Marcilynn A. Burke
Bureau of Land Management
Department of the Interior
Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee
October 8, 2009
Thank you for inviting the Department of the Interior to testify on S. 1689, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act.The Administration supports S. 1689, which designates two new National Conservation Areas (NCAs) and eight new wilderness areas in Doña Ana County, New Mexico.We welcome this opportunity to enhance protection for some of
On the west side of
To the southwest of
Senator Bingaman and a wide range of local governments, communities, user groups, conservationists, and Federal agencies have worked collaboratively to develop this consensus proposal to protect all of these special areas.
S. 1689 proposes to designate two new NCAs and eight wilderness areas in Doña Ana County,
Section 3 of S. 1689 designates eight wilderness areas totaling approximately 259,000 acres.The BLM supports the proposed wilderness designations in S. 1689.We would like the opportunity to work with the Chairman on minor boundary modifications for manageability, as well as modifications to some minor technical provisions.
These new wilderness designations are in three distinct areas of the county.First, within the proposed Organ Mountains NCA, 19,400 acres would be designated as the Organ Mountains Wilderness.
The second area is within the Desert Peaks National Conservation Area proposed in this legislation.The bill proposes three designations in this area:Broad Canyon Wilderness (13,900 acres); Robledo Mountains Wilderness (17,000 acres); and Sierra de las Uvas Wilderness (11,100 acres).These three areas are within the 33,600-acre Desert Peaks NCA.Within the Robledo Mountains Wilderness, a small corridor of approximately 100 acres has been designated as "potential wilderness" by section 3(g) of S. 1689.The lands included in this potential wilderness contain a communications right-of-way, and it is our understanding that it is the intention of the Chairman to allow the continued use of this site by the current lessees.However, in the event that the communications right-of-way is relinquished, these lands would be reclaimed and become part of the wilderness area.We support this provision.
Two National Conservation Areas are established by section 4 of the legislation – the Organ Mountains NCA and the Desert Peaks NCA.As noted above, both of these NCAs include proposed designated wilderness within their boundaries.Each of the NCAs designated by Congress and managed by the BLM is unique.However, all NCA designations have certain critical elements in common, including withdrawal from the public land, mining, and mineral leasing laws; off-highway vehicle use limitations; and language that charges the Secretary of the Interior with allowing only those uses that further the purposes for which the NCA is established.Furthermore, NCA designations should not diminish the protections that currently apply to the lands.Section 4 of the bill honors these principles, and the BLM supports the designation of both of these NCAs.
Much of the lands proposed for both wilderness and NCA designations have been historically grazed by domestic livestock, and grazing continues today.Many of BLM's existing wilderness areas and NCAs throughout the West are host to livestock grazing, which is compatible with these designations.This use will continue within the NCAs and wilderness areas designated by S. 1689.
Section 4(f) of the bill transfers administrative jurisdiction of 2,050 acres from DOD to the BLM.These lands, currently part of the Army's
Section 6 of S. 1689 concerns the recently established
Section 5(d) of the legislation provides for the withdrawal of two parcels of BLM-managed lands from the land, mining, and mineral leasing laws.The parcel designated as "Parcel A" is approximately 1,300 acres of BLM-managed lands on the eastern outskirts of Las Cruces.This parcel is a popular hiking and mountain biking site, and provides easy access to the peak of the Tortugas Mountains.From here, visitors can take in spectacular views of Las Cruces and the Rio Grande Valley.We understand that Chairman Bingaman's goal is to ensure that these lands are preserved for continued recreational use by Las Cruces residents.The legislation provides for a possible lease of these lands to a governmental or nonprofit agency under the Recreation and Public Purposes Act.The larger, 6,300 acre parcel, designated as "Parcel B," lies on the southern end of the proposed Organ Mountains NCA.It is our understanding that Chairman Bingaman considered adding this parcel to the NCA because of important resource values.However, a multitude of current uses make inclusion of this parcel in the NCA inconsistent with the purposes established for the NCA.Therefore, the limited withdrawal of the parcel will better serve to protect the resources within this area without negatively affecting the current uses of the area.The BLM supports the withdrawal of both of these parcels.
Finally, the BLM, along with many partners, has undertaken restoration efforts on more than one million acres of degraded landscapes in New Mexico, with the goal of returning grasslands, woodlands, and riparian areas to their original healthy conditions.We would like to work with the Chairman to develop language to support the BLM in implementing appropriate land restoration activities that will benefit watershed and wildlife health within these designated areas.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of S. 1689.Both the BLM and the Department welcome opportunities to engage in important discussions such as this that advance the protection of treasured American landscapes.Passage of this legislation will ensure that generations of New Mexicans and all Americans will be able to witness a golden eagle soar over the Sierra de las Uvas, hike the landmark Organ Mountains, or hunt in the volcanic outcroppings of the Potrillo Mountains.