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Former BLM Head: "Warning" for NM Written in Utah's Canyons

October 20, 2008

Albuquerque - A former head of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) says new plans for managing public lands in Utah should pique the interest of New Mexicans. Jim Baca, BLM director during the first Clinton administration and a former mayor of Albuquerque, says plans for public lands in Utah should be setting off warning bells because an "eleventh-hour" push by the federal government to open up parts of Utah's canyon country to energy development and off-road vehicles could set a disturbing precedent.

"Once you start pillaging public land treasures, you can't really undo the damage that gets done to them. These RMPs are the instruments for doing that damage."

"RMPs" are Resource Management Plans that set the rules for land use. He says the administration's new 20-year plans for more than 11 million acres would open 80 percent of public lands surrounding iconic national parks like Arches to drilling, and would turn over more than 20,000 miles of trails to off-road vehicles.

The BLM says the plans simply allow for a wider range of public uses, but Baca warns that some of those uses could cause permanent damage and infringe on traditional uses.

Deanna Archuleta with The Wilderness Society in Albuquerque agrees. She says decisions made about public lands in other western states could affect what happens in New Mexico.

"We have pretty critical areas for both our water reserves and our other natural resources. If we don't protect them in other states, we could really see that fall back in New Mexico, as well."

Archuleta points to Otero Mesa and the aquifer beneath it as an area in need of protection from oil and gas development. She says many areas and water supplies in northern New Mexico also are at risk from too much off-road vehicle use.

ORV users say they deserve equal access to land, and the industry has launched an education campaign to encourage off-roaders to stay on trails in sensitive areas.

More information about the Resource Management Plans is available at www.blm.gov.

Eric Mack/Steve Powers, Public News Service - NM