Public Lands of Enchantment

By Martin Heinrich | September 23, 2016
Posted on

COMMENTARY: Our land is an integral part of who we are as New Mexicans. The Land of Enchantment is home to many national forests, parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, and other public lands.

These are outdoor treasures that are owned by all of us, from ranchers who graze their livestock, to backcountry hunters and anglers, to families who take their kids on a weekend nature hike or camping trip. And the outdoor recreation economy our public lands support is responsible for 68,000 jobs and $6.1 billion of annual economic activity in our state.

The idea of shared, public land has deep roots in New Mexico. Aldo Leopold, U.S. Senators Clinton P. Anderson and Jeff Bingaman, and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall all played major roles in creating and protecting the places we go to seek refuge, responsibly managing our natural resources, and preserving our cultural heritage.

Leopold, who had the vision and influence to protect 500,000 acres of mountains, rivers, and mesas in New Mexico, which eventually became the Gila Wilderness, wrote in his Sand County Almanac, “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

In the Senate, in partnership with U.S. Senator Tom Udall, I am proud to work with communities across New Mexico to build on our state’s rich legacy of conservation.

Over the last four years, despite a tough partisan climate in Washington, New Mexicans have celebrated major conservation victories.

Together we created the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness in Taos County, home to some of the best elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep habitat in New Mexico. Designating this area at the head waters of the Red River and Rio Hondo had broad community support from Taos Pueblo, local government leaders, business owners, land grant heirs, acequia parcientes, sportsmen, ranchers, and conservationists.

After extensive input from local residents, sportsmen, business owners, and elected officials, we transitioned the Valles Caldera National Preserve to National Park Service management, opening this stunning landscape inside the crater of a collapsed super-volcano to greater public access. The preserve model also ensured that hunting and fishing remain central activities for the public to enjoy.

In 2013, New Mexico welcomed the designation the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos and the following year the designation of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in Doña Ana County. Both of these community-driven monuments permanently protect iconic landscapes, increase recreational access, and are proving to be good for business. New visitors from across the country and around the world are fueling New Mexico’s tourism industry and creating new jobs.

I was also proud to stand with the community in Albuquerque’s South Valley and secure resources to turn the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, a 570-acre oasis in the Rio Grande Bosque, into a place filled with educational and recreational programs. There is so much opportunity at Valle de Oro to help New Mexico kids discover the incredible natural heritage of our state right in their backyard, while supporting vital river and habitat conservation.

Last year, I also secured a three-year extension and $450 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), an increase of 47 percent over the previous year’s funding. For more than 50 years, this vital conservation program has protected some of our most treasured public lands and created many community parks across the state. I will continue fighting to fully fund and permanently reauthorize LWCF so New Mexico’s landscapes will be protected and accessible for our children and future generations to enjoy.

While we have much to celebrate in conservation gains, we have also witnessed renewed threats from a growing campaign of special interests and extremist groups to seize and sell off the American people’s public lands.

As the instigators of the attack on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon begin to face trial, I sincerely hope that they will see consequences for their dangerous actions. New Mexicans serve as park rangers and wildlife biologists, volunteer in visitor centers, and routinely hunt, fish, and camp with their families on these public lands. The possibility that their offices and community buildings may be overrun in an armed siege is simply unacceptable.

The idea that these lands should be transferred to states or private auctions is equally concerning. Proponents of land giveaway bills in state legislatures across the West argue that states are better equipped to manage our natural wonders than the United States Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. But what they don’t say is that their proposals would raise the possibility that some of the lands would be turned over to the highest bidder and that Western taxpayers would be saddled with the costs of overseeing the rest.

This would result in a proliferation of locked gates and “No Trespassing” signs in places that have been open to the public and used for generations. And it would devastate outdoor traditions like hunting, camping, and fishing that are among the pillars of Western culture and a thriving outdoor recreation economy.

