Protecting New Mexico’s roadless areas

September 2, 2018

The approach of fall is an ideal time to reflect on the vast public lands and forests that make New Mexico the Land of Enchantment. As horse people who frequently serve as trail bosses for our local saddle club, we have been riding the ranges of Northern New Mexico since the 1970s. We appreciate not only the panoramic splendor of these undeveloped, roadless landscapes, but also their contributions to the watersheds that provide us clean water. What we seek out, and have helped others to appreciate, is the serenity that comes with exploring these wild places — from rugged switchback trails and shaded canyons to glacial basins and grassy meadows.

Now these roadless places are under attack by the White House and some members of Congress. They are intent on dismantling the popular Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which protects roadless areas like those in New Mexico’s Carson and Santa Fe National Forests. Fortunately, Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., have co-sponsored a bill that would permanently block attacks from this and future administrations by legislating the Roadless Rule into law.

Sens. Udall and Heinrich understand that the Roadless Rule is one of the U.S. Forest Service’s greatest achievements. It safeguarded some 58.5 million acres of treasured national forest lands across 39 states, including nearly 1.6 million acres in New Mexico. Protected roadless areas often serve as entrances to unspoiled wilderness areas including the Pecos and Wheeler Peak. In addition to stellar horse-riding opportunities, some of the best game and fish habitat in the country lie within designated roadless areas.

Even if you have never ridden a horse or otherwise ventured into any of these areas, you still benefit from the Roadless Rule and all that these wild lands give back to our environment, economy and general well-being.

Roadless areas contain all or portions of 30 watersheds in New Mexico that serve as drinking water. It is important to protect our forests and drinking water sources from development to ensure clean water into the future.

Roadless national forests provide critical habitat for 2,100 vanishing species — from grizzly bears in Montana to Mexican spotted owls in New Mexico. Intact roadless areas promote migratory passage for elk, deer, mountain lions and a host of other wildlife.

From its inception, the Roadless Rule has received bipartisan support. However, there are a few radical representatives in the U.S. House who want to sneak in provisions to weaken the Roadless Rule by allowing road building and logging of roadless forests across the country, including in New Mexico.

These special places belong to all of us whether we ride horses, hike, fish, or simply by knowing that such treasured places exist. Never have our national monuments, national forest roadless areas and other public lands been under so much threat. It is encouraging to know that we can count on New Mexico’s senators to advocate for our public lands.

Thank you, Sens. Udall and Heinrich, for co-sponsoring the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2018 and making sure the final version of the Senate farm bill is free of language that would harm the Roadless Rule and the millions of acres it safeguards.

John and Pam MacArthur live south of Taos on a small ranch where Pam operates a horse boarding business and John is a certified clockmaker. Both have explored the wilderness and roadless areas throughout Northern New Mexico for decades and are members of several wilderness and conservation organizations.

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