Members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee gave unanimous approval today to a bill that would designate hundreds of thousands of acres in Doña Ana County as wilderness.
With that approval from 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans, the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks Wilderness Act now heads to the Senate floor for a vote.
“Our state has been trying since the Reagan administration to establish wilderness areas in Doña Ana County,” said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. and one of two sponsors of the bill. “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.”
The other sponsor, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said he commended Bingaman, chairman of the energy committee, “for leading the way on his committee’s passage of this landmark legislation, which will protect the incredible landscapes of the Organ Mountains and Doña Ana County’s other natural treasures for generations to come.”
“I look forward to its swift consideration and passage by the full Senate,” Udall said.
The legislation would designate almost 250,000 acres as wilderness and 100,000 acres as national conservation areas. In addition to the Organ Mountains, land on and around the Potrillo, Robledo and Doña Ana mountains would be protected.
Update, 5:15 p.m.
Wilderness proponents are trotting out a number of people to praise today’s committee vote.
“Today’s vote shows that collaboration and consensus building pays off,” Las Cruces City Councilor Gill Sorg said in a news release. “Senator Bingaman should be commended for reaching out, listening to concerns, and making changes to his legislation to make it as strong as possible.”
“By adjusting boundaries, accepting recommendations from border Security experts, and making tough decisions, Senator Bingaman and Senator Udall worked to enhance national security, while also achieving broad community support and desired conservation goals with the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act,” Lynn Scarlett, former deputy secretary of the Interior under President George W. Bush, said in the release.
“With so much security stakeholder input, this bill is the best example of how to preserve both the security on the border and preserve our pristine land,” Paul Deason of Las Cruces, who sits on the U.S. Justice Department’s Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council, said in the release.
“Protecting our spectacular natural areas – like the Organs and the Robledos – is vital to protecting the quality of life that we enjoy here, and that is key to a thriving business climate,” said Renee Frank, board chair for the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce. “Our incredible open spaces and wild mountains are the reasons many people and businesses move to Las Cruces to make their livelihoods and raise their families.”