September 17, 2009

Bingaman & Udall Introduce Measure to Protect Organ Mountains

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall today introduced legislation that will protect the scenic landscapes of the Organ Mountains in Doña Ana County.

The bill, called the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act, creates wilderness and conservation areas that would provide for continued public use while protecting the granite peaks of the Organ Mountains and the volcanic cinder cones of the Potrillo Mountains, among other public lands in the County.

"The Organ Mountains are the backdrop for one of the most breathtaking scenic views in our state. Doña Ana County residents have been working for years to develop plans that would ensure these views are protected. I'm very glad that we now have a bill that will do just that even while ensuring the public continues to have access to this extraordinary space," Bingaman said.

"This legislation will celebrate and preserve a portion of the spectacular landscapes that make southern New Mexico unique," Udall said. "I am proud to join with Senator Bingaman in introducing a bill that protects this precious land for future generations to hunt, fish, hike or just enjoy our state's incomparable natural environment."

Specifically, the legislation creates 259,000 acres of wilderness and 100,000 acres of National Conservation Area (NCA). These areas would be managed in ways that protect the landscape from development while preserving current uses – such as hunting and grazing.

The bill also releases 16,350 acres along the southern border that had previously been designated as so-called "Wilderness Study Area". This will provide increased flexibility for border law enforcement.

"The areas we're trying to protect through this legislation boast caves, limestone cliffs and winding canyons that draw visitors to Doña Ana County. To that end, it is my hope that it will also help promote tourism and economic development in the region," Bingaman said.

"Preserving New Mexico's environmental heritage through these wilderness areas is the right thing to do – environmentally and economically," Udall said. "Thanks to the cooperation of a wide range of individuals and groups in developing this legislation, I believe we strike the right balance between preservation and progress in a way that will benefit southern New Mexico for generations to come."

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Bingaman chairs. Bingaman plans to schedule a hearing on the bill this fall.