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The good public lands news coming out of Bingaman's office these days just doesn't stop.  He put together a big lovely Public Land Omnibus Bill which passed handily, and includes protections for a zillion areas all over the country. I've been spending months plowing through the list, and adding them as recreation sites to my big public lands database. Before I finish these, what do I find? Along with Senator Tom Udall (remember: vote for the Udall nearest you!), he has introduced two bills that would protect about a dozen additional areas in New Mexico, including areas around Taos and Las Cruces. I've drawn the areas in to Googly Earth (as my 4 yo calls it) pretty roughly, but I hope enough to give you all an idea of what's being discussed.  

On top of that, he is sponsoring a bill to give teeth (and funding) to the Public Lands Service Corps, making it more like the old CCC.  The Public Lands Service Corps is up for a committee hearing next Thursday, and you all might drop the committee members a friendly note to let them know that funding a Public Lands Service Corps would be awesome. More on all these exciting developments below...

Here'e the story the way I learned it.

S. 1689 Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act

I read about the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act from the newspaper (we still have one of those). The article described the years of negotiations that have gone into this bill, which have been more or less resolved, thanks in part to replacing conservative Steve Pearce with Democrat Harry Teague, and thanks in part to working things out with local ranchers, motorized recreationists, mountain bikers, and others who were concerned about access and about losing recreational opportunities. Pictured is an overview map of the areas designated under this legislation, looking south toward Mexico (the solid yellow line is the border).

Unlike Pete Domenici's original vision of the bill, which protects only the tippy tall part of the Organ Mountains, this would protect a large swath of the base as well. To the west of the Rio Grande, the Desert Peaks National Conservation area would include the Robledo Mountain Wilderness, the Sierras de Uvas Wilderness, the Broad Canyon Wilderness, and a stretch in between that will be managed for multiple uses as a National Conservation area. There is another unit that would protect Dona Ana Peak. To the south, the proposed Potrillo Mountains Complex includes the Aden Lava Flow Wilderness, the Potrillo Mountains Wilderness, the Whitehorn Wilderness, and the Cinder Cone Wilderness.

The Robledo Mountains (pictured), named for the first Spaniard colonist to die in New Mexico, also include the newly-designated Prehistoric Trackways National Monument, an exceptional paleontological site.

Despite all the wilderness designations, the most trafficked areas (like the area between the Robledos and the Sierra de las Uvas, shown) will be protected as a multiple-use National Conservation Area (think the BLM version of a park), which will preserve existing renewable extractive uses (grazing and hunting), and promises to establish a travel management plan for mechanized and motorized use (ATVs, motorcycles, three-wheelers, 4X4s, mountain bikes). The bill does specify no new road building except for habitat conservation or safety.

We can only hope that the good folk of southern New Mexico take the hint that we want some stewardship though, and stop using these areas as their large appliance dumping grounds. True story: I have a lot of old monitors to dispose of (like 60 maybe) and a friend suggested I just take them out to BLM lands and shoot them with some high caliber rounds. Another true story: my cousin, back in his hunting and fishin and drinkin and drivin days used to build 300-foot walls of fire out on BLM lands in SW Wyoming for kicks on the weekends. Really, these places get no respect. The OHV use is in some ways, the least of it.

As you can see from the Googly Earth grab (sorry, I don't have time to hike up the justly-celebrated Dripping Springs and take a real picture today), while Las Cruces is merely a medium-sized city growing into a big city, the El Paso/ Juarez area (the green squigglies around the yellow border) is a big city growing into a megalopolis, which will overrun these lovely mountains without protection. Immigration, poverty, drug smuggling, and urban violence take their tolls on the urban/wildland interface. Just ask any ranger who has to deal with dumped corpses, drug caches, heaps of trash (literally heaps of water bottles), armed people, fearful people, people driving like bats out of hell over fragile landscapes, etc. Or ask a camper (like me) who has been rousted from her tent by las migres and by people (immigrants? smugglers?) tearassing past in the middle of the night. I haven't been camping down there since the war has been heating up, but I'm sure it's hard to find solitude and quiet very many places. So that's good, and hopefully everyone is happy enough with this bill to let it go through.

