New Mexico Wildlife Federation: Protecting New Mexico's Enchanting Wilderness

New Mexico Wildlife Federation LogoThe New Mexico Wildlife Federation is a partner of the Campaign for America's Wilderness, working with us to win permanent protection for the Organ Mountains, the Rio Grande Area and Columbine Hondo.

New Mexico really is the Land of Enchantment. Its ancient adobe dwellings of the Anasazi date back thousands of years; the colorful and spiritual traditions of the Navajo, Apache and Pueblo Native Americans have been passed down through generations and the wagon-wheel ruts from pioneers traveling the Santa Fe Trail are remnants of a more recent history. New Mexico's diverse landscapes are as varied as its history. Dramatic high mountains turn into rolling plains in the north, elaborate rock art decorates the Gila Mountains in the southwest, and the caverns and caves of the southeast are some of the oldest and most famous in the world — filled with amazing formations of many colors and shapes. The beauty of this state is mesmerizing. And along with this diversity of landscapes are a diversity of habitat and wildlife. Bighorn sheep, elk, and mule deer, mountain lions and the Mexican wolf inhabit the land along with many other unique and important species.

Working tirelessly to protect both habitat and wildlife is the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. Founded in 1914 by Aldo Leopold and other conservation-minded sportsmen, the New Mexico Wildlife Federation led the way in bringing back elk, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, wild turkey and other wild species to New Mexico. They spearheaded efforts to save pronghorn from local extinction and were instrumental in designating the world's first wilderness area, the Gila Wilderness.

The New Mexico Wildlife Federation is an active voice for sportsmen throughout the state. Among many other achievements, their work includes habitat restoration projects, state and national legislative advocacy, protecting access to public land and increasing hunting and fishing opportunities on private lands by working with landowners. A group of conservation-minded hunters and anglers, NMWF fights threats to New Mexico's habitat such as irresponsible oil and gas development, off-road vehicle abuse and irresponsible grazing practices. They work to get youth outdoors and to protect those outdoors for future generations. From Ute Mountain to southern New Mexico's Organ Mountains, the Federation is a key advocate for protecting New Mexico's majestic wilderness.

Ute Mountain covers 14,344 acres in Taos County near the Colorado boarders and is one of the proposed wilderness areas the Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act, introduced by the state's U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall. Ute Mountain is an extinct volcano with the Rio Grande on its western edge, rising from the plains west of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range to an elevation of over 10,000 feet. The ancient volcano is a part of the Rio Grande Migratory Flyway, one of the world's great migratory routes and provides critical foraging and nesting habitat for many wildlife species, including the peregrine falcon, the golden eagle, the bald eagle, the prairie falcon, and the great horned owl. At the edge of the gorge, herds of pronghorn and elk find winter forage and calve and fawn in late spring.

Altogether, the bill would protect key elk wintering grounds and migratory corridors along the plateau between Ute Mountain and San Antonio Mountain, as well as habitat for other game species and birds of prey. And much of this is due to the diligence of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. NMWF gathered more than 1,000 letters from resident sportsmen and built support from local sporting goods businesses, rafting and fishing guides, and hunting and fishing groups. They educated tens of thousands of hunters and anglers in New Mexico about the need to safeguard the area for future hunting and fishing opportunities.

Travel south to Doña Ana County near the Mexico and Texas border, and rising dramatically out of the desert are the Organ Mountains. Thanks to the work of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, sportsmen around New Mexico applauded Senators Bingaman and Udall for introducing legislation that would protect critical wildlife habitat in southern New Mexico. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act would designate 250,000 acres of wilderness and another 100,000 acres as a National Conservation Area in New Mexico's Organ Mountains. These areas would be managed in ways that protect the landscape from development while preserving current uses, such as hunting and grazing. The mountains are home to a variety of grasses, mixed desert shrubs, piñon-juniper woodland, mixed mountain shrubs, and ponderosa pines. One of the steepest mountain ranges in the West, the Organ Mountains encompass extremely rugged terrain with steep-sided crevices, canyons, and spires.

NMWF helped bring hunters to the table to help craft legislation in a way that preserved the most important motorized access routes to the potential wilderness areas, while ensuring that core wildlife habitat was protected in a way that would enhance and ensure hunting opportunities for the future. Local sportsmen have been a major voice in support of this campaign, appearing in ads and writing commentary and letters to the editor.

Ute Mountain and the Organ Mountains are just two of many places the New Mexico Wildlife Federation is working hard to safeguard for the sportsmen of tomorrow. For more information, check out their website.