Sportsmen, business owners, conservationists, local elected officials and other community members hailed the introduction today of The Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks Wilderness Act, by Senator Jeff Bingaman and Senator Tom Udall. The measure will protect nearly 400,000 acres of public land in Dona Ana County, by designating 271,050 acres as wilderness and creating a 109,600-acre National Conservation Area around the Organ and Doña Ana Mountains and parts of Broad Canyon.
“We applaud Senators Bingaman and Udall for their dedication to ensuring that more of New Mexico’s beloved wild places will be around for our children’s children to use and enjoy,” said Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima. “Their bill follows years of discussion and collaboration with community members with many different interests and concerns.”
Bonnie Burn, President of the League of Women Voters, added, “We all share the goal of protecting Doña Ana County’s unique and precious open areas which add so much to our quality of life.”
“This important conservation bill comes as the nation celebrates the 45th anniversary of the Wilderness Act,” said Stephen Capra, executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “That broadly backed measure allowed citizens to add other worthy wild places to our preservation system. It is fitting that it will help us today protect such beloved area icons as the Organ Mountains and Broad Canyon.”
“The Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks Wilderness Act will ensure that our grandchildren can hunt in and enjoy these areas as we have done,” said Sandy Schemnitz, President of the Southwest Consolidated Sportsmen. “A New Mexico sportsman– Aldo Leopold – first conceived the idea of wilderness to preserve the hunting he’d come to love in the Gila. Today, Doña Ana County sportsmen are delighted that this legislation will help us pass down our traditions.”
“It’s not surprising that over a hundred local businesses support greater protection for the wilderness in ‘our backyards,’” said John Munoz, of the Hispano Chamber of Commerce.“We’re beginning to understand how wilderness attracts visitors who come here to camp, hike, hunt, explore, open businesses and ultimately keep our cash registers ringing and our livelihoods thriving.”
A 2006 poll of Doña Ana County residents by Public Opinion Strategies found that a majority of residents favor protecting wilderness in the area. The municipalities of Las Cruces, Sunland Park, Mesilla and the Doña Ana County Commission have adopted resolutions supporting protection of these areas to boost the local economies.
In a tough compromise, the bill crafted by the Senators contains 30,000 less acres of wilderness than proposed by conservationists. However, they applaud Senators Bingaman and Udall for reaching out to all parties to address any and all issues. The measure will protect rare grasslands in the Potrillo and Uvas Mountains, petroglyph sites and riparian areas in Broad Canyon, crucial watersheds, and the iconic spires of Las Cruces’ signature attraction: the Organ Mountains.
“Our wild places truly make New Mexico the ‘Land of Enchantment.’ This important new bill will help ensure more of it will stay just as it is,” said Don Patterson, of the Back Country Horseman. “We urge Congress to pass this common sense conservation bill soon, and send it to the president.”