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Southern NM Wilderness on the Table in DC

September 21, 2009

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - More New Mexico wilderness is officially on the table in Washington, D.C. Late last week, Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall introduced a bill with protections for nearly 400,000 acres of wild lands near Las Cruces.

John Moen, the New Mexico chairman for Quail Unlimited, says sportsmen, conservationists, landowners, businesses, and others with an interest in the area all worked together to compromise and come up with a plan that can be acceptable to everyone.

"I think in the long run we ended up with something that we all can live with, and which still provides a tremendous amount of habitat that's going to be secured forever."

Moen says one of the compromises in the bill was to split the wilderness areas, allowing for limited road access, but he says it shouldn't be expected that that will change much about the region.

"Very pretty, but it's real rough; 25 feet off the road, you're in about as big a wilderness area as you want to be, and you have as much solitude as you want."

John Munoz, board member for the Hispano Chamber of Commerce in Las Cruces, says he's excited by the entrepreneurial opportunities that could come with more protected areas in southern New Mexico.

"Those would be places where we'd want to increase our tourism, where we'd want to provide services for families who might want to go camping or hiking. I'm really very excited about the potential that this has."

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act would create 259,000 acres of wilderness and 100,000 acres of National Conservation Area. The plan had been opposed by a coalition of ranchers and others, and some provisions in the bill, including dropping portions of a current 'wilderness study area' along the border, were meant to address their concerns. There has been little opposition to last week's introduction of the new bill.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM