WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sept. 17, 2014) - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, delivered a speech on the Senate Floor today to commemorate the 50th Anniversaries of the Wilderness Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).
During the speech, Senator Heinrich highlighted the significant contributions New Mexico residents like Aldo Leopold, Senator Clinton P. Anderson, and Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall have made to American's conservation history.
Senator Heinrich also underlined the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect our natural and cultural heritage, and committed to continuing to work to secure full and permanent funding for this program. Senator Heinrich recently attended the completion ceremony for the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge; the Land and Water Conservation Fund contributed nearly $5.9 million toward the completion of the refuge.
Below are Senator Heinrich’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
This month, we celebrate two incredible milestones - the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act and the 50th Anniversary of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Both have been etched into the history of my home state by New Mexico residents like Aldo Leopold, Senator Clinton P. Anderson, and Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall.
When Senator Anderson steered the passage of the Wilderness Act here on the floor of the U.S. Senate he said on August 20, 1964:
"In no area has this Congress more decisively served the future well-being of the Nation than in passing legislation to conserve natural resources and to provide the means by which our people could enjoy them . . . While we stretch out the highways to carry ever-expanding traffic, while we build whole new communities to house a growing population, and while we consume more acreage for a burgeoning industry, we have set aside part of our land as it was when human eye first saw it - unscarred by man, primeval, a memorial to the Creator who molded it."
Senator Anderson was also unquestionably one of the principle architects of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, during the 88th Congress, sometimes termed the "Conservation Congress."
LWCF is the primary tool our nation uses to fund the protection of our natural and cultural heritage, and I have worked diligently to secure full and permanent funding for this program.
But even 40 years before the enactment of the Wilderness Act or LWCF, conservationist Aldo Leopold had the vision and influence to help protect 500,000 acres of mountains, rivers, and mesas in New Mexico, which eventually became the Gila Wilderness, in order to ensure a roadless and backcountry experience free of "Ford dust" for those hearty enough to saddle up or hike into the heart of this wild country.
With the passage of the Wilderness Act, it became the National Forest System's first officially designated wilderness area.
New Mexico is also where the idea of tribally administered wilderness became a reality when Blue Lake was returned to Taos Pueblo.
And former Senator Jeff Bingaman's leadership was invaluable for conserving important public lands in New Mexico such as the Río Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains Desert Peaks regions, both of which were designated National Monuments within the last two years.
But the 50th anniversaries of the Wilderness Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund is not just about the past. The future of public lands conservation will depend on the continued collaborative efforts of our elected officials, business owners, Tribal leaders, sportsmen, conservation organizations, outdoor retailers, and others to work together to protect America's most treasured natural landscapes.
And our efforts should continue our proud bipartisan history.
After all, it was Representative John Saylor, a Republican from Pennsylvania, who was the lead sponsor and champion in the House of Representatives for the Wilderness Act. And it was former Republican Senator Pete Domenici who championed legislation to designate the Sandia Wilderness, who said at the time that the area "forms a beautiful natural backdrop for the city which all the residents can enjoy."
In New Mexico, hunters and anglers, campers and acequia parciantes, chile farmers and urban dwellers all have a deep connection to the outdoors and benefit from the recreation, wildlife, and water that wilderness provide.
Many of my own most formative moments, decisions, memories and turning points have occurred in our public wildlands. I remember a trip with my wife, Julie, to the Irish Wilderness in Missouri. A trip we made as we were leaving our college days behind and heading back West, to New Mexico, to start our new life together. In 2001, shortly after 9/11, I backpacked through 53 miles of the Gila Wilderness and decided on that trip to run for a seat on the Albuquerque City Council.
I have many cherished memories from the trips my wife and I have made over the years along the spines of the American Rockies and Tetons in places with names like South San Juan, Jedediah Smith and down canyons with names like Dark Canyon, Desolation, Gray, Grand Gulch, the Goosenecks, the San Juan and of course the Chama River Canyon. Wilderness is in my blood, and I make no apologies for believing that some places are so very special that we will never improve upon them.
These are the places worth fighting for.
I'm committed to carry on my state's rich conservation history. In fact, Senator Tom Udall and I introduced legislation to designate special places like the Columbine-Hondo in Taos County, the San Antonio River and Ute Mountain in the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument as wilderness areas.
And it's clear that conservation and growing our economy are inextricably linked.
Protected wild places contribute to the New Mexico's robust and sustainable outdoor recreation economy, which generates $6.1 billion in consumer spending in the state, 68,000 New Mexico jobs, and $1.7 billion in wages and salaries, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
The new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico has already yielded economic benefits since its designation. After less than one year since it was designated a national monument, the local community saw a 40% increase in visitors.
As we look back on the last 50 years since the Wilderness Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund became law, let us also look to the future.
My children love wild places as much as I do. My son Carter will be backpack hunting elk with me later this fall. And my son Micah will join me on BLM land to chase mule deer. They have hiked in the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area and fished in the Cruces Basin Wilderness.
It's up to all of us to ensure that their children have the same opportunities that we had and that we have shared with their generation.
I'll close with a quote from Aldo Leopold's book, A Sand County Almanac:
"When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect."
Thank you, Mr. President.