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NM Officials Get Behind "Wild Lands" Policy



February 15, 2011

BERNALILLO, N.M. - Some key elected officials in the Land of Enchantment are standing behind Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on a new policy to protect potential wilderness in the West.

Salazar's plan allows the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to make a list of lands Congress might want to protect as federal wilderness, which means keeping industry and other uses off those lands until Congress can make the final call.

Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham, one of dozens of officials in western states who signed a letter of support to Salazar this week, says she looks forward to working with the BLM to manage lands near Albuquerque in ways that protect them.

"Many of the areas (are) near the Sandia Mountains and related wildlife areas. I think that this is a great opportunity for us to enhance our relationship with the Bureau of Land Management and to do more wildlife protection."

The policy has been opposed by oil and gas industry groups who say it will put a "chill" on the development of existing drilling leases. Supporters counter that a large number of energy leases have been sitting idle and undeveloped for years.

Jennifer Hobson, a former New Mexico deputy secretary for tourism in New Mexico who now serves as spokesperson for Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa, says she's seen the importance of protecting wild landscapes from both the public and private sector.

"Our wild lands are one of our greatest resources. and tourism in general in New Mexico actually has a $6 billion impact annually on the economy. It's hugely important."

Twenty elected officials in New Mexico, including House Majority Leader Ken Martinez, D-Grants, other state lawmakers, mayors, city councilors and county commissioners, signed the letter supporting the policy.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM