By Damien Willis, Las Cruces Sun-News
LAS CRUCES — The conversation was rich at a breakfast early Saturday morning in a small conference room at Hotel Encanto. Sen. Martin Heinrich, wearing a camouflage vest and blue jeans, addressed a dozen sportsmen — hardcore hunters and anglers from as far away as Oregon to learn about Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
Attendees included representatives from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited. The group will spend three days in Las Cruces, Friday through Sunday, exploring OMDP and hunting. They have picked up the mantle of political activism, intent on conserving public lands and protecting the rights of hunters and fishermen to access them.
“We are trying to protect the outdoor heritage that we all enjoy,” said Land Tawney, president and chief executive officer of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “We want to protect the opportunity to find adventure in the great outdoors, to be able to hunt that way, and to ensure that the experiences that I’ve been able to enjoy are available to future generations.”
Heinrich, an avid outdoorsman, was presented with the Conservationist of the Year award Friday night by the Doña Ana County Associated Sportsmen. He said he intends to continue his efforts to protect and improve access to public lands for hunters and fishermen.
“We have, over time, lost access to a lot of public lands, where roads that used to be open get gated,” Heinrich told the Sun-News Saturday. “We have lost legal ways to get into a lot of land that belongs to the American people. So I am working on something called the HUNT Act, which is in the Sportsmen’s Bill, to really prioritize access within the public land agencies like the BLM.”
Heinrich said he would also push to focus Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars on buying easements to trails and roads at fair market value, to provide greater access to landlocked public lands.
“OMDP is actually a great story, from an access point of view,” Heinrich said. “It has really great access, and we just need to keep that in place. We have not had a lot of conflicts over access issues.”
Tawney said it is critical that federally-managed lands remain open as multiple use lands.
“The federal government, or government agencies, manage it for us — that’s our land,” Tawney said. “When that land is managed for multiple use, you can have grazing, mineral development, but also hunting and fishing, which plays a vital role.”
Corey Fisher, from Missoula, Montana, is the energy field coordinator for Trout Unlimited. Fisher said OMDP is a model for the way national monument designations should be approached.
“It’s such a good model for how to bring local stakeholders and interests together to help create a vision for a landscape that everyone cares about,” Fisher said. “We feel it’s a model that can be transferred and applied to other places in the West.”
Fisher said when monuments are designated through the work of coalitions, it creates a greater permanence.
“Without having diverse stakeholders come together and identify common values that want to be preserved for the future, nobody’s values are going to be preserved,” Fisher said.
The conference continues Sunday, when Heinrich is expected to join the group for quail hunting at the monument.