Questions of how to best use our public lands to promote the public good can sometimes be contentious and controversial. But that’s exactly why we all need to be at the table making those decisions. There are real problems that need to be solved, like creating more access points for recreation, hunting, and fishing, as I have proposed doing with a bill I introduced called the HUNT Act. But these are problems we can solve because of the very fact that these lands are public, and we each have a voice in their management.

As we celebrate Public Lands Day, I remain deeply committed to standing with New Mexicans to protect and conserve our public lands, watersheds, and wildlife for all to enjoy. I can’t think of anything more fundamentally American than defending the land we all love.

Martin Heinrich, a Democrat, represents New Mexico in the U.S. Senate.

2016 NM Wilderness Alliance Board Election Results

Thank you to our members who exercised your right to vote in our 2016 Board Election! Your voice is a valued component of the work we do here at New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

Members voted to elect Todd Schulke and Roberta Salazar-Henry to new three-year terms. Following the election outcome, the Board of Directors proceeded to appoint Ken Cole and Carol Johnson to three-year terms.The Board also appointed the following slate of officers to a one-year term: Ken Cole, Chairperson; Todd Schulke, Vice Chairperson; Nancy Morton, Secretary; Ken Cole, Interim Treasurer; Roberta Salazar-Henry, Treasurer as of January 1, 2017 (or such earlier date that she can assume this responsibility.)

Congratulations to all!

Big Step Forward for Conservation in Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

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

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.


Taos News: The truth about the 'Protect the Pecos' campaign

Printed in the Taos News, July 28, 2016

PDF of this Article

There is an unfortunate impression by some that conservationists have been unwilling to engage community stakeholders and are not being sensitive to their concerns. The truth is that there has been outreach to the Peñasco area since 2011. Based on these community conversations, we have listened and made significant changes to the proposal to honor the needs of the local communities.

Beyond these meetings, we’ve had many other conversations, lunches and coffees with residents, grazing permittees and acequia parciantes. These have focused on listening and constructive and respectful dialogue. While we have not resolved all of our differences, we have identified a number of areas of agreement. Virtually everyone has said that these areas deserve permanent protection through some type of federal legislation.

We agree that preserving traditional uses must be honored in any legislation. We are on record agreeing to the following: No acequia headgates or infrastructure will be included in the proposed boundaries; existing legal motorized routes will remain open; existing legal fuel wood collection sites will remain accessible – long term firewood management should be implemented; stipulating that the proposal is not intended to affect the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; That the SMA include science-based forest restoration including thinning; and welcoming the idea of having the SMA be named as a cultural heritage area.

While there are some who do not recognize the Carson National Forest as public land, and even those who have expressed a desire to open these roadless areas to commercial logging, we do not agree with these positions. We also believe that doing nothing is not an option.

We are honored to have a large and growing list of pueblo, business, organizational and individual supporters. San Miguel and Santa Fe counties and the city of Santa Fe have endorsed this proposal already. Taos, Picuris, Nambe, Pojoaque and Ohkay Owingeh
pueblos are also supportive. While it may not be possible to achieve unanimous support for conserving this land, we have pledged to continue our efforts to build as much public support and understanding as possible.

A wilderness designation is the highest level of land protection in our nation and it ensures protection of our high mountain eadwaters for our desert state. Como se dice, “Agua es vida” in New Mexico. These pristine wilderness landscapes of Taos County also attract tourists from around the world which stimulates our economy.

As parciantes, fire wood cutters, a farmer and descendants of multiple generations of Hispanic ranchers from Northern New Mexico, it is our legacy to protect our cultural and natural heritage and preserving it for future generations. Make it your legacy, too.

To join our efforts or to learn more, visit We are eager to meet with you, whether it is around a kitchen table, in a school classroom, or an acequia meeting. Let’s keep talking.

Olivas is the traditional community organizer for New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. Salazar is the executive director of Rivers & Birds. Trujillo is the sportsman organizer for New
Mexico Wildlife Federation.



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