IMG_8574The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in Doña Ana County, New Mexico, are the crossroads of the area’s diverse historical and natural culture. For nearly a decade, the local community has worked to preserve this special place for future generations. With President Obama’s establishment of a national monument in this unique region in May of 2014, a very large part of the community’s vision of protection was achieved.

In the heart of the national monument are eight wilderness study areas and two citizen proposed wilderness areas. They have the highest quality habitat, healthiest plant and animal populations, and are critical components of healthy watersheds. Protecting these areas will make the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument better, serve our families, and create new ways to share our natural and cultural treasures. We are grateful for the protection afforded by the recent national monument designation, but these most sensitive areas merit that additional layer that the Wilderness Act provides; an additional layer that can only be achieved through an act of Congress.

To complete the community’s original proposal, Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have introduced legislation that would grant wilderness protection to these most sensitive areas within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Much of the area has been managed as a “Wilderness Study Area” since the 1980s when the Reagan administration first set it aside for protected status. Subsequent areas in the Organ Mountains were given Wilderness Study Area status in 1993.  This legislation would take the next step in making these protections permanent by creating 241,000 acres of wilderness.

The areas that would be protected through this legislation boast sky island mountains, native Chihuahuan Desert grasslands, caves, unique lava flows, limestone cliffs and winding canyons that draw visitors to Doña Ana County:

Organs Mountains Photo credit: Patrick J Alexander

Organ Mountains: Our Organ Mountains define the Mesilla Valley. From picnickers to horsemen, family outings to day hikes, they offer great recreation, important wildlife habitat, critical watershed protection, and the natural backdrop to New Mexico’s second largest city: Las Cruces. The Organ Mountains encompass three wilderness study areas, each unique and worthy of permanent protection.

Sierra de Las Uvas Mountains: These volcanic mountains support outstanding high desert grasslands. The Uvas sustain thriving populations of quail, deer, javelina and other wildlife. In addition, three different Native American cultures left their marks in various sites throughout these scenic mountains. The Uvas have been managed as a wilderness study area since 1984.

Broad-Canyon-high-canyon-wall---Marcos-TorresBroad Canyon: A secluded gem, Broad Canyon shelters hidden winding canyons, water pools, flat topped mountains and dozens of rich cultural sites. Only 45 minutes from Las Cruces, this area has some of the most beautiful views that stretch across Southern New Mexico and into Mexico, and is a vital watershed draining over 75 square miles of land.

Potrillo Mountains: Extinct volcanoes, black lava fields, and mile after mile of desert grassland combine to give the West Potrillo Mountains qualities found nowhere else in New Mexico. Just 45 minutes from El Paso and Las Cruces, the Potrillos could be New Mexico’s 4th largest wilderness.

Robledo Mountains: The Robledo Mountains house the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument. They have worldwide significance and bring wonderful recognition to the Mesilla Valley Region. The Robledo Mountains unit has been managed as a wilderness study area since 1984.

Aden Lava Flow Wilderness: This area offers one of the best opportunities in the continental United States to view lava flows and the many unique shapes and structures created by them.

Cinder Cone Wilderness: Features an extremely high concentration of undisturbed cinder cone mountains.

Whitethorn Wilderness: owes its name to prevalent white-thorn acacia, a key year-round food source for quail and a summer food source for desert mule deer. Weathered lava invites in small and large wildlife, and views stretch hundreds of miles.

The 1964 Wilderness Act defines “wilderness” as areas “where the earth and its community of life … appear to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable …” these wild places offer opportunity for recreation and reflection, and represent our legacy to future generations. Many of these places are watersheds needing protection for clean water.  Pristine forests enhance clean air and act as carbon sinks. Wilderness provides refuge for many threatened and endangered species and serves as valuable storehouses of biodiversity.

Thanks to the National Monument designation, Las Cruces was recently included in Lonely Planet’s “Top 10 Places to Visit,” and designating wilderness within it would also boost the local economy. In New Mexico, outdoor recreation generates $6.1 billion in consumer spending and is responsible for 68,000 jobs across the state annually.

Now that the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument has been established by the president through the Antiquities Act, it is time to finish the community’s proposal for the area by ensuring its most wild spots stay wild.

Organ Mountains N.M.