Where this stands: This has been moving through committees, and is not scheduled for any more hearings or votes at this time. If you are a New Mexican, or love public lands, you can contact Senators Udall and Bingaman and gush a little bit. Teague supports this, and Lujan, but I don't think Heinrich has a position on this. I can't imagine he would oppose it, though.

S. 874: El Rio Grande Del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act

So I'm in the middle of revising all the NM recreation maps, and I figured I had better include these areas. When I called Bingaman's office to talk to the wonderful man who keeps feeding me public lands maps, he asked if I also wanted the maps for the proposed Cerro de Yuta Wilderness/ Rio del Norte Conservation Area. I hadn't heard of it, but boy, it protects some of the most extraordinary land in northern New Mexico! It includes the popular Wild Rivers Recreation Area, and totals  235,980 acres, from the Colorado border to pretty close to Taos (shown is the view from Taos).

Under this bill this whole area will gain protections from mineral development or road building, some wilderness, and more funding (we hope!). I used to oversee the BLM bookstore at  Wild Rivers, and going up for the day was always a glorious treat. Like many boutique mountain towns of the west, the private land here is filling up fast, and the pesky Coloradans keep flooding across the border, dropping cash everywhere and sucking up our precious supplies of microbrews and espressos (sorry, couldn't resist). Pictured is the view from the Colorado border south.

This is such suprising country, a wide, sage-spotted valley, with monumental peaks bracketing the plains, and the Rio Grande cutting an insanely deep and precipitous gorge into the center. On top of that, all these crazy volcanic protrusions, of sinister black basalt, are jutting up everywhere. From inside the proposed NCA, you can go to the confluence of the Red River and the Rio Grande and hike down into the chasm. Try it sometime, but remember you still have to get up. Pictured: the Gorge cutting through.

This is clearly sacred land, and one of the notable things about this bill is that it specifies that Natives can access and restrict access the area for religious purposes:

(F) TRIBAL CULTURAL USES-
(i) ACCESS- The Secretary shall, in consultation with Indian tribes or pueblos--
(I) ensure the protection of religious and cultural sites; and
(II) provide occasional access to the sites by members of Indian tribes or pueblos for traditional cultural and customary uses, consistent with Public Law 95-341 (commonly known as the `American Indian Religious Freedom Act') (42 U.S.C. 1996).
(ii) TEMPORARY CLOSURES- In accordance with Public Law 95-341 (commonly known as the `American Indian Religious Freedom Act') (42 U.S.C. 1996), the Secretary, on request of an Indian tribe or pueblo, may temporarily close to general public use 1 or more specific areas of the Conservation Area in order to protect traditional cultural and customary uses in those areas by members of the Indian tribe or the pueblo.

Where this stands: Again, this has been moving slowly through committee.  But it never hurts for Udall and Bingaman to hear what a brilliant idea this is, and how much we appreciate seeing our public lands protected.

H.R. 1612/S. 1442 Public Lands Service Corps Act of 2009
Not all of us have the time to even go hike on our public lands, much less take care of them. The great diaries here on the CCC have awoken a great deal of nostalgia for having a crew of dedicated civilians who get job training and lots of sunshine building trails, improving facilities, restoring habitats, stablizing erosion, eradicating invasive species, and so forth. Well, we actually do have such an organization, and Raul Grijalva (AZ 07, pictured below at a Public Lands Youth Service Corps event) has put a bill before the house, which Bingaman has matched in the Senate, to expand the Public Lands Youth Service Corps in its scope and in the agencies with which it can partner.  I learned about this terrific bill through the Sierra Club, which has been very active in encouraging programs to get kids outdoors more, and they kindly sent me some great pictures, taken by Javier Sierra, and gave me permission to quote their letter of support:

Vote in Favor of the Public Lands Service Corps Act of 2009

Dear Representative:

On behalf of our millions of members and supporters nationwide, we urge you to vote in favor of the Public Lands Service Corps Act of 2009, HR 1612. We, the undersigned organizations, represent members of the education, environmental, preservationist, sportsmen and business communities. The Public Lands Service Corps Act would help restore our Nation’s natural and cultural resources by increasing service opportunities for youth and young adults on public lands.

