Monday, January 11, 2016

Plan to expand Pecos Wilderness facing resistance

...Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson thought it was special enough to place more 170,000 acres in the strictest category of protection, a wilderness area, in 1964, when the president signed the nation’s first Wilderness Act. The Pecos Wilderness has since been expanded to include 220,000 acres. And now a growing coalition of wilderness advocates, elected officials and a variety of organizations are calling for a new expansion. It would add 78,000 acres, an increase of about 30 percent, to the wilderness area. The proposal already has the backing of state Reps. Nick L. Salazar, D-Ohkay Owingeh, and Richard C. Martinez, D-Española, along with State Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and the Taos Pueblo War Chief. Resolutions in support of the proposal have been passed by the Santa Fe, San Miguel and Mora county commissions; the Nambé, Picuris and Pojoaque pueblos; and the city of Santa Fe. But a vocal group of residents who live in and around the village of Peñasco, near part of the forest involved in the wilderness expansion plan, are opposed. Many spoke against the expansion at a Taos County Commission meeting in October, prompting the commission to shelve a resolution of support. With supporters of the proposal facing gridlock in Congress, getting buy-in from a broad range of community groups – including those longtime Peñasco residents – is key to making the expansion a reality. The majority of the acreage in the current proposal would become outright wilderness area, but 30 percent would be designated “special management areas.” These special areas, or SMAs, located as buffers around the wilderness expansion in the Santa Fe and Peñasco areas, would be governed by management plans specific to each area. This allows the Forest Service to ban industries like commercial timber harvest and mining, while still permitting some activities that are not allowed under a full wilderness designation, like mountain biking or running a chainsaw to collect firewood. “That’s what’s so cool about this proposal, is that it’s not just wilderness,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Foundation. “The special management component that comes down closer to the communities is a document that can be written specific to the management ideals of a particular community, but it does prevent major development.” The wilderness advocates are asking for congressional designation for the special management areas, meaning SMAs would hold almost the same legal permanence as an official wilderness area. But the inclusion of these wilderness-light zones in the proposal has not convinced all the groups that they were meant to appease, especially the residents of Peñasco. Many showed up at the October Taos County Commission meeting with “No Wilderness” signs and again for another contentious meeting in Peñasco in November. So why are the residents so uneasy about an expanded wilderness area? For one, it strikes a nerve for many in Peñasco to hear politicians or bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., dictate what they can or cannot do in national forest land that once was community property. Many are heirs to area land grants handed down by the King of Spain. Around northern New Mexico, many community land grants dating from Spanish or Mexican rule were lost decades ago to what became the national forests, by what locals and many historians say were nefarious means. “I think it’s (the wilderness expansion) crazy and I guarantee all of the people back here are against it,” said Roy Brown, a life-long resident of Peñasco. The vocal opponents in Peñasco are not just worried about hundred-year-old wrongs. Residents are also concerned about how the management of the forest will change, especially when it comes to access for hunting and wood collecting, and how the threat of wildfire will be treated...more

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