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RELEASE: Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Legislation Introduced

For Immediate Release
December 12, 2013

Contact:
Jeff Steinborn, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 575-635-5615

NM Wild applauds Senators Heinrich and Udall for introducing bill that would protect 500,000 acres in Doña Ana County

LAS CRUCES, NM (December 12, 2013) – The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) and its 5,000 members applauded U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall for their Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act. The legislation would protect 500,000 acres of culturally and ecologically rich Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Doña Ana County.

“New Mexico is fortunate to have two senators with such vision and commitment to permanently protecting these very special places,” said Mark Allison, executive director of NM Wild. “The breadth of community support for this legislation is truly inspiring and NM Wild is proud to stand with hunters, faith-based groups, youth organizations, area businesses and our conservation partners to make sure this land secures the protection it deserves. NM Wild and our 5,000 members thank Senators Udall and Heinrich, and stands ready to assist them in any way we can.”

The national monument would include the Organ Mountains, Sierra de las Uvas Mountains Complex, and Greater Potrillo Mountains. Among the wildlife that call this their home are golden eagles, many hawk species, owls, desert mule deer, three quail species, mountain lion, pronghorn, javelina, bobcat, coyote, bats, rock squirrels and other rodents, and numerous other birds.

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks is not just important for its biological features—it also contains important archaeological, geological, and historical sites. Places like Conklin’s Cave in the Organ Mountains and Shelter Cave in the Robledo Mountains have yielded artifacts dating the area’s human history back more than 8,000 years. Archaic petroglyphs in areas like Providence Cone and parts of the Sierra de Las Uvas are tantalizing signs of likely habitation sites that, if properly and respectfully studied, could open new windows into the movements of ancient cultures that called these areas home.

The national monument is broadly backed by the local community—in a recent survey, more than 80 percent of people said they support the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument proposal.

“On the precipice of permanent protection, the community-supported Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument enjoys exciting momentum because of diverse supporters, creative partnerships and its intersection of natural and cultural landscapes,” said Nathan Small, NM Wild wilderness protection coordinator.

Last year, President Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate the 242,455-acre Rio Grande del Norte in Taos County as a National Monument. After more than seven years of working on the campaign, NM Wild is thankful to former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, congressmen Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, and President Obama for their work on the permanent protection of Rio Grande del Norte. NM Wild is also hopeful for a similar fate for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.

“As we celebrate the introduction of this legislation, we invite Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel to visit this land and to walk, see and experience it personally,” said Allison. “We’re confident that she’ll immediately understand why these places need to be protected for future generations.”

For more information about the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks campaign, please visit www.organmountains.org.

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The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) is a non-profit 501(C)(3), grassroots, environmental organization dedicated to the protection, restoration, and continued enjoyment of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. The primary goal of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is to ensure the protection and restoration of all remaining wild lands in New Mexico through administrative designations, federal Wilderness designation, and ongoing stewardship.

Proposed Massive Military Operations on the Cibola National Forest Questioned

For Immediate Release
August 20, 2013

New Mexicans Ask the Federal Government to Consider Alternatives and Engage the Public

For more information, contact:
Judy Calman, Attorney, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, 505-843-8696 x102
Arian Pregenzer, Affected Landowner, 505-620-1591
Michael Casaus, The Wilderness Society, 505-417-5288

Albuquerque, NM – Today, local residents, forest users, and other stakeholders asked the federal government to consider alternatives to its proposal to expand military operations on the Cibola National Forest in the Bear Mountains, north of Magdalena in Socorro County. The Forest Service is proposing to allow the military to conduct training exercises on national forest lands for possibly the next twenty years, and maybe longer. The training exercises would entail 4,378 flights and 26,230 maneuvers each year. This involves helicopter takeoffs and landings, flying in closed patterns over large areas, hovering just a couple of hundred feet off of the ground, and dropping of personnel or equipment. Additionally, ground operations are proposed, which include the firing of pyrotechnics such as simulated surface to air missiles, ground bursts, flares, and smoke grenades – all on public land.

The proposed location includes part of a Forest Service Roadless Area, and provides in island of wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities. It is home to a variety of wildlife, including burrowing owls, mule deer, desert big horn sheep, black bear and elk.

“I understand that the military must train its personnel, but simply can’t understand why the Defense Department doesn’t use its own land for this important mission, given that there are over 3 million acres of military lands in New Mexico set aside for this very purpose,” wondered Arian Pregenzer, a nearby landowner. Kirtland AFB, Holloman AFB, White Sands Missile Range, and Fort Bliss control nearly 5,500 square miles in New Mexico – about the size of Connecticut.

“With so much land under its control, surely the military can find a few hundred acres to use for this training,” concluded Pregenzer. “Yet the proposal does not even consider the option of conducting training exercises on military land.”

In a letter to the Forest Service conservation groups including New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Backcountry Horsemen of New Mexico, Sierra Club, New Mexico Sportsmen, and The Wilderness Society, asked the agency to consider alternatives that would provide training opportunities and better protect the National Forest and its wildlife. This includes considering an alternative that would site the military training exercises on military lands.

The letter also asked the Forest Service to extend the comment period because 30 days was too short a time for anyone to read and absorb the 700+ page proposal. Lastly, the groups requested that the Forest Service hold public meetings to provide additional opportunities for stakeholders to learn about and comment on the proposal, since few nearby landowners were aware of the proposed military operations. Yesterday, the Forest Service refused these written requests.

“Twenty years of intense military operations on our national forest land is a big deal,” exclaimed Judy Calman of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “It certainly deserves a conversation with nearby residents and forest stakeholders, and a more thoughtful analysis.”

For more information, see http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/fs-usda-pop.php?project=5375. In particular, see the summary tables and maps in the Environmental Assessment Volume 1, Chapters 2 and 3.

Columbine Hondo is key step closer to protection

For Immediate Release
November 22, 2013

Contact:
John Olivas, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 505-379-5551

NM Wild applauds U.S. Senate committee for taking up locally supported bill

TAOS, NM (November 20, 2013) – The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) applauded the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining for holding a hearing on the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act (S. 776). The legislation would protect 45,000 acres of incredible wildlife habitat, an important source of clean water, and a prized hunting and fishing destination.

The Act was introduced by Senator Tom Udall and co-sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (NM-3) introduced a House companion (H.R. 1683) that is co-sponsored by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-1).

“It’s amazing how a diverse community in Taos County has come together to speak to protect the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area,” said John Olivas, traditional community organizer for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “The legislation would protect 45,000 acres of land in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Northern New Mexico.”

On the heels of a newly designated Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, a diverse group of Taos County citizens has asked the New Mexico federal delegation to protect the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area as true wilderness. The coalition working on the Columbine Hondo and Rio Grande del Norte campaigns has been recognized by our federal delegation as a model for conservation campaigns throughout the country.

“Taos County has unique and diverse groups of individuals and organizations who have stepped up to ask our federal delegation to move to protect this valuable resource,” said Olivas. “S776 does exactly that, by protecting the land, water and providing an economic engine for Taos County.”

Just north of Taos, the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area (WSA) is the last remaining portion of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to be designated as wilderness. It is crowned by 13 miles of high alpine ridges and peaks that tower above 11,000 feet, including its highest point, Gold Hill at 12,711 feet elevation.

Columbine Hondo is home to elk, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mountain lions, black bear, pine marten, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout. This area is a significant clean water source for the central Rio Grande Corridor of New Mexico, supplying water to two of the larger Rio Grande tributaries – the Red River and the Rio Hondo. The water safeguarded in the Columbine Hondo area supplies many Acequias used by the local agricultural community.

“Water is life here in New Mexico, and Columbine Hondo protects two of the Rio Grande largest tributaries,” said Esther Garcia, President of San Antonio Del Rio Colorado Land Grant and Mayor of the Village of Questa. “We are grateful that Senators Udall and Heinrich recognize the importance of this area for our traditional agricultural communities, and have acted to safeguard our culture and well-being.”

Congress formally recognized the wilderness values and character of the Columbine Hondo area in 1980 and gave it interim protection as a WSA. Designation as wilderness is the highest form of protection, and bars any development. Former Senator Jeff Bingaman introduced legislation to protect Columbine Hondo in the 112th Congress, but it stalled, along with dozens of other conservation bills.

NM Wild and the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition are hopeful that Congress follows Sen. Udall and Heinrich’s lead and protects New Mexico’s wilderness.

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The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild)  is a non-profit 501(C)(3), grassroots, environmental organization dedicated to the protection, restoration, and continued enjoyment of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. The primary goal of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is to ensure the protection and restoration of all remaining wild lands in New Mexico through administrative designations, federal Wilderness designation, and ongoing stewardship.

 

Mora County Becomes the First County in the United States to Permanently Ban the Extraction of Oil and Gas

For Immediate Release

Strips oil and gas corporations of the rights of “persons”

Mora County (4/29/2013) – On April 29th, at a special meeting called by the Mora County Board of Commissioners to vote on a “Community Bill of Rights,” Mora became the first County in the United States to permanently ban the extraction of oil and gas.

For years, Mora County has been threatened by “hydro-fracking,” along with other forms of oil and gas extraction. After enacting a temporary moratorium on oil and gas drilling, the County Commissioners adopted a local bill of rights that permanently bans the extraction of oil and gas within the County. In doing so, they follow the lead of over three dozen municipalities on the East Coast – including the City of Pittsburgh – who have adopted local bills of rights to ban “fracking” and other extraction.

The Community Bill of Rights – known as the “Mora County Community Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance” – establishes the right of Mora residents to unpolluted water for agriculture, the right to a sustainable and renewable energy future, and the right to self-government. It also recognizes that ecosystems and natural communities – that could be damaged by oil and gas extraction – have a right to exist and flourish. It then prohibits corporations from extracting hydrocarbons, engaging in the sale of water for energy extraction, or constructing pipelines or other infrastructure to distribute oil and gas.

To protect the enforceability of the ordinance, the law also refuses to recognize that oil and gas corporations possess constitutional and other legal rights within the County of Mora, nullifies state and federal permits issued in violation of the ordinance, and imposes strict liability on corporations engaged in oil and gas operations in neighboring municipalities.

John Olivas, the Chairman of the Mora County Commissioners, declared, “It’s time for all communities to do what we’ve done – announce the end to extractive activities that threaten our land, our water, and our way of life. If the federal and state government won’t do it, we must. The people and lands of our own communities must come first, not the profits of gas and oil corporations.”

Alfonso Griego, the Vice Chairman of the Mora County Commissioners, explained, “We’re prepared to fight for this ordinance – it’s the only thing standing in the way of the oil and gas corporations. Redefining the rights and powers of those corporations – so that our residents have more rights than corporate decisionmakers – is an essential part of our local Bill of Rights.”

Olivas and Griego both called on the New Mexico legislature to adopt a bill that would protect New Mexico Counties that adopt similar legislation. A new organization, the New Mexico Coalition for Community Rights (NMCCR), was created last year by residents of several communities across the state to support that effort.

 

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