Friday, November 11, 2011

Interior rejects Bingaman's southern NM wilderness bill as a "crown jewel"

On December 22, 2010 Interior Secretary Salazar issued Secretarial Order 3310, his so-called "Wild Lands" policy, instructing BLM to re-inventory BLM lands with "wilderness characteristics".

After a stream of protests from Congress and Governors, Salazar backed down and in June reversed himself.  He issued a new policy saying Interior "will be soliciting input from members of Congress, state and local officials, tribes, and Federal land managers to identify BLM lands that may be appropriate candidates for Congressional protection under the Wilderness Act."  BLM Director Bob Abbey then issued a memo stating:

State Directors will identify “crown jewel” BLM-managed areas that have broad support for Congressional designation under the Wilderness Act. Only those areas that are manageable as wilderness and have strong BLM Field Office and State Office support for wilderness designation should be identified.

Since then BLM has been about the process of identifying those "crown jewels" and yesterday Secretary Salazar released the list and an accompanying report.  In his letter to Congress presenting the report Salazar said:

We have compiled this list of special lands based on input and encouragement from members of Congress, state and county officials, our own land managers, and other interested parties. In all cases, the highlighted areas have significant local support.

Nowhere in that report will you find the 242,000 acres proposed by Bingaman in S. 1024, and for good reason.  The Bingaman bill is opposed by the two most prominent business organizations in Las Cruces, the local and national law enforcement community, and ranchers and other users of these lands.

Here are some examples of local opposition to the Bingaman legislation:

° In written Congressional testimony NM border sheriffs from Las Cruces to Lordburg have opposed the legislation.  Dona Ana Sheriff Todd Garrison called the bill "the height of folly" for the restrictions in would place on law enforcement and saying it would "stymie my department's efforts" to provide for public safety.  Raymond Cobos, Sheriff of Luna County, testified the bill would "hamstring effective law enforcement" and requested the legislation by "set aside."  Hidalgo County Sheriff Saturnino Madero testified the Wilderness Act "prevents the use of motor vehicles, mechanized equipment and other tools which are vital to local law enforcement."  Noting the 98,960 acres of Wilderness Study Areas in Hidalgo County "which are being promoted as candidates for future legislation", and given the current situation on the border, Sheriff Madero said he found it "highly inadvisable" to pass such federal land designations.

° The National Association of Former Border Control Officers has presented testimony to both the House and the Senate in opposition to Wilderness on the border, and specifically testified in opposition to Bingaman's bill.

° The Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce submitted testimony saying the organization "has strongly opposed Senator Bingaman’s efforts to designate our community’s lands as 'Wilderness'” and expressing concern on the legislation's impact on "national security" and on the community's efforts on "flood control". The Building Industry Association (Home Builders) submitted testimony expressing similar concerns and stating the BIA is "opposed to the passage of S. 1024 in its current form."

Other local entities who have testified in opposition to S. 1024:

--The Mayor of Hatch, NM
--The Luna County Commission
--The Mesilla Valley Sportsmen's Alliance
--The Dona Ana Soil & Water Conservation District
--The Las Cruces Tea Party
--People for Preserving Our Western Heritage
--The Rio Grande Soaring Association

Yes, even the hang gliders are opposed to this bill.

The big question now is:  Even though Secretary Salazar declined to include these lands in his "Crown Jewel" recommendations to Congress, will Senator Bingaman continue to try to shove this legislation down our throats?  The Secretary did include Bingaman's proposal for Wilderness/NCAs in northern NM in his recommendations. Will damaging and discriminating against the Hispanic ranchers and hunters up north satisfy Bingaman's quest for a "legacy" or will he keep coming after us?

Stay tuned.

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