Legislation moves through U.S. Senate Committee during Monuments to Main Street Month
Las Cruces, New Mexico (September 22, 2016) – Today a diverse coalition applauded the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act (S. 3049) . A wide variety of stakeholders successfully worked to create the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, and has been advocating for wilderness protection of this area for nearly a decade.
The bill was reintroduced in June by New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich. Legislation to safeguard the wilderness in Doña Ana County was first introduced by former Senator Jeff Bingaman in 2009 in the 111th Congress, and then again by Senators Udall and Heinrich in the 112th and 113th Congresses. In 2014, President Obama established the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
This bill would designate eight wilderness areas within the monument, granting these sensitive areas the higher level of protection they deserve. Many of the proposed wilderness areas enjoy temporary wilderness status as Wilderness Study Areas (WSA), but only Congress can designate an official wilderness area through legislation.
Law enforcement and Border Patrol has been unaffected in the national monument. In fact, U.S. Customs Border Protection (CBP) wrote that S. 3049 would “significantly enhance the flexibility of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to operate in this border area.”
September marks both National Wilderness Month and Monuments to Main Street Month, a time when and the local community has been celebrating the economic benefits of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Las Cruces has been featured in several reports, recognized in publications like Lonely Planet, and hosted multiple conferences that have infused hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy. The designation of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is cited as large part of the reason for all of these exciting developments.
“It is fitting that this critical bill is moving during Monuments to Main Street Month and National Wilderness Month,” said Carrie Hamblen, CEO/President, Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce. “Our national monument has proven to be an economic powerhouse in Doña Ana County. Passing the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act will pay us back in dividends.”
The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act enjoys support from sportsmen, Native Americans, business leaders, veterans, civic groups, current and former local elected officials, archaeologists, historians, and conservation organizations.
A recent poll commissioned by the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce showed 78% of citizens in Doña Ana County support the protection of wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
Rafael Gomez, Tribal Councilman from the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo added, “Passing the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act will preserve the outstanding cultural and historical resources within the national monument that are vital to our community across the country. The wilderness areas keep us connected to our families, traditions and the land itself.”
Hunting, livestock grazing, hiking, camping, horseback riding, firefighting, law enforcement activities, and border security would continue in these areas. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks contains approximately 306 bird species and 78 mammal species including golden eagles, mule deer, javelina, cougar, ring-tail cat, and quail. The proposed wilderness will strengthen the wildlife habitat for these species as well as protect the watersheds that they depend on.
“The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act will add another layer of protection in safeguarding wildlife and habitat within areas like the Sierra de Las Uvas, West Potrillos, and Robledo Mountains,” said Jim Bates with the Doña Ana County Associated Sportsmen. “Hunting opportunity for the average citizen is a time-honored and uniquely American tradition and is part of our heritage. Protecting habitat and insuring healthy wildlife populations through conservation efforts such as this are key elements to the future of those traditions and heritage. I want to thank Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich for acting on behalf of sportsmen, and all American citizens, for their continuing actions to protect these irreplaceable areas.”
The broad coalition of supporters hopes that Congress continues to move this critical legislation forward. To learn more about community driven effort to protect the wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument, visit OrganMountains.org.
The wilderness areas protected would be:
- Aden Lava Flow Wilderness: This area offers one of the best opportunities in the continental United States to view lava flows and the many unique shapes and structures created by them.
- Broad Canyon Wilderness: This area is home to countless archeological sites and an extensive record of previous Indigenous culture habitation within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region.
- Cinder Cone Wilderness: Features an extremely high concentration of undisturbed cinder cone mountains known for their remoteness and unique wildlife habitat.
- Organ Mountains Wilderness: The rugged terrain makes this one of the steepest mountain ranges in the western United States. These mountains are the picturesque backdrop to Las Cruces, and were mentioned in the earliest Spanish journals.
- Potrillo Mountains Wilderness: The Potrillo Mountains Wilderness contains eight different habitat sites, all substantially intact, across its terrain. The trans-pecos shrub savanna, mesquite-acacia savanna, and grama-tobosa shrub steppe vegetation types support some of southern New Mexico’s healthiest wildlife populations. There are four known pueblo sites in the West Potrillo Mountains and Mount Riley WSA. One site is a Classic Mimbres pueblo, and there are several El Paso phase structures.
- Robledo Mountains Wilderness: Named after Spanish colonist Pedro Robledo, these mountains sheltered both Billy the Kid and Geronimo in the late-19th century and include the Paleozoic Trackways National Monument.
- Sierra de las Uvas Wilderness: This diverse mountain range is a hunting hot spot with wildlife habitat home to three different quail species, desert mule deer, and pronghorn antelope. Cultural riches also abound.
- Whitethorn Wilderness: This area is named for the prevalent white-thorn acacia, a key year-round food source for quail and a summer food source for desert mule deer. Weathered lava houses small and large wildlife, and views stretch hundreds of miles.