Udall, Heinrich Introduce Bills To Establish Wilderness Areas Within Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks And Río Grande del Norte National Monuments

Legislation would complete community visions for protection within New Mexico national monuments

WASHINGTON, DC -- U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich reintroduced legislation to protect wilderness within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument northwest of Taos, New Mexico and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in Doña Ana County, New Mexico.

"The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and the Río Grande del Norte national monuments are stunning landscapes, rich with culture and history, that are creating jobs by driving visitors to New Mexico from around the world," Udall said. "We will always work closely with Southern New Mexico communities to ensure we both secure our border and protect treasured landscapes in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act. And by designating wilderness in the most rugged areas within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument in Northern New Mexico, we will take the final step toward ensuring its many treasures will remain protected for generations to come, while preserving traditional practices and keeping the land accessible for hunting, fishing and recreation. Designating these study areas as wilderness will enhance these monuments, further boosting tourism and creating jobs and ensuring our children and grandchildren can enjoy the rich history, outdoor recreation and many traditional uses of the land."

"Both of New Mexico's newest community-driven monuments permanently protected iconic landscapes that have long been revered. This legislation will further complete the vision of the diverse coalitions and stakeholders who fought so hard to protect these two stunning parts of our state," Heinrich said. "In the case of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, management changes in this bill will create additional flexibility for the Border Patrol and improve security at our nation's southern border. For both monuments, this legislation will preserve traditional practices, increase recreational access, and help New Mexico's outdoor recreation economy create new jobs. By designating the most rugged and unique areas in Río Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as wilderness, we can protect New Mexico's natural heritage for our children and for generations to come."

Cerro del Yuta and Rio San Antonio Wilderness Act

The Cerro del Yuta and Rio San Antonio Wilderness Act establishes two new wilderness areas, the Cerro del Yuta Wilderness and Rio San Antonio Wilderness, comprised of 21,420 acres within the 242,500-acre Río Grande del Norte National Monument northwest of Taos, New Mexico. 

The legislation passed in the Senate last year as an amendment to the Energy Policy Modernization Act but was not taken up in the House of Representatives. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee also approved a previous version of this legislation in 2013.

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 stunning and ecologically significant in the state and a destination for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts.

The Río Grande del Norte National Monument is widely supported by Taos and Rio Arriba county residents, who have seen major economic activity since designation in 2013.  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.

A map of the proposed wilderness areas is available here

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act completes the community's vision for the permanent protection of wilderness opportunities within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks (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 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.

The number of visitors to the monument more than doubled in its second year, bringing increased tax revenue to the community and more tourism dollars to local businesses. A number of local businesses have capitalized on this trend by creating tailored products named for the monument.

President Obama based the 2014 national monument designation on legislation introduced by Udall and Heinrich, but only Congress has authority to create wilderness. This final step will ensure full protection for land within OMDP and the unconfined opportunities for recreation that wilderness offers.  It will provide protection for the wildest places within the national monument - including the Organ, Potrillo, Uvas and Robledo Mountains, as well as Aden Lava Flow and Broad Canyon.

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act will preserve New Mexico's outdoor heritage by ensuring that these public lands will remain open to hunting, recreation and grazing. And by removing the current wilderness study area designation along the U.S.-Mexico border, the bill will help strengthen border security.

In a letter to Udall and Heinrich, U.S. Customs and Border Protection indicated that the provisions of the bill would "significantly enhance the flexibility of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to operate in this border area."

The bill also directs the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to identify opportunities for watershed management throughout the national monument.  Further, it directs the BLM to work with the New Mexico State Land Office toward a mutually beneficial exchange of lands to reduce or eliminate state inholdings in the monument.

This legislation reflects feedback from many individuals and groups over the years, including grazing permittees and private landowners within the proposed areas; electric, natural gas, and pipeline utilities; local governments and community leaders; local law enforcement agencies; sportsmen, heritage, veteran, conservation, and archaeological organizations; flood control and irrigation authorities; airport authorities; the New Mexico State Land Office; and federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Border Patrol, and the Army.

A fact sheet on the legislation is available here. Bill text is available here. Map of the Organ Mountains Complex is available here, Desert Peaks Complex is available here, and Potrillo Mountains Complex is available here