Las Vegas Daily Optic

June 10, 2008

By Tom McDonald

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Monday that would set aside 17,638 acres of land about 40 miles east of Las Vegas as a wilderness area. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., authored the legislation, which passed the House unanimously as the Sabinoso Wilderness Act of 2008. Udall said he worked with a variety of groups “to make this a plan that everybody, from every part of the political spectrum, can support.”

The area is located northeast of Trujillo along the Canadian River in San Miguel County. Supporters of the bill say it’s home to a variety of wildlife, including several bird species, coyotes, mountain lions and gray foxes. The area is rich in canyon vistas, including the 1,000-foot tall Canyon Largo, and impressive rock formations — all part of a vibrant Great Plains ecosystem.

If passed into law, the act will designate the area as protected wilderness managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management and the state of New Mexico. The land would be available for grazing, hunting and other recreational uses.

Plans for the wilderness area were developed by Udall in consultation with Bureau of Land Management officials and local landowners, according to Udall’s office.

Among the groups supporting the designation are the San Miguel County Commission, the Las Vegas San Miguel Economic Development Corporation, the state House of Representatives (through a resolution sponsored by Rep. Thomas Garcia), the Wagon Mound and Springer town councils, and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

“It’s been a long time coming in getting public lands protected as wilderness areas in New Mexico,” Nathan Newcomer, media director for the Alliance, said Monday. “I think we’re starting to see more of it.”

Newcomer said New Mexico is the birthplace of wilderness protection; the Gila Wilderness Area north of Silver City was the first designated area after the Wilderness Act of 1964 was passed into law. Such designations protect areas by making development off limits while opening the land to the public, “which truly contributes to quality of life,” Newcomer said.

Udall touted the Sabinoso area’s environment and its history.

“Sabinoso is more than an incredibly beautiful patch of land,” Udall said in a news release announcing the bill’s passage. “It is a thriving ecosystem and a piece of New Mexico history. Visitors to the area will find horses, wild turkeys and other birds most people never get a chance to see. They will also find homesteads that go back generations and pristine wilderness that still looks like it did when settlers first came to this part of North America.”

Udall is pushing for passage in the Senate “as quickly as possible,” according to the release.