’s wild world. It’s an impressive but fearsome litany of global impacts: human-caused climate change, intensive urbanization, the disruption of biogeochemical cycles, ocean acidification, pollution, overharvesting of resources, the spread of invasive species. Our technological enterprises have gone a long way toward transforming environmental systems across the globe to the extent that human-dominated rather than nature-dominated systems may now be the norm.

    In fact, many scientists have described the collective outcome of these anthropogenic impacts as marking a new geological divide in the planet’s history, a transition from the Holocene Epoch to the current era of the “Anthropocene”—the age of humans. While some see a hopeful message in our being large-and-in-charge on the planet, because it means we can take responsibility for a world of our making, others find a much darker endgame awaiting a species able (and willing) to write its presence in the geological record.

    Not surprisingly, these shifts in our historical, ecological, and technological understanding have ramifications for how we conceive of and manage the wilderness. In a recent New York Times op-ed, Christopher Solomon argues that the Wilderness Act’s “hands-off” management philosophy is woefully out-of-step in our era of rapid ecological transformation and outsize human influence. This view reflects a growing sentiment among many conservationists that the traditional preservationist model of the wilderness is no longer suitable for our changing planet of more than 7 billion people.

    Instead, a more active and interventionist approach to managing wildlands, urban landscapes, and all the places in between is said to be far more suitable for a “post-wilderness” conservation. This new strategy would mean using natural-technological systems to provide ecosystem services for urban and rural communities—for instance, water purification and flood control. It also promotes the active manipulation of landscapes to improve their habitat value for both native and non-native species (via species introductions, plantings, and so on). And, in general, it elevates in stature those human-modified ecosystems, long devalued by conservationists, that retain many valued species and functions but that depart from the norm of historical (“natural”) ecosystems.

    These friendly critics are probably right to draw attention to the limitations of the traditional Muir-style vision of an untouched wild landscape for informing effective conservation under global climate change. Wilderness areas are managed carefully for passive recreation and for ecological values, with resource extraction, road building, mechanized transport, and permanent installations generally prohibited unless special exemption requirements are met. Yet sometimes maintaining the full sweep of ecological values of a landscape, including the protection of biodiversity in a rapidly transforming environment, requires us to consider interventions that challenge these longstanding preservationist notions. It’s a situation that can pit the older Muirian ideals of untrammeled nature against the newer interventionist models.

    Here in Arizona, for example, in 2007, an advocacy organization called Wilderness Watch successfully sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for building water tanks in the Kofa Wilderness Area in the southeastern part of the state. The tanks and pipes were intended to provide water reserves for the region’s endangered bighorn sheep, which the managers were concerned had become stressed by a prolonged drought and hotter temperatures. Although the tanks were clearly intended for conservation purposes, Wilderness Watch argued that they were violations of the 1964 act’s prohibition against building installations that disturb wilderness character (and that the tanks were not effective to boot).

    It’s true, then, that the act’s stringency can result in some controversial decisions and in some hard choices having to be made. At the same time, some of the wilderness critiques can be too broadly drawn, obsessing on the peculiarities of the act’s old statutory rhetoric (e.g., “untrammeled” nature) while discounting the practical tradition of active wilderness management. Although the act prescribes minimal technological interventions in wilderness areas—and this can require making difficult trade-offs among different wilderness and conservation values—the agencies responsible for managing these places (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the USDA Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service) have a history of engaging in active management of the wilderness when necessary, at least to a degree. Prescribed burning, species reintroductions (e.g. wolves), the stocking of non-native fish, pesticide spraying, the use of helicopters—these and other manipulations have and continue to take place in federally designated wilderness. Admittedly, these efforts may not go far enough for some critics, but it isn’t the case that managers’ hands are completely tied when it comes to actively intervening in wilderness areas to restore or enhance their ecological and recreational character.

    Furthermore, despite its oft-lamented restrictiveness, the Wilderness Act may actually be more flexible in certain situations than we think. Some legal scholars have suggested that it could permit novel, perhaps even radical technological and management interventions for conservation purposes. For example, the active relocation of wildlife species to wilderness areas outside their native range in anticipation of the effects of climate change (aka “assisted colonization” or “managed relocation”) could, in fact, be permissible under the act if it’s deemed simpatico with the overall “wilderness character” of the landscape. That’s a far cry from “hands off” management.

    Even if we agree that we need to revise our aspirations to promote “untrammeled” landscapes in 2014, it would nevertheless be a great mistake to go further and relax our political and legal commitment to the 1964 act. Doing so would inevitably weaken our protection of the nation’s wilder places. The passage of the Wilderness Act was a hard-won victory—it’s difficult to see how even a shadow of it could be passed again in today’s political climate.

    In the end, even though Muir’s Yosemite is not a pristine wilderness, it’s still a breathtakingly wild place capable of inspiring old-fashioned Romantic awe and wonder. That holds true despite its wildness not being absolute—and even as it continues to evolve and change under human influence. Acknowledging this partly humanized, partly technological character of the wilderness, though, doesn’t require backing off from the view that we should still protect as much wildness as possible where and when we can. Cars, concessions, and parking lots are presumably a fixture in Muir’s northern California “temple” for the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t mean that we have to welcome unmanned drones orbiting over Half Dome.

