FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New Mexico Wild celebrates U.S. Senate passage of new wilderness areas within Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte National Monuments
Heinrich, Udall, Lujan and Lujan Grisham have sponsored legislation to create wilderness areas
ALBUQUERQUE, NM (February 12, 2019) – New Mexico Wild joined a broad coalition today in celebrating the passage of a public lands package in the U.S. Senate by voice vote that, in part, calls for the creation of thirteen new wilderness areas in New Mexico, including ten within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument and two within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. The roughly 270,000-plus acres of potential New Mexico wilderness that are included in the Natural Resources Management Act would mark the most acreage of wilderness designated in New Mexico in a single year since 1980 if the legislation passes the U.S. House of Representatives and is signed into law by President Donald Trump.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled that these special places are one step closer to being protected in their wild and natural states, providing New Mexicans and all Americans with ample opportunities to escape to the outdoors,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild. “Given that New Mexico is home to the nation’s first designated wilderness area, it is gratifying to see that tradition of conservation and responsible stewardship of our public lands continue.”
Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich co-sponsored the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Conservation Act, which was included in the public lands package that passed the Senate today. The legislation would designate ten wilderness areas within the national monument totaling 241,554 acres.
Legislation to safeguard the wilderness in Doña Ana County was first introduced by former Senator Jeff Bingaman in 2009 in the 111th Congress, and then again by Senators Udall and Heinrich in the 112th and 113th Congresses.
Hunting, livestock grazing, hiking, camping, horseback riding, firefighting, law enforcement activities, and border security would continue in the wilderness areas. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks contains approximately 306 bird species and 78 mammal species including golden eagles, mule deer, javelina, cougar, ring-tail cat, and quail.
A 2016 poll showed 78 percent of citizens in Doña Ana County support the protection of wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
Also included in today’s public lands package was the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act, which was also co-sponsored by Senators Udall and Heinrich, to designate the Cerro del Yuta Wilderness and the Rio San Antonio Wilderness within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. The initial bill passed the Senate without amendment in December 2017. Congressman Ben Ray Lujan sponsored an identical bill in the House of Representatives, which was co-sponsored by former Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham.
“New Mexicans are grateful to Senators Udall and Heinrich, as well as Congressman Lujan and former Congresswoman Lujan Grisham, for their ongoing commitment to protecting the wild places that make our state a national treasure,” added Mark Allison.
A poll conducted by Third Eye Strategies in 2016 found that ninety-three percent of registered voters in Taos County believe that wilderness is important to them. Ninety-five percent of those surveyed believe it is important for public lands to be preserved for future generations.
Designated in 2013, Río Grande del Norte National Monument continues to enjoy overwhelming community support, including the backing of business owners, sportsmen, tribal leaders, land grant heirs, local elected officials, and grazing permittees.
During last year’s review of national monuments by the Department of Interior, New Mexico had the most comments submitted per capita of any state. Nearly ninety eight percent of the comments received for Rio Grande del Norte opposed the executive order and wanted the monument to remain as is.
The potential wilderness areas within the national monument serve as some of the world’s great avian migratory routes. They are also home to wildlife, including bear, pronghorn and elk. The new designations would safeguard world-class recreation opportunities already enjoyed within the national monument, such as hiking, hunting, and fishing.
Overall, the two wilderness areas created by the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act would comprise 21,540 acres of the 243,140-acre national monument northwest of Taos, New Mexico.
Today’s public lands package also includes the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Area comprising approximately 7,242 acres and an 2,250-acre expansion of the existing Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area near the Four Corners region.
In addition to New Mexico’s thirteen new wilderness areas, the public lands package that passed today reauthorized the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has provided funding for public lands and open spaces in all 33 New Mexico counties since its creation. Congress failed to reauthorize the fund in September 2018, leading to the loss of tens of millions of dollars for America’s public lands. Senators Heinrich and Udall have been two of the fund’s most ardent supporters in the Senate.
ABOUT THE NEW MEXICO WILDERNESS ALLIANCE: The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance or “New Mexico Wild” is a non-profit 501 (C)(3), independent, homegrown, grassroots, conservation organization dedicated to the protection, restoration and continued respect of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. With staff and thousands of supporters throughout the state, New Mexico Wild is dedicated to the rights and the value of citizen involvement in protecting increasingly rare wild places within public lands. Just as freedom is every American’s birthright so too is Wilderness.