After a long process, an omnibus wilderness bill that includes a provision to designate more than 16,000 acres of wilderness in New Mexico was finally signed into law by President Barack Obama today in the East Room of the White House.
There are many other parts of the bill that affect New Mexico.
Both senators and all three representatives from New Mexico attended the signing ceremony. Jeff Bingaman sponsored the original Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 and Tom Udall originally wrote the Sabinoso Wilderness Act while in the House. President Joe Shirley of the Navajo Nation also attended the signing, and got a mention from the president.
The bill designates more than 2 million acres of land as wilderness. “Almost as much as was designated over the past eight years combined,” Obama declared.
“Giving this area wilderness status will allow us to showcase and protect another beautiful part New Mexico,” Bingaman said in a statement.
Of the newly designated Sabinoso Wilderness, Udall said, “The preservation of this incredible landscape will now remain for the permanent benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations.”
The new wilderness area will now be open for grazing, hunting and other recreational uses.
Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who replaced Udall when Udall left the House, said, “By protecting and enhancing the natural and cultural resources which are integral to the identity of New Mexico and America, this bill ensures the prolonged existence and availability of forest lands and natural resources for future generations.”
Rep. Harry Teague said, “From the Snowy River Cave in Lincoln County to the prehistoric trackways in the Robledo Mountains in Doña Ana this package of bills provides important protections for some of the natural treasures we have throughout southern New Mexico.”
Rep Martin Heinrich said, “In the West, we know the value of water and the value of the places where we hunt, fish and recreate with our families.”
In addition to the Sabinoso Wilderness Act, there are 11 separate provisions relating to New Mexico in the bill, including the Rio Grande Pueblos Irrigation Infrastructure Improvement Act, the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System Authorization Act, the Navajo-San Juan Indian Water Rights Settlement, the New Mexico Aquifer Assessment Act.
Udall said that he did not do this alone, saying, “The Sabinoso Wilderness is the product of years of work by the entire community, including local leaders, sportsmen, land owners and ranchers.”