By Scott Turner | Albuquerque Journal
February 26, 2019
Almost 275,000 acres in New Mexico would be designated a wilderness area under a public lands package passed by the U.S. House on Tuesday night.
Two of the wilderness areas designated by the National Resources Management Act are within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, while 10 areas are within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
The two areas within Rio Grande del Norte National Monument are the Cerro del Yuta (Ute Mountain) and Rio San Antonio. The package also includes the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Area comprising approximately 7,242 acres and a 2,250-acre expansion of the existing Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area near the Four Corners region. A total of 273,000 acres were designated wilderness areas in the state.
All three U.S. Representatives from New Mexico – Deb Haaland, Xochitl Torres Small and Ben Ray Luján – voted in favor of the package, which now goes to President Donald Trump for consideration. It passed the House by a 363-62 vote.
“The Public Lands Package is clearly in line with our values to protect our natural heritage, our resources, and ensuring future generations can enjoy the places we hold dear in New Mexico. My vote in support of the Public Lands Package will reflect these values while standing with the 99,000 New Mexicans employed in the outdoor recreation economy,” Haaland said in a statement.
Haaland said on the House floor that the package would help the state “address the challenges of climate change.”
The package had the support of U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall. Both crafted parts of the legislation, as did Haaland. The package of bills originated in the Senate, where it passed 92-8.
Heinrich and Udall supported the provision to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which they said invested more than $312 million in New Mexico to protect public lands and open spaces, and increase recreational opportunities across the state, helping to bolster a $9.9 billion outdoor recreation industry.
“Authorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund will help ensure that New Mexicans have access to safe drinking water, and our rivers, lakes and streams are protected for us all,” Luján said. “I’m also incredibly proud to have helped shepherd the passage of the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act, which ensures that two of New Mexico’s most stunning landscapes are protected for future generations.”
Included in the package was the Every Kid Outdoors Act, a bill co-sponsored by Heinrich and Sen. Lamar Alexander. Torres Small was also a sponsor in the House. It will provide America’s fourth-graders and their families free entrance to America’s public lands, waters and historic sites, including national parks. The package also reauthorizes the Rio Puerco Watershed Management Program, which facilitates federal and state agencies, tribal communities and local communities working together to reduce sediment and control erosion on the watershed.
“We are ecstatic that some of New Mexico’s best remaining wild places are one step closer to permanent protection so that future generations can experience the richness of our shared cultural and natural heritage” said Mark Allison, executive director of New Mexico Wild.