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Public Papers - 1992

Letter to Congressional Leaders Transmitting Proposed Legislation on New Mexico Public Lands Wilderness Designation

1992-05-22

Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)

I am pleased to submit for congressional consideration and passage the ``New Mexico Public Lands Wilderness Act''.

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), (43 U.S.C. 1701, et seq.), directs the Secretary of the Interior to review the wilderness potential of the public lands.

The review of the areas identified in New Mexico began immediately after the enactment of FLPMA and has now been completed. Approximately 908,000 acres of public lands in 50 areas in New Mexico met the minimum wilderness criteria and were designated as wilderness study areas (WSAs). These WSAs were studied and analyzed during the review process and the results documented in six environmental impact statements and one instant study area report.

Based on the studies and reviews of the WSAs, the Secretary of the Interior recommends that all or part of 23 of the WSAs, totaling 487,186 acres of public lands, be designated as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. From these 23 WSAs, the Secretary proposes to designate 22 wilderness areas by consolidating two WSAs into one wilderness area.

I concur with the Secretary of the Interior's recommendations and am pleased to recommend designation of the 22 areas (totaling 487,186 acres) identified in the enclosed draft legislation as additions to the National Wilderness Preservation System.

The proposed additions represent the diversity of wilderness values in the State of New Mexico. These range from the relatively undisturbed and expansive stretch of the Chihuahuan Desert in the West Potrillo Mountains, to the canyons of the Gila and Chama Rivers, to the rocky peaks of the Organ Mountains, Big Hatchet Mountains, and the Sierra Ladrones. These areas span a wide variety of New Mexico landforms, ecosystems, and other natural systems and features. Their inclusion in the wilderness system will improve the geographic distribution of wilderness areas in New Mexico, and will complement existing areas of congressionally designated wilderness. They will provide new and outstanding opportunities for solitude and unconfined recreation.

The enclosed draft legislation provides that designation as wilderness shall not constitute a reservation of water or water rights for wilderness purposes. This is consistent with the fact that the Congress did not establish a Federal reserved water right for wilderness purposes. The Administration has established the policy that, where it is necessary to obtain water rights for wilderness purposes in a specific wilderness area, water rights would be sought from the State by filing under State water laws. Furthermore, it is the policy of the Administration that the designation of wilderness areas should not interfere with the use of water rights, State water administration, or the use of a State's interstate water allocation.

The draft legislation also provides for access to wilderness areas by Indian people for traditional cultural and religious purposes. Access by the general public may be limited in order to protect the privacy of religious cultural activities taking place in specific wilderness areas. In addition, to the fullest extent practicable, the Department of the Interior will coordinate with the Department of Defense to minimize the impact of any overflights during these religious cultural activities.

I further concur with the Secretary of the Interior that all or part of 39 of the WSAs encompassing 420,400 acres are not suitable for preservation as wilderness and should be released for multi-use management.

Also enclosed are a letter and report from the Secretary of the Interior concerning the WSAs discussed above and a section-by-section analysis of the draft legislation. I urge the Congress to act expeditiously and favorably on the proposed legislation so that the natural resources of these WSAs in New Mexico may be protected and preserved.

Sincerely,

George Bush

Note: Identical letters were sent to Thomas S. Foley, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Dan Quayle, President of the Senate.

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