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Public News Service-NM: January 10, 2011
No More “Selling Off” Federal Wild Lands in NM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Federal lands in New Mexico will be a little harder to “sell off.” That’s the positive review from conservation and sporting groups in the state of new rules recently announced by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offices now have the authority to protect some federal land as “wild,” even if Congress has not officially designated it as wilderness.

Jeremy Vesbach, director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, believes the idea wouldn’t even be controversial, if not for a small but influential group of opponents in Washington, D.C.

“These are legislators who have been there for a long time, and really, I think, have lost touch with the values of the real life of the average Westerner – where we enjoy our public lands – and they go so far as wanting to just outright sell ’em off.”

Opponents of the new rules say they give local BLM offices too much power to limit uses such as off-road vehicle access and energy exploration. Vesbach points out that many of the areas the BLM could consider as “wild” are also important to New Mexico’s watersheds.

Mike Matz, Durango, Colo., heads the Pew Campaign for America’s Wilderness. He says the policy will not allow the BLM to make new wilderness designations – Congress is still the only entity that can do that. But he points out that it allows some interim protection for potential wilderness, until lawmakers get around to considering it – which could take years.

“This is not top-down at all. This is coming from the bottom up, here. This is district-by-district, region-by-region, state-by-state. At every step of the way, local folks are given the opportunity to participate in the process.”

The Salazar initiative reinstates rules that had been in place until 2003, when an out-of-court settlement between the Bush Administration and the BLM prevented the agency from considering an area’s wilderness potential in its management plans.

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