    And anyway, the real meaning of the wilderness can’t be found by poring over its legislative definition. It resides in the character and environmental culture its appreciation incites in a people. In our attempts to protect the wild from significant technological control, we open ourselves to Muir’s pleas to exercise humility and forbearance on the landscape. Although it may bear the mark of the human fingerprint, wilderness can still teach us the value of that proud and yes, proudly American environmental ethic. It’s the character instilled by observing, as Thoreau put it, “our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.” And it’s a virtue still accessible to us if we are wise enough to protect its source, especially in the age of humans.

    Muir, it turns out, was right about the most important thing all along.

    This article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, visit the Future Tense blog and the Future Tense home page. You can also follow us on Twitter.

    Ben A. Minteer is a professor of conservation at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, where he also holds the Arizona Zoological Society Chair.

  • Last year Mora became the first county in the nation to permanently ban oil and gas development.

    High Country News
    June 23, 2014
    By Ernie Atencio

    On a raw, bright winter day, John Olívas and his wife, Pam, hold court at the Hatchas Café in Mora, New Mexico. They seem to know everybody who comes in, chatting as they stamp snow off their boots and find seats. The street is lined with crumbling adobes and rusty pickups, and snowpacked pastures dotted with livestock and unused farm equipment stretch toward the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. There’s not a fast food drive-through or big-box store in sight.

    Olívas, a lean and youthful 43, is a longtime hunting guide and more recent wilderness advocate who was elected to the Mora County Commission in 2010. He lives in the house his great-grandparents built 200 years ago; his family was among the original settlers of the Mora Land Grant in 1835, when it was still part of Mexico. By local standards, that’s not very long ago; many residents still speak the archaic Spanish that the original settlers brought to these mountain villages in the early 1600s.

    When I sit at his table, Olívas launches without preamble into a tirade against hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which involves shooting a mixture of water, chemicals and sand deep underground to release oil or natural gas trapped in layers of rock. He worries that fracking and other aspects of oil and gas development will use too much water and pollute the other resources that this agrarian Indo-Hispano community needs. “We grow our own food. We burn our own wood,” he explains. “People come to Mora for the landscape and the clean water and the clean air.”

    In April 2013, Olívas – modest and soft-spoken but ready for a fight – led the charge to make his county the first in the U.S. to permanently ban corporations from fracking or otherwise developing oil and gas within its borders. “A lot of people asked, ‘Who in the heck is this small community up in northern New Mexico that’s picking a fight with oil and gas?’ ” he says. As a matter of survival, local people have always prioritized conservation, and they resent outside corporations making money at their expense, he notes. During six months of meetings, residents made clear that they want to protect their land-based heritage. “If you allow industry to come into your community, it changes the dynamics of the culture. I don’t think we’re ready for that.”

    Though Olívas acknowledges being “a product of industry” (his folks worked in uranium mines in Grants, across the state), childhood summers with his grandparents gave him a strong connection to Mora. “I used to spend hours out at the Mora River or the pond with my brother. My fondest memory is lassoing suckers.” As a teen, after moving permanently to Mora, he went bow-hunting for elk alone in the peaks of the Pecos Wilderness. “That’s where I think I got into the naturalist part of me. You’d go up there and you’d build a fire, you’d have to get wood, you’d have to do all the essentials of life.”

    Olívas built a successful career as a hunting guide and eventually got a master’s in environmental science. But he never considered himself an environmentalist, largely because in a state that is one-half Latino, its green movement is overwhelmingly white. In the late ’90s, environmental activists often came off as villains in racially charged fights over public-lands grazing and community access to firewood. Some were hanged in effigy at the State Capitol.

    That tension has subsided, but Olívas, who joined the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance as a community organizer in 2008, is still often the only Chicano in the room. He serves as a bridge to build support for land-protection efforts, such as the recently designated Río Grande del Norte National Monument, making significant inroads with centuries-old farming and ranching land-grant communities, while fostering deeper respect for the local land ethic among urban, largely white environmental groups. As the father of four, he’s proud that “those landscapes will be protected for my grandchildren and their grandchildren.”

    Where Mora’s fracking ban is concerned, the work is just beginning: Four private landowners backed by oil and gas interests sued last November, followed by a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell in January, alleging violation of their constitutional rights. “We knew we were going to get sued,” Olívas says, then repeats it with relish. Mora County plans to fight, with help from the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund and the New Mexico Environmental Law Center. Given opponents’ deeper pockets, that could mean five to seven years of wrangling, and the creation of some legal precedents. However it ends, he says, “I definitely think we left our mark on the world.” Other communities that have adopted similar measures – Las Vegas, New Mexico, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and more – are watching.

    Olívas remains surprisingly calm. “I’m not losing any sleep,” he says, finishing his coffee. Still, I sense he’d rather be hunting in the mountains he loves.

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