A modernized Public Lands Service Corps would improve opportunities for youth and young adults, particularly those from underserved communities, to gain valuable job skills and spend time working outdoors while providing much-needed services on our Nation’s public lands. The bill would also lay the groundwork for a new and diverse generation of public land visitors and managers.

HR 1612 would expand opportunities for young people to spend time outdoors. On average, American teenagers are spending about two and half hours per day watching television or surfing the internet and only six minutes each day engaged in outdoor activities. Contact with nature has been shown to improve academic and behavioral performance. Time outside has also been found to alleviate symptoms of attention deficit disorders, decrease stress levels among youth and improve vision. Youth who get outside and limit their screen time are also more physically fit than their peers.

The Public Lands Service Corps Act would prepare youth and young adults for green jobs. As our nation moves towards a green economy, with more than half of the near future job growth coming from Environmental-Related Occupations, according to a recent projection by the White House Council of Economic Advisors, it is critical that we provide young people with the training they need to fully participate in the 21st Century workforce. Not only does HR 1612 provide entry-level employment opportunities and job training for youth and young adults, service to the Corps will better qualify participants for future careers in public land management.

HR 1612 would also authorize activities that would improve infrastructure, restore our public lands, encourage cultural and historical research, improve the health of coastal, marine and estuarine ecosystems, address climate change and assist with scientific data collection. Furthermore, the Public Lands Service Corps Act will instill in a new generation an appreciation for natural and cultural resource stewardship and public service.

Therefore, we urge you to vote in favor of the Public Lands Service Corps Act of 2009. If you need additional information, please contact Jacqueline Ostfeld, Sierra Club’s National Youth Representative, at 202-548-6584 or Jackie.Ostfeld@SierraClub.org.

Sincerely,

American Camp Association
American Recreation Coalition
Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago (Illinois)
Center for Desert Archaeology
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
The Coalition for the Northeast Ecological Corridor (Puerto Rico)
Coalition of National Park Service Retirees
The Corps Network
Florida Wildlife Federation (Florida)
Green For All
Muddy Sneakers: The Joy of Learning Outside (North Carolina)
National Education Association
National Parks Conservation Association
National Park Trust
National Trust for Historic Preservation
National Wildlife Federation
Natural Resources Defense Council
NatureBridge
North Cascades Institute (Washington)
Partnership for the National Trails System
The Outdoor Foundation
Outdoor Industry Association
REI
Sierra Club
Student Conservation Association
Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (Vermont)
Washington State Child Care Resource & Referral Network (Washington)
The Wellness Coalition Youth Corps (New Mexico)
The Wilderness Society

Where this Stands: This one is COMING UP FOR A HEARING THIS THURSDAY, OCT 29 in the Senate Energy & Natural Resources subcommittee on Parks and Forests. The following senators will be hearing this bill:

Democratic Subcommittee Members
Ron Wyden (Chairman)
Tim Johnson
Mary L. Landrieu
Maria Cantwell
Robert Menendez
Blanche Lincoln
Mark Udall
Jeanne Shaheen

Republican Subcommittee Members
John Barrasso
James E. Risch
John McCain
Robert Bennett
Jeff Sessions
Bob Corker

If you have any of these folks on speed dial, or if they're working for you, let them know that you want to see more stewards of our public lands! There's a lot of work to be done, a lot of jobs that need to be created, and a lot of weight that could be lost!

Originally posted to BoogieMama on Mon Oct 26, 2009 at 11:38 AM PDT.

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