Diverse coalition praises renewed effort to preserve the backcountry in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

Legislation reintroduced by Sens. Udall and Heinrich would protect wilderness within the national monument

Las Cruces, New Mexico (February 17, 2016) – Sportsmen, Native Americans, business leaders, veterans, civic groups, current and former local elected officials, archaeologists, historians, and conservation organizations applauded Senators Udall and Heinrich for the re-introduction of the “Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act” today. A broad coalition of local stakeholders successfully worked to create the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, and has been advocating for wilderness protection of the most sensitive areas within it for nearly a decade.

The re-introduction of this bill was accompanied by that of the Cerro del Yuta and Rio Dan Antonio Wilderness Act, which would preserve wilderness in the Río Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County. Now more than ever, communities in New Mexico and across the nation are rallying together to preserve their clean water, wildlife habitat, and bedrock environmental and conservation laws.

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act would designate eight wilderness areas within the national monument. The proposed wilderness would provide a higher level of protection for the wild lands within the monument. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act would designate eight wilderness areas within the national monument totaling 241,067 acres. Eighty percent of the proposed wilderness is already managed as such, including Doña Ana County’s eight wilderness study areas (WSA’s). Notably, the Act removes 32,850 acres from WSA protection in the West Potrillo Mountains to expand the border buffer.

Legislation to permanently protect the wilderness in Doña Ana County was first introduced by former Senator Jeff Bingaman in 2009 in the 111th Congress, and then again by Senators Udall and Heinrich in the 112th and 113th Congresses.

Hunting, livestock grazing, hiking, camping, horseback riding, firefighting, law enforcement activities, and border security would continue in the wilderness areas. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks contains approximately 306 bird species and 78 mammal species including golden eagles, mule deer, javelina, cougar, ring-tail cat, and quail. The proposed wilderness will strengthen the wildlife habitat for these species as well as protect the watersheds that they depend on.

“I want to thank Senators Udall and Heinrich for fighting for our public lands by safeguarding our important hunting areas like the Sierra de Las Uvas, West Potrillos, and Robledo Mountains,” said Steve Henry, a hunter in Las Cruces. “Backcountry hunting is a time-honored tradition, but it is being threatened by legislation that would take the public out of public lands. Ensuring that these pristine wilderness areas are passed down to future generations is a pillar of our nation’s heritage.”

A recent poll commissioned by the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce showed 78 percent of citizens in Doña Ana County support the protection of wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

“Our Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is an economic win for Las Cruces and Doña Ana County. Thanks to our protected public lands like our national monument, we are now known as an outdoor recreation destination and a place people want to live. Designating wilderness is another important step in securing our quality of life and economic future,” said Russell Hernandez, co-owner of Salud! De Mesilla Restaurant.

Law enforcement and Border Patrol has been unaffected in the national monument. In fact, U.S. Customs Border Protection (CBP) wrote that S. 3049, the same bill that was introduced last Congress, would “significantly enhance the flexibility of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to operate in this border area.”

Added said Bernie Digman, an Army Veteran. “Our public lands, including wilderness in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, define our nation, and they are an asset recognized across the world. Access and ownership of our protected public lands is something I continue to fight for every day. Thank you Senators Udall and Heinrich for defending American values and protecting our public lands that belong to all of us.”

To learn more about community driven effort to protect the wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument, visit OrganMountains.org.