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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.

Announcement that Rio Grande del Norte To Become a National Monument is Cheered by the Local Community

For Immediate Release
March 22, 2013

Contact: John Olivas 505-379-5551
Tisha Broska 505-843-8696

TAOS, N.M., March 21, 2013 –—President Obama today announced his intent to designate the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico on Monday, protecting some 240,000 acres in Taos County, including the Taos Plateau, Ute Mountain, and the Rio Grande Gorge.

“We are thrilled that President Obama will use his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate Rio Grande del Norte as a protected area, keeping it free of development,” said John Olivas, Traditional Community Organizer for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “Many generations have enjoyed and lived off this landscape, and today President Obama has ensured the local community that this special place will stay as it is for our children, grandchildren, and those who follow.”

The Rio Grande River that encompasses the RGDN area was protected in 1968 under the National Wild and Scenic River System and this new layer of protection as a National Monument adds security to the land surrounding the river. The designation also safeguards hunting, fishing, grazing, wood gathering, and herb/piñon gathering.

Over the last two decades, supporters—including grazing permittees, Taos Pueblo leadership, land grant heirs, acequia parciantes and mayordomos, local businesses, elected officials and a host of individual supporters—have urged the New Mexico federal delegation to move forward to protect this landscape as a legislative National Conservation Area. Today, under the authority of the Antiquities Act, President Obama has made Rio Grande del Norte a protected landscape.

On December 15, 2012, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar visited Taos County and held a town hall event to seek input from a standing-room-only group of supporters that unanimously asked Salazar to recommend to President Obama that a Rio Grande del Norte National Monument be created.

“This national monument designation will serve as a fitting legacy to retired Senator Jeff Bingaman, a champion for conservation in New Mexico,” Olivas said. “He introduced legislation to safeguard this area years ago, and worked diligently with his colleagues to move it through Congress.” Representative Ben Ray Luján and Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich backed Bingaman’s efforts through the years, in an attempt to preserve the land in its natural state. “We are grateful for the swift action of President Obama to allow us to pass down this land and our traditions to future generations.”

Esther Garcia, president of San Antonio del Rio Colorado Land Grant and mayor of the Village of Questa, said the preservation of traditional rights outlined in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is an important feature of the new monument. Mayor Garcia has also been invited to attend the White House ceremony next week.

“Those of us with deep roots here appreciate that this designation will preserve grazing within the national monument area and specifically protects our right to hunt, fish and collect piñon nuts and firewood,” Garcia said. ”It will direct the Bureau of Land Management to protect the cultural, natural and scenic resources in the area, and protects rights granted under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Monument designation ensures that these ancestral lands will remain for future generations to use and enjoy.”

Designation as a national monument is broadly backed by Taos County Commission, Taos Village Council, Taos Pueblo, Taos Chamber of Commerce, Taos Green Chamber, Taos Ski Valley, Village of Red River and more than 100 local businesses that recognize the importance monument designation has to local economies. Traditional users of the land such as hunters, fishermen, land grants, acequias, grazing permittees and tribal citizens all support President Obama’s historic move to protect the RGDN.

The southern New Mexico community cheered the announcement that Rio Grande del Norte will be protected as a national monument designation, while also urging similar action for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in Doña Ana County. Las Cruces Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Thomas pointed out that the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region enjoys overwhelming support from local businesses, sportsmen, cultural organizations and local governments.

“Thank you for announcing that the Rio Grande del Norte will soon become a national monument, President Obama. What Rio Grande del Norte is to northern New Mexico, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks are to southern New Mexico,” Thomas said. “We hope you will also consider the same protection for southern New Mexico’s iconic Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, where unique Chihuahuan Desert wild lands possess rich American history including the Butterfield Stagecoach Trail, Apollo Space Mission training sites, and literally thousands of Native American cultural and archeological areas.”

