Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hundreds attend congressional field hearing about wilderness areas

In all, about 600 people showed up for the three-hour hearing, hosted by New Mexico Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, both Democrats. The unexpectedly high turnout forced New Mexico State University officials to open an additional room at the Corbett Center Student Union to accommodate the crowd. The two lawmakers last year introduced Senate Bill 1689, which would create 259,000 acres of wilderness - the most-restrictive land-use designation - along with 100,850 acres of national conservation area, a more flexible designation,in Doña Ana County. U.S. Rep. Harry Teague, D-N.M., also attended Monday. Only invited panelists from the community were allowed to testify in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. Backers of the legislation say it's needed to give the highest level of protection to scenic areas and enhance quality of life in the region. Opponents say they're concerned it would curtail access to the lands and hinder ranchers' livelihoods. The crowd's opinions Monday were split. Proponents, many of whom were rallied by the local New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, wore stickers indicating their backing of the measure, while a number opponents sported Las Cruces TEA Party shirts...read more

The two big issues were border security and flood control. Here are some excerpts:

John Hummer, Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce

Throughout this debate, the reference to the 2006 MOU has been held out to solve access problems for the Border Patrol. In testimony to Congress this past summer, none other than Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, discounted that contention. In Napolitano’s letter dated October 2, 2009 to the Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, two major points were revealed. First, Ms. Napolitano wrote, “While the USBP recognized the importance and value of wilderness area designations, they can have a significant impact on USBP operations . . .” Secondly, her report revealed the failings of the 2006 MOU in practice in the field. She wrote in reference to the document, “. . . along the southwest border it (the MOU) can be detrimental to the most effective accomplishment of the (USBP) mission.” The fact remains, that when Federal Wilderness is designated, full Border Patrol authority and access is terminated. That is unacceptable in this county.

Jim Switzer, National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers

The presence of any wilderness on the Mexican border is a danger to the security of the United States. The Arizona border history is finally being acknowledged and investigated. The mission demands of land management agencies of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Interior (DOI) and those of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Protection (CBP) are in direct conflict. The goals of the former are natural resource and environmental protection and those of the latter are Homeland Security and border protection. The former requires the limitation of human presence while the latter requires the same presence without restriction or condition. The juxtaposition the agencies find themselves in when their duties overlap is a diminishment of success for both. Designated Federal Wilderness is not causative in the intent of illegals to enter the United States, but it is causative in the establishment and expansion of entry corridors. The lessons of Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and Pajarita Wilderness must not be ignored. Once established, corridors similar to those in place in those Federal Wilderness areas are guarded with the most barbaric means imaginable.

Gary Esslinger, Elephant Butte Irrigation District

The settlement allows us to capture and put flood waters to beneficial use, but we must handle the onslaught and contain it in our delivery system. Our canal and drainage system provides the massive infrastructure for transporting that water, but we need to perfect a system to adequately capture and introduce such waters into that infrastructure. S.1689 jeopardizes our ability to install such a system if we are not allowed access to our watersheds...S.1689 must be modified to assure access and construction of flood water facilities up and down watershed slopes for the full and safe capture of future flood events similar to those the Village of Hatch has endured. This is a matter of public safety and community interest, and, prior to a full assessment of what is needed, all areas slated for Federal Wilderness and NCA that drain into the Rio Grande must be more closely studied. Our organization and all other organizations that are charged with flood control and public safety matters must be at that planning table. This matter cannot be directed from afar by interests that have other political agendas.

Joe Delk, Dona Ana Soil & Water Conservation District

Included in the footprint of the proposal are scores of reclamation dams that are now in excess of 40 years of age. Many of those dams have had no maintenance in years. The DASWCD has taken an aggressive stance in addressing that problem, and if NCA and /or federal Wilderness designation hinders our ability or the ability of this community to perform maintenance and improvement strategies, a growing risk to residents downstream form those structures is imminent. What happened to Hatch, NM starting in 2005, will eventually occur in the entirety of the watershed expanse to the north and south...

More tomorrow, and now that I have this hearing behind me, I'll try to get back to my regular posting.


Tommy said...

Like the one man said . . . as soon as they get their way, they will changes the rules and stop all grazing.

Anonymous said...

Tommy, since the Wilderness Act specifically says that grazing can continue(a point anti-grazing people don't like), please give me all your examples of this.

Frank DuBois said...

Anonymous, check out the Gila Wilderness, where the original grazing permittees are no longer there.

Had Robinson said...

Great hearing - But is it over for us who enjoy these places with a 4x4 over existing roads? We hang glide and paraglide in the Potrillo Mountains and we just can't carry our aircraft for miles through the desert. We use existing roads that will be gone. What are we going to do? Why are these folks bulldozing this through? How have we harmed anybody or anything? It is frustrating....