By Mark Allison | Santa Fe New Mexican

Generalizing public lands protection as a death knell for ranchers is not an accurate representation of the facts regarding Wilderness in America — the online headline was, “50 years later, Wilderness Act divides ranchers and environmentalists,” (“Wilderness Act hits 50-year milestone,” Sept. 3).

Neither is claiming “environmentalists” and “ranchers” are irrevocably divided due to the passing of the Wilderness Act in America 50 years ago. The Wilderness Act anniversary story is much more interesting and nuanced than that.

Ranchers, scientists, sportsmen and citizen conservationists are not divided in their love of the land. And we’re not destined to be divided about wise land use. The Wilderness Act laid down principles of protection for very special public lands because Americans cared about their survivability in a modern and complex world.

As I meet with people across our beautiful state, I hear much more that unites us as New Mexicans than divides us. I hear people express their love of the land, the obligation to be good stewards of our natural heritage and the desire to preserve a way of life for our children. I also hear concerns about jobs and the economy, and values such as freedom and access.

We might not always define these issues identically, but virtually without exception I hear agreement that there are certain places that are so special that they deserve to be permanently protected. With about 2 percent of our state designated as wilderness and a number of roadless areas of wilderness quality lands under threat of being lost forever, we will continue to fight for their protection.

But instead of allowing ourselves to be divided by sensational headlines or used by certain elected officials who gin up anger and fear with misrepresentations, we at the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance are willing to sit down with anyone at any time to listen, to share our views and to find those areas where we have both literal and figurative common ground as neighbors and as proud New Mexicans.

Mark Allison is the executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild), a statewide grass-roots advocacy organization dedicated to protecting New Mexico’s threatened wilderness areas. NM Wild has thousands of members throughout New Mexico and staff based in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Mora, Las Cruces and Silver City.

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