“Profiles in Environmentalism” is a recurring segment on our blog where we shine a light on the dedicated people who are working to preserve the world around them. Big or small, local or national, every environmental organization works towards the same goal: providing a greener world for future generations.
The state of New Mexico contains some of the nation’s most breathtaking vistas. From Wheeler Peak to the Rio Grande Gorge, the Land of Enchantment does not lack for natural beauty. And with five national forests, and over a dozen public lands managed by the National Park Service, the state maintains a strong commitment to preserving that natural beauty. However, this spirit of conservation is often times at odds with the interests of industry. With natural gas and oil production on the rise, and mining companies looking for new sources of metal ore, much of the state’s natural wilderness is under threat of exploitation.
Protecting those parts of the state that are currently unprotected represents the core of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance’s mission. Founded in 1997, the Alliance has spent the last 16 years securing federal protection for many of the state’s most ecologically sensitive areas. Much of the groups conservation efforts are based on expanding awareness among the public, helping to generate a groundswell of support for preserving the state’s undeveloped lands. The Alliance has also gained many prominent political supporters, including former Governor Bill Richardson. The group has successfully lobbied the President in order to declare large tracts of New Mexico’s wilderness as national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906.
Earlier this year, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance scored a major victory when President Obama declared the Rio Grande del Norte a national monument, providing federal protection for 240,000 acres in the region. The Rio Grande del Norte’s status as a national monument also confers upon it the opportunity for it to be designated as a national wilderness, effectively prohibiting any commercial activity from taking place within its borders. Currently, US Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico are pushing for a bill that would do just that.
The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance has also fought for and won federal protection for the Ojito and Sabinoso Wildernesses, providing New Mexico with a combined 27,030 acres of additional protected lands. The Ojito Wilderness lies northwest of Albuquerque, affording city dwellers the opportunity to take a break from city living and enjoy the high desert country that the state is known for. The area is also a hot bed for geological and paleontological research due to the Jurassic Age Morrison Formation. The Morrison Formation contains innumerable fossilized remains of plant life and dinosaurs that are as much as 150 million years old. These paleontological artifacts are so important that to take any such fossils from the wilderness is punishable by hefty fines.
In contrast, Sabinoso Wilderness is a more remote region located in the northeastern portion of the state. The region’s relative isolation has left it mostly untouched by human activity and its status as a protected wilderness ensures that it will remain that way for future generations. Currently, no roads or trails lead into the Sabinoso, making it slightly more difficult for the public to gain access. But efforts are underway to open up the area to human explorers and curious visitors.
The NMWA is currently focused on extending protection to other ecological areas spread across New Mexico. Among these are the Otero Mesa, Chaco Canyon, the Organ Mountains, and the Columbine Hondo Wilderness. The group also devotes a significant amount of time towards improving understanding of the importance of protected public lands through its “Let’s Get Wild” program. The program includes nature hikes, conservation projects, and educational events that are designed to enhance public interest in protected lands.
Thanks to the efforts of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and groups like it, at least a small part of the United States’ natural heritage remains protected; ensuring that future generations are able to enjoy the sweeping canyons and wide open spaces of New Mexico, and parts beyond, for years to come.