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Northern New Mexico Wilderness Bill Heads to Senate Floor

For Immediate Release

Date: December 16, 2009
Contact: John Olivas
Phone: (575) 387-2665
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Conservationist Group Cheers Senate Committee for Approving Measure

The Río Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act was approved by the Senate Energy Committee today, sending it to the full Senate for action. The measure, introduced by Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, will protect some 235,980 acres northwest of Taos, New Mexico, as a conservation area, including more than 21,420 acres of designated wilderness.

“Those who care about protecting what makes this state the ‘Land of Enchantment’ cheer the leadership of Senator Bingaman, and his work to ensure that our beautiful Río Grande area can stay forever just as it is today,” said John Olivas, Owner of JACO Outfitters, LLC and Northern Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, based in Mora. “We thank the Senate Energy Committee for today approving this important legislation and for sending it to the Senate Floor for action.”

“This legislation will ensure that our New Mexico traditions like pinon and fire wood gathering; hunting and fishing; and ranching and grazing will continue, as will our ability to experience the rich scenery this land offers,” Olivas said. “The bill also recognizes the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, protecting the rights of our traditional communities for future generations.”

The area contains some of the most spectacular lands and habitat in the state, and is an important migratory flyway for a number of bird species. The Río Grande del Norte Conservation Area Establishment Act is supported by a broad cross-section of the community, including the Taos Chamber of Commerce, Mora Valley Chamber of Commerce, Taos County Commission, Wild Earth Llama Adventures, River and Birds in Taos, Taos Land Trust and the Taos Business Alliance along with more than 100 local businesses.

No ‘No More Wilderness’



Published: November 23, 2009

In 2003, Gale Norton, then the secretary of the interior, and Michael Leavitt, then the governor of Utah, struck a deal that removed federal protections from about 2.6 million acres of public land in Utah that the Clinton administration had designated as potential wilderness. At the same time, Ms. Norton disavowed her department’s longstanding authority to identify, study and recommend new areas for wilderness protection.

This “no more wilderness” policy, as it came to be known, exposed huge swaths of federal land throughout the Rocky Mountain West to oil and gas drilling and other commercial uses.

President Obama’s interior secretary, Ken Salazar, has reversed many of the Bush administration’s damaging environmental policies. Maddeningly, however, the “no more wilderness” policy is still in place. It is past time for Mr. Salazar to renounce it.

Representative Maurice Hinchey, a Democrat from upstate New York, and 89 other House members have written to Mr. Salazar urging him to reject the Norton-Leavitt arrangement — a back-room deal with no standing in law — and restore interim protections for the land in Utah until Congress can decide whether to protect the area permanently. (Mr. Hinchey has introduced a bill — the Red Rock Wilderness Act — that would confer wilderness protections on those acres, plus about 7 million more.)

More broadly, they want Mr. Salazar to reject the destructive philosophy underlying the Norton-Leavitt arrangement by reasserting the interior secretary’s responsibility to help protect America’s fragile landscapes from oil and gas leasing, off-road vehicle use and mining.

Under the law, only Congress can designate permanent wilderness — areas where all commercial activity is prohibited. But Congress also authorized the Interior Department to periodically inventory federal lands to identify those with “wilderness characteristics” and to give them interim protections until Congress can make the final decision. These areas are known as wilderness study areas.

It is this authority that Ms. Norton said she did not want and that Mr. Salazar should promptly reclaim.

Las Cruces Bulletin: A hidden gem in the Organs


The Las Cruces Bulletin

Land and resource management goes hand in hand with economic development, according to a group of panelists who visited from across the West to speak at the “Wilderness Economics” forum Saturday, Dec. 5, at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.

More than 150 business persons, members of the community and area legislators came out to learn about capitalizing on the economic opportunity of the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks-Wilderness Act, legislation introduced to Congress in September by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman aimed at protecting more than 350,000 acres of wilderness from development in Doña Ana and Luna counties.

The forum, sponsored by the Hispano Chamber of Commerce de Las Cruces, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and the High Tech Consortium of Southern New Mexico, featured a variety of speakers, including representatives from the Headwaters Economic Institute, Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Sierra Business Council and the New Mexico Department of Tourism, among others.

“The Organ Mountains identify us as a community insouthern New Mexico,” said John Muñoz, Hispano Chamber board member. “When entrepreneurs and environmentalists can get together to collaborate on creating jobs, that’s a wonderful thing.”

