Veterans Call on Congress to Protect Wilderness in New Mexico This Year

Letter to congressional leaders urges more protections for key wild places

WASHINGTON (November 12, 2018) – On November 11, over 200 former service members from across the country, including veterans from New Mexico celebrated Veterans Day and their personal connections to America’s public lands by delivering a letter to Members of Congress urging them to pass legislation that would conserve important lands and waters. The letter comes as lawmakers return to Washington for the final weeks of the 115th Congress.

The letter states,

“As you know, many of us who have served, face a new set of challenges when we come home. Time spent in solitude or with family and friends in wilderness and on wild and scenic rivers is invaluable as we strive to leave the battlefield behind and train our eyes forward. These protected public lands and rivers offer a chance to heal from the stresses of service, reconnect with loved ones, and reintegrate into civilian life.”

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act and the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act are two of the bills that the veterans are advocating for.

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act, introduced by New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, would designate eight wilderness areas within the national monument. The proposed wilderness would give a higher level of protection to special lands within the monument. Many of the proposed wilderness areas enjoy temporary wilderness status as Wilderness Study Areas (WSA), but only Congress can designate an official wilderness area through legislation. A broad coalition successfully worked to create the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, and has been advocating for wilderness protection of this area for nearly a decade.

Brett Myrick, a fifth generation New Mexican who served in U.S. Navy SEAL Team 5, said, “As a veteran, I love and depend upon our country’s public lands, especially the wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. I urge Congress to stand with our men and women in uniform and protect these places for future generations.” Myrick is in Washington, DC this week urging Congress to pass these conservation measures.

The Cerros del Norte Conservation Act would provide extra protection for special areas contained within Río Grande del Norte National Monument by designating two new wilderness areas – Ute Mountain (Cerro del Yuta) and San Antonio Mountain (Rio San Antonio). Designated in 2013, Río Grande del Norte National Monument was supported by business owners, sportsmen, tribal leaders, local and federal elected officials, and grazing permittees. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham sponsored the legislation.

In addition to the measures in New Mexico, the nine bills would preserve Tennessee’s lush, green forests, Utah’s awe-inspiring slot canyons, California’s vast Mojave Desert, and more. In total, the measures would permanently protect 1.3 million acres of wilderness, 395 miles of Wild & Scenic River, and 713,000 acres with other conservation designations.

Protected public lands are critically important to returning service members and their families. Back home from deployments, many veterans look to New Mexico’s mountains, rivers, and forests in search of peace, strength, and resilience. They find camaraderie with fellow veterans and a quiet place to reconnect with family and friends on public lands. Opportunities for hiking, camping, rafting, hunting, and fishing prove America’s public lands are a priceless asset for our country’s veterans.

The veterans conclude with a request of lawmakers:

“In the final days of the 115th Congress, we ask that you join our efforts to protect our country’s wildest places and preserve opportunities for veterans and all Americans to find solitude, hunt, recreate, and bond with their families on our protected public lands and waters. Generations to come will thank you for wisdom, courage, and effort in this moment.”

To view the letter and signers, please visit: https://www.pewtrusts.org/research-and-analysis/articles/2018/11/12/veterans-urge-congress-to-pass-wilderness-bills-this-year

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Organ Mountains N.M.