PEARCE INTRODUCES LAND PROTECTION MEASURE
Plan based on community input, would result in a balanced approach
For Immediate Release
June 27, 2008
Contact: Brian Phillips
Washington - Congressman Steve Pearce, on June 18, 2008 introduced legislation to create special designations for land that balance open space preservation with other needs of the surrounding community. The Dona Ana County Planned Growth, Open Space And Rangeland Preservation Act of 2008 (HR 6300) would create four Rangeland Preservation Areas and two Special Preservation Areas that permanently protect open space and ensure appropriate access for public safety and other purposes.
"The issues are complex, and we have worked diligently to find a middle ground that is acceptable on all sides of the issue," said Pearce, a former small businessman. Over 700 businesses and organizations have formed a Coalition supporting this proposal. We believe it offers a compromise that would greatly benefit southern New Mexico and has great potential across the western states struggling with these issues for providing appropriate protection without creating unnecessary hardships on surrounding communities."
The debate over public lands legislation has helped to raise local citizens awareness of the importance of preserving open space and providing protection for our natural resources. Congressman Pearce has closely followed the debate that has surfaced with the competing proposals.
While many question the qualification of the lands in Dona Ana County, New Mexico under the standards established by the Wilderness Act of 1964, it is clear the community stands in solid agreement that these areas are worthy of protection from encroaching development as well as from mining and mineral leasing. The community has expressed concerns about the impact of Wilderness access restrictions on law enforcement, search and rescue operations, fire fighting, and flood control projects, as well as access for sportsmen, hunters, horseback riders and other recreationalists. The development community raised concerns about impacts on community growth. The ranching community raised concerns about their economic viability when faced with impacts from management and administration practices typically imposed within Wilderness areas.
Concerns expressed by Border Patrol organizations about impacts to Homeland Security operations raise serious issues that impact every citizen. Richard Hayes, retired Chief of Air Operations for the Border Patrol, expressed his concerns by stating "The current effort to create Wilderness along the border in Dona Ana County and ultimately the expansion of such activities along the extended border is dangerous and ill conceived."
Specifically, the legislation will allow appropriate access for recreational use of the land, such as hunting, camping, and bicycling, as well as unrestricted access for law enforcement and public safety officials. It also will benefit the economies of surrounding communities by allowing a local advisory board to participate in and provide input into the existing land disposal process managed by the Bureau of Land Management. A portion of the proceeds from sale of federal lands would be directed back into the local community. It should be noted that the Act deals only with disposal lands already identified by BLM in its 1993 Mimbres Area Resource Management Plan. The Act does not identify additional lands for disposal, and sets no timetable for disposals. Disposals will be based on the needs of the community, with input from a seven-member advisory committee consisting of a representative from the BLM, Dona Ana County, City of Las Cruces, conservationists, Elephant Butte Irrigation District, ranching, and the business community.
The legislation will provide protection and preservation of the federal lands with a model which tailors the level of protection and access based on the specific requirements for the areas and the needs of the community. The existing temporary Wilderness Study Areas can be released because appropriate protection measures will be in place.
Congressman Pearces legislation is an innovative approach blending sensible and appropriate levels of protection for our natural resources, balanced with protection of property rights, appropriate levels of access for the public and law enforcement, and continued beneficial use of these areas.
Additional Reference material:
A 2004 US General Accounting Office (GAO) Report titled "Border Security - Agencies Need to Better Coordinate Their Strategies and Operations on Federal Lands", states: "Congress has designated areas within some federal lands as wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964 and subsequent legislation, while the Fish and Wildlife Service has designated certain areas as critical habitat for endangered and threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Federal law enforcement officers told us that these designations can hinder their efforts. For example, motorized vehicles must generally remain on designated roads in wilderness areas, and the Wilderness Act generally prohibits construction of permanent structures such as communications towers in wilderness areas."