An evolving role

Ben Alexander, associate director of the Headwaters Economic Institute, a nonprofit research group based in Bozeman, Mont., said historically public lands have been tied to economy prosperity.

“When we think about the economic history of public lands we think of food, shelter, forage and clothing for our pioneers and settlers,” he said. “And subsequently, those lands have generated a tremendous amount of wealth for our communitiestoday.” He said commodity-based uses directly tied to public lands have been diminishing in importance for years, and dramatically so in the last several decades, accounting for less than 10 percent of total personal income in the rural West. One of the best ways to make the lands profitable, he said, is to protect them so that they can provide the scenery, weather, amenities and recreation to make Las Cruces an “attractive” place to do business.

It’s hard to imagine a plume of black smoke wrapped around the peaks of the Organs or toxic sludge dripping from the canyons in the Robledos, but protection is not just about keeping developers at bay, he said, but about keeping wilderness areas pristine to attract newcomers.

“The money is in people bringing businesses with them or starting businesses in the place they choose to live,” he said. “Having amenities is important to economic development in the West.”

Alexander continued by saying that according to a survey of population growth and total income in the rural West using economic data from the past 30 years, communities that are adjacent to public lands significantly outperform those without.

“It’s not prohibiting uses on public lands that cuts out economic opportunity,” he said. “We now find that eroding national character erodes our competitive position.”

Enchantment now comes in green

Jennifer Hobson, deputy cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Department of Tourism, told attendees that Doña Ana and Luna counties could soon benefit from a statedeveloped program to bring more “eco-tourists” to the state, those looking to spend “big bucks.”

“This (project) has garnered support from a great number of industry leaders as well as legislators and the governor,” she said. “We are the only new initiative in the 2009 legislative session that received funding. It will put us on the map as one of the top eco-tourism destinations in the world.”

The initiative is based on eco-tourism, a nature-based form of specialty travel defined as responsible tourism to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well being of local communities, she said.

Specifically, Hobson said as part of the project, the state will set up a series of tented camps across New Mexico in key wilderness areas for visitors to follow and explore.

“Think of it as a domestic safari experience,” she said. “We have a great opportunity to capitalize on this trend and travel in the tourism industry.”

She said southern New Mexico’s cultural heritage, history and scenic beauty is a prime place to set up a seriesSierra Business Council President Steve Firsch tells attendees about the economic benefits of public lands.

of camps, hopefully attracting thousands to the area each year.

“People don’t want the sand and sun experience anymore,” she said. “When they travel, they want to have an authentic experience.”

The state’s tourism department, in partnership with the Santa Fe-based company Eco-New Mexico, will work throughout 2010 to make the camps a reality and market them across the country and world, she said.

It’s OK to brag

Kim O’Donohue, executive director of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce in Wyoming, offered the public a variety of ways to market Las Cruces to outdoor buffs.

“First, it’s important that you decide your community character. Really think about what kind of character you want to protect in terms of your community, people, economy and your environment,” he said.

Jackson Hole, which sits in a 6,000-foot altitude valley encompassed by the Teton Mountains and boasts 97 percent of public land within its county, relies heavily on the outdoor recreation industry and has built a very strong economy by banking on its natural assets, O’Donohue said.

“Without these lands our community would not have the economy it does now,” he said.

Much of the tourist attention comes from self-promotion and marketing, he added.

“Brag, be out there with your message,” he said. “Anything that elicits a feeling, there is power to that place. What is the power of your place? It’s not just the natural environment, but your community. That has been central in organizing a brand for us.”

Tying it all together

Steve Firsch, president of the Sierra Business Council, who represents more than 800 businesses in an economically troubled inner-mountain region of the Sierra Nevada in California, said stepping away from commodity-based wilderness economics and turning to sustainable business practices has helped his community weather the latest recession.

“The bottom line is, where are the jobs? If the employment in the region is based solely on low-wage jobs, then we’re not going to be able to make the case that land and resource restoration should be an economic priority,” he said. “Focus on cultivating innovation, spurring entrepreneurship, supporting the social fabric of the community and preserving a sense of place.”

He said success cannot be attained unless economic, social and community capital work to support each other.

