Published: Thursday, 28 February 2019 15:29
By Rebecca Moss | Santa Fe New Mexican
February 12, 2019
A sweeping public lands conservation package that passed the U.S. Senate on Tuesday with overwhelming support from both parties would establish 13 new wilderness areas in New Mexico, the largest land designation in a single year since 1980.
The Natural Resources Management Act, including 170 bills with provisions reaching into every state, passed on a vote of 92-8.
Together, the measures would permanently reauthorize the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund — which draws revenues for conservation efforts from offshore oil and gas drilling — and protect 1.3 million acres as wilderness, including more than 270,000 acres in New Mexico within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in Doña Ana County and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County.
The wilderness designation, which prohibits roads and motorized vehicles, would still allow for recreation, hunting, livestock grazing and law enforcement.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said in a news release that the Land and Water Conservation Fund has “invested over $312 million to help protect our most cherished public lands, spur job creation and fuel our $9.9 billion outdoor recreation economy, a key economic driver in the state that employs 99,000 New Mexicans.”
The public lands package has broad support in the House of Representatives, where it faces a vote after the mid-February recess, and White House officials have indicated the president will sign it, according to the Washington Post.
Wilderness preservation has been the subject of ongoing conflict between Democrats and the Trump administration. Environmentalists feared early in President Donald Trump’s term that his administration would reduce wilderness designations in New Mexico, but that didn’t happen.
Conservation advocates hailed the bipartisan effort.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled that these special places are one step closer to being protected in their wild and natural states, providing New Mexicans and all Americans with ample opportunities to escape to the outdoors,” said Mark Allison, executive director of New Mexico Wild, in a news release Tuesday.
“Given that New Mexico is home to the nation’s first designated wilderness area, it is gratifying to see that tradition of conservation and responsible stewardship of our public lands continue,” he said.
According to the organization, polls conducted in 2016 showed 78 percent of residents in Doña Ana County support wilderness protections in Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and that 93 percent of registered voters in Taos County believe wilderness is important to them.
Udall’s news release said lodgers tax revenue in Taos increased by 21 percent a year after designation of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. “In addition,” the statement said, “gross-receipts revenue to businesses in Taos County in the accommodations and food service sector rose 8.3 percent in the second half of 2013 compared with the same period in 2012.”
The public land measures that passed Tuesday, and earlier iterations, have faced strong support and sponsorship from New Mexico Democrats in Congress, including former Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who introduced legislation in 2009 to create wilderness in Doña Ana County.
A provision in the Natural Resources Management Act would permanently designate watershed management in the Rio Puerco Basin, which spans 4.7 million acres in New Mexico. This would continue collaborative effort to restore wetlands areas by resolving flood damage, controlling erosion and increasing vegetation.
A 12-year-old management program for the Rio Puerco Basin, critical for flow into the Middle Rio Grande Basin, was set to expire in March.
The provision to maintain the program was introduced by Udall and fellow U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich.
“By the end of the last century, decades of poor land management and pollution combined with highly erodible soils created immense difficulties all along the Rio Puerco floodplain,” Heinrich, D-N.M., said in a statement.
“With a collaborative, comprehensive approach,” Heinrich added, “it is possible to make real progress in restoring the land and water in this watershed that is so central to communities in Western New Mexico.”
This article first appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Published: Tuesday, 22 January 2019 14:01
BY Mark Allison | New Mexico Wild Executive Director
As I write, we are now in the longest government shutdown in American history.
A recent study by WalletHub determined that New Mexico has been hit harder by the federal government shutdown than any other state. The shutdown is particularly problematic for the state’s outdoor recreation economy, which generates $9.9 billion in consumer spending annually and directly employs 99,000 New Mexicans.
New Mexico’s public lands are threatened by this shutdown, as is the public’s safety. The reduced or absent oversight and law enforcement increases the likelihood of incidences of vandalism, destruction of historic and cultural resources, and harm to fragile ecosystems. New Mexicans are rightly concerned and saddened by this. They are also upset that their access to public lands is being limited. This predictable reaction underscores how much we as New Mexicans value our natural heritage and our public lands.
Some public lands in New Mexico remain open during the shutdown, yet those that are managed by federal agencies, such as the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), are severely understaffed due to employee furloughs, meaning the agencies cannot provide the usual level of service and oversight.
Additionally, we have launched a government shutdown website the public can use as a resource to stay up to date on how the shutdown is affecting New Mexico’s public lands. The website will be updated as more information is gathered. The public can go to www.nmwild.org.
Federal employees are dedicated public servants, and they deserve our respect and support. They want to carry on the important work of protecting our public lands, but they are being told not to show up for work. To show our support, we are offering federal government employees who have been furloughed due to the shutdown a free, one-year membership to New Mexico Wild.
And while the public is being prevented from enjoying their public lands, we’ve learned that the BLM continues to process oil and gas leases on public lands during the shutdown, all while not responding to public records requests. New Mexico Wild believes that this action is illegal and is calling on the Department of Interior to postpone oil and gas lease sales and the issuance of drilling permits until the BLM can conduct legally compliant environmental reviews, and resume regular comment and protest periods.
Meanwhile, a public lands package with nearly unanimous support was reintroduced in the United States Senate on Jan. 8, including eight new wilderness areas totaling 241,067 acres within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in Doña Ana County and two new wilderness areas totaling 21,540 acres within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County. The 116th Congress should quickly pass the bipartisan lands package and send it to the president.
Reopen the government. Get federal workers back to work. Pay them. Let the public enjoy their public lands. Cease processing of oil and gas leasing unless and until the government reopens. Pass the public lands package. Stop the nonsense.
Read the original article here.