Monday, June 30, 2008

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Protect N.M. Land and Its Many Uses

By Tom Cooper And Jodi Denning
People For Preserving Our Western Heritage

LAS CRUCES — The Wilderness Act of 1964 provides the framework for the use and management of designated wilderness areas. Wilderness is the most restrictive land use designation available, and one of its most contested aspects is access. Motorized vehicles and even mountain bikes and motorized wheelchairs are prohibited.

The restricted access not only affects the public, but significantly impacts law enforcement, search and rescue and firefighting activities. Wilderness areas close to the border created havens for drug trafficking and other illegal activity; concerns for citizen safety resulted in closure of those areas to the public.

Wilderness also severely limits proactive conservation and stewardship measures for the land and its wildlife. Recreation, outdoor sports and hunting are impacted, and unrealistic burdens are placed on existing ranching operations.

Wilderness designation results in numerous impacts to every individual and organization that utilizes federal land. The designation is one way to “protect” wild areas, but not the only way, as New Mexico Wilderness Alliance would have the public believe.

Our group, People for Preserving Our Western Heritage, developed an alternative proposal to protect these areas that became the basis for HR 6300.

Our objective was to provide a meaningful balance among environmental protection, water resource management, law enforcement, national security, conservation, community development, recreation and respect for private property rights.

The result is the Doña Ana County Planned Growth, Open Space And Rangeland Preservation Act of 2008, introduced by U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M. The People's Proposal would protect 302,000 acres by creating two Special Preservation Areas and four Rangeland Preservation Areas.

These lands could never be sold or exchanged and will be permanently withdrawn from the mining and mineral leasing laws — protection legislatively identical to wilderness designation.

This proposal differs from wilderness designation in that each area would be managed to protect its unique resources. Open space would be preserved and established, and historic uses of the land such as ranching, recreation and hunting would be accommodated.

The lands would be managed in a manner that protects and enhances grazing, recreation, wildlife management and scenic values under multiple-use, while conserving open space and unique resources.

The use of motorized vehicles will be allowed only on designated roads and trails. There would be exceptions as needed for administrative purposes, homeland security, law enforcement, emergency response, construction and maintenance of authorized rainfall runoff management systems or authorized rangeland improvements.
The act incorporates provisions from legislation drafted in 2005 by U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici for a land exchange for NMSU, and for the disposal of federal land identified in the Bureau of Land Management's 1993 plan.

The “People's Proposal” quickly earned significant community support, with a coalition of more than 700 businesses and organizations along with numerous professional endorsements. The concept of tailoring legislation to meet each area's specific needs, addressing identified threats and preserving beneficial historic use has been viewed with great enthusiasm.

The proposal is receiving attention throughout the West, where the never-ending flow of wilderness proposals has created public outcry and legislative logjams. We can protect our land, our natural resources and our open space without federal wilderness designations. This proposal protects not only the land itself, but also the access to the land and the beneficial stewardship and use of the land.

For a copy of the act and more information, visit

Tom Cooper is chairman, and Jodi Denning is communications director, of People For Preserving Our Western Heritage.

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