Department Of Interior

DOI News Header
Office of the Secretary
For Immediate Release:July 20, 2004
Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson Endorses Legislation to Designate Wilderness for Public Lands in Nevada and New Mexico

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Citing the merits of a cooperative, ground-up approach to contentious wilderness issues, Rebecca Watson, Assistant Interior Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, today endorsed legislation that would designate nearly 800,000 acres of public lands in Nevada and New Mexico as Federal wilderness. Watson said the legislation would preserve areas with spectacular, rugged beauty while complementing the Interior Department's collaborative approach to public land management.

Watson, appearing before the House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands, told lawmakers the Interior Department supports the designations of two wilderness-related bills, one of which would set aside as wilderness nearly 770,000 acres of public land in Lincoln County, Nevada. The other would designate more than 10,000 acres of wilderness in the canyonlands and badlands of Ojito, an area forty miles northwest of Albuquerque. The public lands that are the focus of wilderness designation are under the management of the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

"The Nevada wilderness-designation bill is a testament to the hard work and perseverance of the Nevada congressional delegation and their constituents," Watson said today.

Watson commended Rep. Jim Gibbons, Sen. John Ensign, Sen. Harry Reid, and the entire Nevada delegation for working to resolve what she termed the Wilderness Study Area "logjam," a situation resulting from the fact that only Congress, not the BLM, can change the status of a Wilderness Study Area -- either by designating it as permanent wilderness or by releasing it from wilderness study status. The Department has recognized that the Nevada delegation specifically included some acreage in the legislation that the BLM has determined would not be suitable for the Federal permanent wilderness designation. Watson, however, acknowledged that Congress has final authority over the disposition of public lands, including the designation of Federal wilderness status.

"Congressman Gibbons and the entire delegation have worked with communities of place and interest to reach agreement on these designations," Watson said in her testimony. "We hope that this approach can be a model for other states and regions to take similar actions."

Watson also told the House subcommittee that the Interior Department supports the wilderness designation of the New Mexico bill (H.R. 3176), which would protect the entire 10,794-acre Ojito Wilderness Study Area as permanent Federal wilderness. She noted that the BLM recommended wilderness status for the Ojito area in 1992, during the administration of George H.W. Bush, and praised the work of the bill's sponsors -- New Mexico Reps. Tom Udall and Heather Wilson. Watson asked the subcommittee for an opportunity to resolve certain issues relating to the bill, including a provision that would transfer certain BLM-managed lands to the reservation of the Pueblo of Zia, who seek to protect religious artifacts and cultural sites in the area while consolidating their land holdings.


Selected News Releases