Forty-five years ago this month, a bipartisan group of lawmakers agreed to legislation that would have a lasting impact on our nation’s public lands — not by changing them, but by making sure some portion of these magnificent wild places would stay as they were for all time and for all generations to use and enjoy. The Wilderness Act, signed into law Sept. 3, 1964, was acknowledgement that our public lands are part of what shape us as a people and that there is value in protecting some of them in their pristine state as a natural legacy.
Over the last four and a half decades, this act, which created the National Wilderness Preservation System, has been used to forever protect some of New Mexico’s wild treasures, including the Gila, Aldo Leopold, and Blue Range Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico, and the Pecos, Wheeler Peak, and Latir Peak in the northern part of the state. Earlier this year, after years of work by sportsmen, conservationists, business leaders and ranchers, the Sabinoso Wilderness, located in eastern San Miguel County, became one of the nation’s newest wilderness areas. Sabinoso Wilderness was part of a major lands package that was signed into law by President Barack Obama in March, which protected 16,030 acres for future generations.
A similar group of diverse interests have been working with Sen. Jeff Bingaman to add more special wild places to the wilderness treasury. Efforts are underway to designate the Cerro de Yuta Wilderness and the Rio San Antonio Wilderness as part of a measure introduced by the Senator to create the 235,980-acre El Rio Grande Del Norte National Conservation Area. His bill, which has won the backing of the Taos County Commission and the support of the Mora Valley and Taos County Chambers of Commerce, would ensure that this wildlife and botanically rich area would stay as it is — for camping, hunting, fishing, and quiet solitude. The legislation would preserve an important part of our natural heritage, an area that boasts high-mesa sagebrush grasslands, woodlands of piñon juniper, and extinct volcano cinder cones.
The senator has crafted his bill to allow for longstanding traditions to continue, such as grazing and the collection of firewood and piñon nuts, and protects land-grant members their rights granted under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
We applaud this conservation effort and hope to see it become the law of the land as soon as possible.
John Olivas is a Mora County resident and member New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 575-387-2665.