Udall, Heinrich Introduce Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks Conservation Act

Wilderness bill completes community’s vision for protection within the national monument

Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced legislation to preserve wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument (OMDP). The Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks Conservation Act provides permanent protection for some of Southern New Mexico’s most scenic landscapes and will safeguard OMDP’s sensitive cultural, historical and natural treasures for generations to come. A broad coalition of Hispanic leaders, veterans, Native Americans, sportsmen, small business owners, faith leaders, conservationists, local elected officials and others have worked for nearly a decade to protect wilderness in Doña Ana County. More than two years after President Obama designated Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument, Udall and Heinrich are working to complete the community’s vision for protection.

Designating wilderness within the national monument will preserve New Mexico’s outdoor heritage by ensuring that these public lands will remain open to hunting, outdoor recreation and grazing. The bill will provide gold-standard protection for the wildest places within the national monument – including the Organ, Potrillo, Uvas and Robledo mountains, in addition to Aden Lava Flow and Broad Canyon. 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.

“The Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks National Monument put a star on the map for Doña Ana County, attracting visitors and showing the world the spectacular treasures Southern New Mexico has to offer,” Udall said. “We’ve worked with the community to draft a bill that strikes the right balance between securing our border and protecting treasured landscapes like the Organ Mountains. Designating these wilderness areas is a final, necessary step toward ensuring the monument’s many treasures will remain protected for generations to come. It will draw even more visitors to the Las Cruces area and add to the already positive economic impact the monument is having on the community.”

“This legislation furthers the community‘s vision for one of Southern New Mexico’s most iconic landscapes by protecting several of the most rugged and unique areas in the monument as wilderness,” Heinrich said. “In addition, management changes south of the monument will create additional flexibility for the Border Patrol and improve security at our nation’s southern border. Protecting these special places as wilderness will serve as a national example of community-driven, landscape-scale conservation that will preserve New Mexico’s culture and natural resources and protect our outdoor recreation economy. I give my heartfelt gratitude to the diverse coalition and stakeholders from southern New Mexico who worked for so many years to make the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument a reality. I have no doubt that future generations will be grateful for their efforts.”

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument has increased tourism and boosted the economy in Doña Ana County, and the wilderness designation will help promote the monument as a world-class destination. The Lonely Planet guidebook, which has a strong international following, has named Southern New Mexico as a top-10 “Best in the United States for 2016” destination, and highlights the national monument as a reason to visit. The Town of Mesilla’s tax revenues have jumped over 20 percent since the monument’s creation and Las Cruces’ Lodgers tax revenues are up since 2015 in part because of new conferences and meetings attracted to the area by the monument. New businesses also have opened to offer outdoor recreation opportunities within the monument and surrounding community.

This updated legislation, previously introduced in 2013, reflects feedback from many individuals and groups, 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.

By removing the current wilderness study area designation in 30,000 acres of the monument 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.”

In April, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance sponsored a poll by Third Eye Strategies, which found that 78 percent of residents in Doña Ana County support legislation to protect wilderness within OMDP.

A fact sheet on the legislation is available here. Bill text is available here. Maps are found here. A summary of the security provisions within the bill can be found here.