Senators unveil revised wilderness proposal
New Mexico’s U.S. senators unveiled a revised wilderness proposal for Doña Ana County on Wednesday that frees up more land along the border in an effort to address law enforcement concerns.
The primary change to the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks Wilderness Act is that, in the area along the border that had previously been designated as wilderness study area, a larger area will be freed up for law enforcement access.
Previously, the bill would have released land in a three-mile zone along the border for general use, including law enforcement patrols. The new bill adds an additional two-mile zone near the Potrillo Mountains to be designated as a “Restricted Use Area” in which motorized vehicle access would be allowed for the Border Patrol but not the general public.
The change came, Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall said in a news release, after a February hearing on the legislation in Las Cruces. At that meeting, area residents asked the senators to go further in allowing law enforcement access along the border.
“Working with the Border Patrol, I believe we have come up with a very good resolution that both enhances our border security and protects one of New Mexico’s iconic landscapes,” Bingaman said in a news release.
“Once again we have successfully collaborated to produce a modified plan that strengthens our border security with respect to the preservation of the nearby Potrillo Mountains,” Udall said. “This enhanced legislation builds upon the principles of the original Doña Ana wilderness bill and ensures the protection of both the border and this incredible landscape for generations to come.”
The bill previously proposed releasing 16,000 acres along the border. It now proposes to place another 14,000 into the “Restricted Use Area” designation.
You can view a map with details here.
The legislation also explicitly states that the wilderness designation would not affect the Border Patrol’s ability to fly over the wilderness area or conduct other border security activities there, including the use of motorized vehicles while pursuing a suspect.
Customs official praises changes
The commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, who oversees the Border Patrol, wrote a letter thanking the senators for the changes. In it, Commissioner Alan Bersin stated that the bill, as modified, “would significantly enhance the flexibility of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to operate in this border area.”
“The security-related enhancements in this bill are the result of careful consultation between your office and CBP in New Mexico and Washington, DC,” he wrote. “While the solutions identified in this bill are specific to this particular area of the border, the collaborative process should be a model for future consideration of wilderness designation along the border.”
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will consider the bill in the coming weeks, the news release from Bingaman and Udall said. Bingaman chairs that committee.
If it passes that panel it will be ready for full Senate consideration. It must also make its way through the House before it can head to the president’s desk.
The senators introduced the legislation in October. The bill would designate almost 250,000 acres as wilderness and 100,000 acres as national conservation areas. In addition to the Potrillo Mountains, land on and around the Organ, Robledo and Doña Ana mountains would be protected.
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