SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have just reintroduced two bills to designate sections of two national monuments as wilderness areas to protect them from future development.
The bills would extend wilderness protections to parts of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument and the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument. Longtime sportsman Max Trujillo said the designation would give the lands an added layer of protection at a time when some in Congress want to transfer control of large amounts of federal public land to the states.
“In all of the proposed legislation for public lands transfer, either to the state or to private holdings, wilderness areas have been excluded from those transfers or exchanges,” Trujillo said.
Wilderness protection would forbid vehicles or any mechanized travel in the area, thus creating a more serene natural experience.
Similar bills have been introduced three times since 2009. Opponents argue that states should have more control over the public lands within their borders.
Carrie Hamblen, president and CEO of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, said she worries that if the state of New Mexico gets hold of federal public lands, it would sell them off or allow for more oil and gas drilling in order to plug the state budget deficit.
“The last thing I would want to see is an oil rig or development out in these public spaces that are so critical to our local communities,” Hamblen said. “In Las Cruces, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, we’ve seen a 102 percent increase in visitation to our community and to those national monuments.”
Of the land in question, 80 percent is already managed with conservation in mind as part of wilderness study areas.
Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.