Op-Ed by John Miles
The Taos News (February 10, 2016)

The Pecos Wilderness is one of Northern New Mexico’s most valuable assets. Everyone who lives here knows how precious water is to the viability of our communities and to the welfare of all. We need to be as certain as we can be that the source of this lifeblood of our communities is protected for the long term.

Wilderness designation provides this highest level of protection, and if for no other reason this is why Taos County officials should support adding acreage to the Pecos Wilderness.

A resolution to support expanded wilderness acreage in the Pecos was recently brought before the Taos County Commission upon which the Commission has yet to act.This resolution would endorse a locally crafted proposal to enhance the Pecos Wilderness by adding 120,000 acres of wilderness and special management areas to the current wilderness. Enlightened self-interest requires that we join with other counties surrounding the proposal to support it.

Potential threats in the proposed additions include mining, drilling, fracking, road construction and timber harvest. The proposal is responsive to local concerns by exclusion of some areas and special management designation for others. Fire may be fought within the additions, as allowed by the Wilderness Act and governed by the discretion of the Forest Service. With the addition of proposed land, 18 percent of the 3 million acres of the Carson and Santa Fe National Forests will be designated wilderness.

Protection of our precious water supply is only one of the reasons to support this proposal.

Many of us live here because of the exceptional natural world that surrounds us, many others visit to experience these values that we enjoy daily. This is a mecca for hikers, hunters, fishermen, mountain bikers and skiers, for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. The Pecos is a truly special part of all of this with its streams, waterfalls, lakes, elk, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, and Rio Grande cutthroat, our state fish. Silence and solitude can be found on its mountain ridges, in its steep canyons, and in its expansive flower-filled meadows.

There is no doubt that the Pecos Wilderness boosts our local economy. It draws recreationists and residents. As one of the earliest parts of the National Wilderness Preservation System, the Pecos attracts visitors from all over the nation. Outdoor recreation is one of the core sustainable economic engines running in our communities, and expansion of the Pecos Wilderness will contribute to this. The New Mexico Department of Fish and Game, for instance, found that sportsmen spend more than $613 million a year, contributing to local economies and generating more than $51 million in state and local taxes annually.

Some concerns have been expressed that more wilderness will interfere with the rights of our traditional communities. The opposite is true. The current Pecos Wilderness has protected traditional user rights and customary uses like herb and pinongathering, ceremonies, and most importantly water rights for land grants and acequias. Grazing would continue in the proposal, as authorized in the 1964 Wilderness Act.

Expansion of the Pecos Wilderness will serve all Americans, and especially all who live here. Taos writer John Nichols once wrote, “If these mountains die, where will our imaginations wander? … And if the long-time people of this wonderful country are carelessly squandered by Progress, who will guide us to a better world?”

For the sakes of our mountains and our people, the Taos County Commission should approve a resolution in support of Pecos Wilderness expansion.

John Miles lives in El Prado

Letter to the Editor by Todd Leahy
Las Vegas Optic (September 12, 2015)

A diverse grassroots coalition of conservation minded forest professionals, business owners, non- profit organizations, State and Tribal elected officials and New Mexicans from all walks of life, are hard at work to advocate for the designation of 120,000 acres of The Pecos Wilderness as Federal Wilderness or Special Management Area. This designation will protect the clean air, fresh water and recreational area that the counties Santa Fe, San Miguel, Taos, Mora and Rio Arriba counties have come to enjoy.

A landmark of New Mexican culture and tradition, the Pecos is of tremendous value to surrounding towns, neighboring tribal groups, acequia organizations, land grant communities, sportsmen, ranchers and outdoor enthusiasts. Its 150 miles of streams and more than 15 lakes are part of a watershed that is essential to surrounding communities and the acequia systems that irrigate the lands. Opponents believe that a designation prohibits all public enjoyment of the area. The opponents are wrong. A wilderness designation simply means that access to the area must be non-mechanized and create minimal impact on the landscape. A designation of wilderness or Special Management Area is not something to fear.

The addition of the land to the Pecos Wilderness would not only protect major watersheds for the state, but would also ensure the conservation of wildlife habitat and therefore, the wildlife that brings thousands of hunters and anglers to the state this time of the year.

Opponents will say “the mismanagement of wilderness areas a threat to safety, such as controlling wildfires?” This is fear mongering. Had opposition taken the time to read The Wilderness Act, they would know that it states “…such measures may be taken as may be necessary in the control of fire, insects, and diseases…” Furthermore, federal fire policy states, “firefighter and public safety is the first priority in every fire management activity.”

Preserving this land for future generation should be the goal of all New Mexicans. But is it enough to sit back now that this essential portion of the state is unspoiled by development? There are over 120,000 additional acres that have not seen the cut of a road. These roadless areas could and should be added to the Pecos Wilderness.

Todd Leahy, JD/Ph.D
Conservation Director,
New Mexico Wildlife Federation