Las Cruces Organ Mountains Desert Peaks Wilderness Act Clears Energy Committee

Las Cruces – U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman today reported that the Energy and Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved a bill that protects the Organ Mountains of Dona Ana County. Bingaman and Senator Tom Udall are sponsors of the bill.

The Organ Mountains -Desert Peaks Wilderness Act (S.1689) creates wilderness and conservation areas in Dona Ana County that provide for continued public use while protecting the granite peaks of the Organ Mountains and the volcanic cinder cones of the Potrillo Mountains, among other public lands in the county. The bill was given a unanimous "voice vote" out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is comprised of 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans. The measure is now ready for full Senate consideration.

"Our state has been trying since the Reagan administration to establish wilderness areas in Dona Ana County. I'm pleased the bill was cleared by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and that it is now ready for approval by the full Senate," said Bingaman, who chairs the Energy Committee.

"I commend Senator Bingaman for leading the way on his committee's passage of this landmark legislation, which will protect the incredible landscapes of the Organ Mountains and Dona Ana County's other natural treasures for generations to come," Udall said. "I look forward to its swift consideration and passage by the full Senate."

Much of the area protected by S. 1689 has been managed as a "Wilderness Study Area" since the 1980s when the Reagan administration first set it aside for protected status. It was later recommended by the George H.W. Bush administration and then-Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan to be elevated to full wilderness status.

S. 1689 would bring President Bush's recommendations to fruition by creating 241,400 acres of wilderness and 99,150 acres of National Conservation Area (NCA). These areas would be managed in ways that protect the landscape from development while preserving current uses - such as hunting and grazing.

Acknowledging the border region's unique security challenges, S. 1689 creates nearly three miles of non-wilderness buffer area and an additional 2-mile "Restricted Use Area." This area would prohibit motorized access by the general public, but it will permit the Border Patrol to conduct routine patrols and construct communication and surveillance infrastructure as it would on regular multiple-use land.

The bill also removes the designation of 30,000 acres of land as wilderness study area. The Obama administration testified before the Energy Committee that it supported the legislation. Additionally, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, who oversees Border Patrol, wrote a letter in strong support of the strengthened proposal. In the letter Commissioner Alan Bersin states that the bill would significantly enhance the flexibility of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to operate in this border area."