Sabinoso Wilderness to Extend Almost 10,000 Acres | Local News


When U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich first visited the Sabinoso Wilderness Area – a rugged landscape of craggy canyons, lush waterfront areas, and sandstone cliffs near Las Vegas, New Mexico – he was struck by its radical difference from the rest of the state.

“Its geography was more like some of the areas I used to guide in Southeast Utah,” Heinrich said. “You drive east through the short grass prairie, with barely a tree in sight, then you hit this landscape of deep canyons and mesa peaks. It was very visually striking the first time I saw it.

Almost 15 years after Heinrich’s first visit, the beautiful and remote Sabinoso Wilderness is poised to expand dramatically.

The Home Office is expected to announce on Saturday acceptance of a 9,855-acre donation from the Trust for Public Land, which Heinrich says is the largest of its kind under the Wilderness Act. Combined with a 2017 donation from the Wilderness Land Trust, the Sabinoso nearly doubled in size, to around 30,000 acres.

“It’s really remarkable. What a gift for the people of New Mexico and all Americans who own and cherish this public land, ”Heinrich said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Home Secretary Deb Haaland Heinrich, US Senator Ben Ray Luján, US Representative Teresa Leger Fernández, former US Senator Tom Udall and other tribal, local and state leaders will visit the Sabinoso to officially recognize the donation .

Trust for Public Land officials said they were excited about the donation, noting the area’s rare proximity to beautiful hiking trails and wildlife.

“It was very important for TPL to protect this area,” said Rebecca Bullis, the Trust’s public relations coordinator. “We give residents and visitors access to hiking trails and a totally protected wilderness area.

Conservation officials also praised the donation.

“This is a truly remarkable, special and unique place,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, director of northern conservation for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “There is nothing like the public confidence in New Mexico to compare it to.”

“Partly it’s that classic rimrock sandstone country, kind of like the area around Ghost Ranch,” VeneKlasen said of the area’s similarity to another famous landscape in northern New Mexico. “Then you have these really striking long, narrow canyons. Kind of like a mini-Grand Canyon.

Greg Hiner, Southwest Land Protection Director of the Trust for Public Land, said the Sabinoso Wilderness is home to an array of wildlife scattered throughout the canyon complex, including world-class bird watching.

“Elk, deer, pumas, turkeys and lots of bears,” Hiner said, adding that he even saw “a snapping turtle in a pool” on his last visit to the area.

The Sabinoso Wilderness Area was established in 2009. For years the land surrounding Sabinoso has been kept private and the Wilderness Area has therefore remained inaccessible to the public.

“It was completely landlocked… there was no way to get in,” said Jesse Deubel of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.

That changed in 2017 with the Home Office’s acceptance of Rimrock Rose’s 3,600-acre donation – creating, for the first time, an entry point into the wilderness area.

Heinrich said he worked with former Home Office secretary Ryan Zinke on the land donation.

“We were at daggers drawn,” Heinrich said of an initial stalemate the two had over the donation.

Zinke then toured the area at Heinrich’s invitation, helping to make the donation a reality.

The new acreage will allow another entry point – to be created later – on the northwest side of the Sabinoso Wilderness, which is operated by the Bureau of Land Management. The existing access point is on the south side, 100 km from Las Vegas.

“These new access points are really important,” said Deubel. “During COVID, the masses of people recognized the importance of getting out on these lands. As we are seeing an increase in visits, it is really important to distribute this usage. “

The access points agreed by Heinrich will provide both more availability for outdoor enthusiasts and, in turn, economic opportunities for neighboring communities.

“I think it’s part of building a diverse economy by taking advantage of New Mexico’s unique landscape,” Heinrich said. “We have realized over the past year and a half how essential access to the outdoors is to our physical and mental health.”

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