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Senators in Town to Talk Doña Ana Wilderness

February 15, 2010

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - It's a rare opportunity for a captive audience with New Mexico's Senators. A field hearing is planned for today on the Organ Mountains/Desert Peaks Wilderness Act, which would protect nearly 400,000 acres of public land in Doña Ana County.

Jim Bates is New Mexico chapter president of the National Wild Turkey Federation. He says the areas are home to a number of wild species that are being threatened by increasing development.

"They have kangaroo rats, bobcats, coyotes, a few mountain lions and desert mule deer. There's some antelope in a few of the places and a few ibyx that have escaped off of the Florita mountain range."

The plan has been opposed by a coalition made up of some ranchers and others concerned about restricting certain uses of the land. Bates says he and other supporters of the bill agree it is important that all voices be heard.

"We would like to see the concerns and issues that those folks have about it addressed but, at the same time, we hope they realize that there's a greater good to be done here."

A 2009 poll found a majority of area residents favor the bill, which would protect the Potrillo Mountains, Sierra de Las Uvas Mountains, Broad Canyon and the Robledo Mountains as federal Wilderness Areas. It would also designate the foothills of the Organ Mountains, the Doña Ana Mountains and parts of Broad Canyon as a National Conservation Area.

Maria Flores is a teacher and board member, Las Cruces Public School District. She sees the Organ Mountains as one of New Mexico's most prized treasures.

"I think keeping that wilderness and knowing that you're safe in it, that it's quieter than other places, is just the best feeling, and it's good for all ages and all sizes."

The hearing will be begin at 2:30 p.m. in the Ballroom-Eastside of the Corbett Center at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM