October 08, 2009

Obama Administration Endorses Organ Mountains Bill

WASHINGTON – At a Senate hearing today, the Obama administration endorsed legislation written by U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall to protect the scenic landscape 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.

“This bill already had strong local support, and now we have the backing of the Obama administration,” said Bingaman, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “The Organ Mountains provide one of the most stunning views in New Mexico, and we are now on our way to preserving them for future enjoyment.”

“I want to thank Chairman Bingaman for allowing me to participate in the hearing for this important legislation,” said Udall. “The Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks Wilderness Act will protect thousands of acres of desert prairie and rugged mountain. From the jagged basalt lava flows of the Cinder Cone Wilderness, to the roaming hawks and scrambling javelinas of the Robledo Mountains, this unique piece of southern New Mexico has abundant natural and economic value, and deserves protection for generations to come.”

At a hearing of the Senate Energy Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands, a high-level Obama administration official agreed the Organ Mountains are special enough to warrant protection.

“Passage of this legislation will ensure that generations of New Mexicans and all Americans will be able to witness a golden eagle soar over the Sierra de las Uvas, hike the landmark Organ Mountains, or hunt in the volcanic outcroppings of the Potrillo Mountains,” said Marcilynn A. Burke, Deputy Director for the Bureau of Land Management. “We welcome this opportunity to enhance protection for some of America’s treasured landscapes.”

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 Las Cruces City Council, the Doña Ana County Commission and Town of Mesilla have passed resolutions in support of the Organ Mountains –Desert Peaks Wilderness Act. Governor Bill Richardson also has written a letter of support.

Oscar Butler, vice chairman of the Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners, and Jerry Schickedanz, chairman of People for Preserving Our Western Heritage, were invited to testify at the hearing.