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Congress Ponders Undoing Years of NM Wild Lands Protection

July 26, 2011

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Some two million acres of New Mexico's scenic natural areas that have protected for decades might be open to developers under a bill now being considered in Congress, and a hearing is scheduled today in the U.S. House. The Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act changes the protected status for 88 percent of all Forest Service roadless areas and BLM wilderness study areas.

John Cornell, campaign coordinator with the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, warns that unless pristine wild areas are protected, they will be gone forever.

"From the sportsmen's prospective, if we don't set aside and protect some of these areas for the future - and we leave everything, all of our public lands, open to development - then we won't have anything to pass on to future generations."

Backers of the proposal say it will create new jobs and economic growth, but Cornell thinks it will kill recreation and tourism in the state.

"What it is, is to try and free up more lands for possible oil and gas development, or hard-rock mining, or any kind of development that those areas are protected from now."

Cornell says the legislation also keeps the BLM from designating any new wilderness study areas, which have some of the same protections as federal wilderness areas.

The legislation is HR 1581 and S 1087.

Dick Layman, Public News Service - NM