Timeline of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance’s involvement:

2007: NM Wild staff member Jim O’Donnell starts work on the Rio Grande del Norte campaign.
June 2007: Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signs letter of support for the Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area.
2008: NM Wild Traditional Community Organizer John Olivas begins working on the campaign. Olivas quickly gains support of the Northern New Mexico land grant community, which all starts in the living room of Esther Garcia.*
June 2008: Land Grant of San Antonio del Rio Colorado signs a resolution of support.
April 2009: Senator Bingaman introduces El Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area legislation (co-sponsored by Senator Tom Udall)in the Senate on April 23, 2009,
May 2009: Taos and Mora Valley chambers of commerce sign resolutions of support. Taos County Commission passes resolution of support.
May 2010: Congressman Lujan introduces legislation for Rio Grande del Norte NCA and Wilderness (cosponsored by Representative Martin Heinrich) into the House of Representatives on May 18, 2010. .
August 2010: NM Wild arranges for a flyover of the proposal area with media members from the Santa Fe New Mexican, a freelance writer, a member of NM Wild’s WOCLP** program and a Santa Fe County Commissioner. An additional flyover is conducted later that month and includes staff from Congressman Lujan and senators Bingaman and Udall, and Taos County elected officials.
March 2011: New legislation is introduced into the 112th Congress
May 2012: Taos County Commission passes an updated resolution of support.
June 2012: Santa Fe City Council and Taos Ski Valley Inc. pass resolutions of support.
December 2012: Rio Grande del Norte Grazing Permittees sign letter of support.
January 2013: Pueblo of Taos signs resolution of support.

Over 3,000 letters of support have been collected by NM Wild for RGDN.

*Garcia is an 11th generation New Mexican who has been very active in the northern New Mexico community. She is the Chairwoman of the Board of San Antonio Del Rio Colorado Land Grant, and is Commissioner for the Cabresto Lake Irrigation Community Ditch Association and is very active with the New Mexico Acequia Association. She is currently the Mayor of Questa. The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance would like to thank Garcia for all that she has done to support our efforts for Rio Grande del Norte.

** Olivas started the Wilderness Outdoor Connection Leadership Program (WOCLP) to work with youth in Mora and Questa in May 2008. The program began to help foster the next generation of conservation advocates in northern New Mexico. Students assisted in obtaining skills around grass roots organizing, working with federal delegation and their staff to create federal law and visited the campaign area, specifically Ute Mountain, Wild Rivers Recreation Area and the Rio Grande Gorge.

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.


Website Launched to Celebrate Wilderness 50th Anniversary

For Immediate Release
March 19, 2013

Contact: Lisa Eidson
Wilderness50 Media/Publicity Chair
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone: 406-396-3607

The 50th Anniversary National Wilderness Planning Team (Wilderness50) is pleased to announce the launch of http://www.wilderness50th.org, a new website dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. “Having a website of its own will give Wilderness50 and all the exciting preparations for the 50th anniversary of our wilderness system a much more immediate and vibrant appeal to folks around the country,” said Vicky Hoover, Wilderness50 co-chair and longtime wilderness advocate and volunteer.

The website honors 50 years of preservation, use and enjoyment of wilderness by:

  • Cataloging all local, regional, and national 50th anniversary events, meetings, programs, and projects occurring between now and 2014 and dedicated to raising awareness of wilderness. As event planning escalates this year, event hosts and organizers are encouraged to enter their events onto the map and calendar.
  • Providing resources and materials for people and organizations interested in hosting or organizing 50th anniversary local community events. Possible events can include Walks for Wilderness; outings and service trips; museum, airport, or visitor center exhibits; speakers; interpretive programs; trainings or workshops; photography or writing contests; art shows; music or dance programs; book or poetry readings; stewardship projects and more.
  • Providing information about the National Wilderness Conference, to be held October 15-19, 2014 in Albuquerque, NM. This event will be Wilderness50’s premier forum for discussing the growing challenges of perpetuating the values of wilderness in a time of unprecedented environmental and social change.

Please join Wilderness50 in celebrating “50 Years of American Wilderness” by visiting http://www.wilderness50th.org. Enter your email address on the home page to sign up for future key 50th updates.

Wilderness50 is a coalition of more than 25 non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and government agencies that is planning and implementing local, regional, and national events and projects. This coalition is charged with raising public awareness of wilderness and engaging youth during 2014, the 50th anniversary year. Our nation’s wilderness system was established in 1964 for the use and enjoyment of the American people and provides many direct and in-direct benefits, such as those relating to ecological, geological, scientific, educational, scenic, spiritual, economic, recreational, historical, and cultural uses and activities.  The 758 wilderness areas that exist today are managed by all four federal land managing agencies, the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service. You can learn more about Wilderness50 by visiting our website at http://www.wilderness50th.org or you can follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/50thAnniversaryOfTheWildernessAct and Twitter at http://twitter.com/wild50th.