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Organ Mtns. Wilderness Bill Border Security Upgrade Praised

June 14, 2010

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - After changes made last week, a wilderness bill for the Organ and Potrillo Mountains in southern New Mexico is being hailed as a model for balancing conservation with national security concerns. The bill would still create more than 300,000 acres of Wilderness and National Conservation Area, but was modified to specify sections along the border with Mexico to allow vehicle access that is typically prohibited in wilderness areas.

Dr. Paul Deason, who is on the U.S. Justice Department's anti-terrorism advisory council, says the proposal strengthens border security by declassifying some current Wilderness Study Areas to allow law enforcement access.

"This bill is the best example to preserve both the security on the border and to preserve the land and access to the land in a pristine state."

Many of the lands in the bill have been protected as Wilderness Study Areas since the 1980s and have been recommended for stronger protection as federal wilderness. That would protect the lands from development, while preserving such traditional uses as grazing and hunting.

David Soules is a Las Cruces sportsman who says hunters and others are concerned that the wilderness bill would make some areas too hard to access, although he points out that most of the region has already been protected as a Wilderness Study Area for 25 years.

"I think the access to the areas will be largely unchanged. Right now, you can't drive off the existing roads . . ."

He says the bill has been crafted to address many concerns of sportsmen, including changes to allow for roads along the wilderness boundary and so-called "cherry stem" roads carved out of the protected area to improve access.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM