February 12, 2019

Udall, Heinrich Secure Historic New Mexico Conservation Wins in Public Lands Package

Senators successfully fought for measures to permanently authorize Land and Water Conservation Fund, and establish largest new wilderness addition in New Mexico since 1980

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich voted to pass the Natural Resources Management Act, a historic bipartisan public lands package that includes several New Mexico conservation priorities championed by Udall and Heinrich, including landmark legislation to permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), along with three major bills to establish wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks (OMDP) National Monument and Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. The historic package of over 100 land and water conservation bills, which will protect and expand our nation’s public lands and natural resources, and strengthen local economies, passed the Senate by a vote of 92-8. The bill must now be passed by the U.S. House of Representatives before being signed into law by the president. 

Udall, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, and Heinrich, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, successfully championed the provision to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) — one of our nation’s most effective conservation programs — after its authorization expired in September, leaving vital recreation and conservation projects in limbo. Udall and Heinrich have long led the call for permanent reauthorization of the LWCF, which has invested more than $312 million in New Mexico to protect public lands and open spaces and increase recreational opportunities across the state, helping to bolster our booming $9.9 billion outdoor recreation industry. 

Since its establishment in 1965, the LWCF has been one of America’s most successful conservation initiatives, helping to protect public lands, national parks, wildlife refuges, trails, ball fields and popular recreational sites in all 50 states. In New Mexico alone, the LWCF has funded over 1,200 projects and helped to preserve thousands of acres of precious public lands, from the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument to Gila National Forest.

“By taking historic action to permanently reauthorize the LWCF, we’ll continue to safeguard some of our most iconic landscapes for generations to come,” said Udall. “For the past half century, the LWCF has been instrumental in preserving America’s most treasured open spaces and expanding access to recreational opportunities throughout the country. The LWCF has been particularly vital for New Mexico, where it has invested over $312 million to help protect our most cherished public lands, spur job creation and fuel our $9.9 billion outdoor recreation economy, a key economic driver in the state that employs 99,000 New Mexicans. I am immensely gratified to see this vital bill become law, and as the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for the Interior Department, I will keep up the fight to ensure strong funding for the LWCF.” 

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund is America’s most successful conservation program. For more than a half century, LWCF has built a proven track record protecting our drinking water, providing public land access, and funding our neighborhood parks,” said Heinrich. “In New Mexico, LWCF has protected iconic landscapes like the Valles Caldera, Ute Mountain, and Valle de Oro, without costing taxpayers a single cent. I am proud we will no longer need to worry year after year about renewing this clearly successful program.” 

Udall and Heinrich, who have long championed efforts to establish new wilderness areas to protect public lands and boost local economies, also secured major bills in the public lands package to designate wilderness in New Mexico, including:  

— The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act establishes 10 permanent wilderness areas within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks (OMDP) National Monument. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act completes the community's vision for the permanent protection of wilderness opportunities within OMDP National Monument. A broad coalition of Hispanic leaders, veterans, Native Americans, sportsmen, small business owners, faith leaders, conservationists, local elected officials and others have worked for over a decade to protect wilderness in Doña Ana and Luna Counties.

— The Cerros del Norte Conservation Act designates two Wilderness Areas within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument: the Cerro del Yuta (Ute Mountain) and Rio San Antonio. The centerpiece of Cerro del Yuta is Ute Mountain – a 10,000 foot high volcanic dome that overlooks the Taos Gorge. The Rio San Antonio sits 200 feet below a plateau, creating a unique riparian area and offering recreational opportunities to boost the local economy. Rio Grande del Norte boasts incredible wildlands and waters that sustain the surrounding communities, and is home to elk, deer, bighorn sheep, golden eagles, sandhill cranes, and other wildlife. The area is one of the most stunning and ecologically significant in the state and a destination for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts.

“The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and the Río Grande del Norte national monuments are two of New Mexico’s most special places – and these undisturbed areas within them deserve the special protections that wilderness designation confers,” said Udall. “These spaces are stunning landscapes, rich with culture and history, and important economic drivers for New Mexico’s thriving tourism and outdoor recreation economy. This legislation will provide permanent protection to some of the most breathtaking natural landscapes in Doña Ana County and iconic rugged areas of Taos, all while preserving traditional practices and keeping the land accessible for hunting, fishing and recreation. I’m proud to have partnered with Senator Heinrich to establish wilderness areas in these special lands to safeguard these open spaces so that future generations can enjoy New Mexico’s natural treasures for years to come.” 

“I’m deeply thankful to the diverse coalition of stakeholders from northern and southern New Mexico who worked for so many years to make the Río Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments a reality. Both serve as national models of community-driven, landscape-scale conservation,” said Heinrich. “By passing these wilderness designations, we are completing the communities’ vision for these treasured places and assuring permanent protection for the wildest most rugged places within both monuments. I have no doubt that future generations will be grateful for all we have done to protect these world-class destinations.”

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument has helped grow Doña Ana County's economy. The new monument put southern New Mexico on the map in national tourism publications like Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor as a prime destination for outdoor recreation, history, and cultural tourists. According to a poll from the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, 78 percent of Doña Ana County residents support the protection of wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. 

Río Grande del Norte boasts incredible wildlands and waters that sustain the surrounding communities, and is home to elk, deer, bighorn sheep, golden eagles, sandhill cranes, and other wildlife. The area is one of the most ecologically significant in the state and a destination for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. A year after the national monument was designated, it was reported that the town of Taos lodgers' tax revenue increased by 21 percent in the second half of 2013, compared with the same time period in 2012. In addition, gross-receipts revenue to businesses in Taos County in the accommodations and food service sector rose 8.3 percent in the second half of 2013 compared with the same period in 2012, representing an increase of $3.7 million.