“You need to be inclusive, respectful, you need to look beyond your own point of view,” he said. “These things are critical to success.”

Entrepreneurship and innovation related to public land use will attract new business, he said.

Some forms of generating new revenue or creating new industry in the area, he said, are to focus on existing land use such as crop production and livestock management.

“Crops are a big piece of the value of your land, you want to keep that going,” he said. “Another opportunity might be biomass utilization, using waste products from crop production like we use timber in our region for biomass energy. Or it might be livestock production, and tying that to creating a market of local food production.”

He said creating a local food network could build a job market to support it.

“Then there’s renewable energy production, crop subsidies and recreational uses,” he said. “It’s about looking at land management and tying economic opportunity and benefit at every level of he planning stage.”

Among the legislators in attendance Saturday were state Rep. Jeff Steinborn, state Sen. Steve Fischmann and City Councillors Nathan Small and Gill Sorg. Udall and Bingaman, who were scheduled to speak at the forum, were unable to attend and instead sent a televised message voicing their support for the forum’s sponsors and for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act.

New Mexico Is a Leader in Protecting Wilderness

Albuquerque Journal

Friday, November 13, 2009

By Nathan Newcomer
Associate Director, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance

“Land of Enchantment” was added to New Mexico’s license plates in 1941, a nickname that beautifully captures the diversity and richness of our state — the richness of our history and many cultures and the incredible diversity of our landscapes and ecosystems.

For decades now, those we New Mexicans elect to represent us in Congress have been working to gain the strongest possible protections for the wildest, most natural areas on the public lands across our state: legal protection as wilderness.

We recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of one important step in this work, for it was on Oct. 30, 1984, that President Ronald Reagan signed the “San Juan Basin Wilderness Protection Act” into law. That law is notable as the first to extend legal protection under the Wilderness Act to lands in our state administered by the Bureau of Land Management — what is now the nearly 40,000-acre Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, an eerie, almost otherworldly landscape of badlands in San Juan County.

New Mexicans have long played leading roles in shaping America’s national policy to preserve wilderness areas. Eighty-five years ago this past summer Aldo Leopold, then an official in the Albuquerque regional office of the U.S. Forest Service, successfully advocated establishment of the world’s first wilderness area — the Gila Wilderness near Silver City.

Our longtime U.S. senator, Clinton P. Anderson, became the lead sponsor of the 1964 Wilderness Act, the historic act of Congress that established our national policy for wilderness protection. Forty-five years ago this past September, Anderson stood behind President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Rose Garden as he signed the Wilderness Act. Nearby was the lead sponsor of the legislation in the House of Representatives, Rep. John P. Saylor from Pennsylvania.

The 1984 law that extended Wilderness Act protection to the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness continued that bipartisan tradition, supported by our senators from both political parties — then-Sen. Pete Domenici and Sen. Jeff Bingaman. In the House, the lead sponsor was then-Rep. Bill Richardson, and the author of the consensus version in the committee process was then-Rep. Manuel Lujan, who later served as Secretary of the Interior.

All this New Mexico wilderness history illustrates important facts about how we go about protecting wilderness areas in this country. First, the lands that are designated as wilderness are federal lands. Second, these decisions are made by Congress, in a process that gives greatest weight to the views of the members of Congress from the state involved. Third, these decisions are wide open to public suggestions, which may come through planning processes of the agency administering the lands involved or, of course, as input from ordinary citizens like you or me to those who represent us in Congress. Not everyone may agree with any particular decision, but all have every opportunity to have their opinions heard.

The history of the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness demonstrates another feature of our national wilderness preservation policy: the provision that existing livestock grazing within these areas by neighboring ranchers shall continue.

As Anderson assured, that use was protected in the words of the Wilderness Act itself, and has been similarly protected as Congress designates additional areas as wilderness. That was done, for example, for the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness.

New Mexico now has a number of wilderness areas on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, including our state’s newest, the Sabinoso Wilderness, which was established by Congress earlier this year. And a number of new wilderness areas on such lands will be protected under current legislation championed by Bingaman and Sen. Tom Udall as part of larger conservation proposals to the El Rio Grande del Norte region northeast of Taos and major areas in Doña Ana County outside Las Cruces.

These wilderness areas are an anchor of wildness, each important in the larger fabric of conservation that protects what is so special about our Land of Enchantment for future generations.