LAND DISPOSAL AND DEVELOPMENT ISSUES

 
   
 

Managing growth and development is an important issue, but it should not be tied to designating wilderness areas. 

Many groups and individuals who support congressional wilderness designation of public lands bring up the issue of land disposal and development on public lands.  They state that a wilderness designation will block all future development, thus "protecting" the land, and imply that a wilderness designation is the ONLY way to protect land from development.

The Wilderness Act was created to protect existing wilderness areas.  It was never intended to be a tool used to stop Federal land disposal and development.  The Wilderness Act of 1964 provides the federal definition of Wilderness:

"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.  An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this chapter an area of underdeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educations, scenic, or historical value."

There are many other tools available, both legislative and administrative, which can be used to permanently withdraw Federal land from the disposal process.

A quick look at a few of the larger agencies reveals the VAST amount of land currently being managed by the Federal government.  4 federal agencies currently manage 642 MILLION ACRES of land.  This does not include State Parks, military land and other land designations.   To put that in perspective, the total land mass of the United States is roughly 2.3 billion acres. 

Interestingly, according to the Census Bureau, only 5.4 PERCENT of the US is considered "developed".  The bureau considers an area to be "developed" when there are 30 or more people per square mile

National Wilderness Preservation System:

According to the www.Wilderness.Net website, there are currently 756 Wilderness areas, consuming nearly 109.5 MILLION ACRES of land.  That number only takes into consideration federal Wilderness areas.

A quick look at a few of the larger agencies reveals the VAST amount of land currently being managed by the Federal government. 

BLM (Bureau of Land Management):

From the BLM website: "The BLM is responsible for carrying out a variety of programs for the management and conservation, of resources on 261.5 MILLION SURFACE ACRES, as well as 700 MILLION ACRES of subsurface mineral estate.  These public lands make up about 13 percent of the total land surface of the United States and more than 40 percent of all land managed by the Federal government."

US Department of Agriculture Forest Service:

"Established in 1905, the Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Forest Service manages public lands in national forests and grasslands.  National forests and grasslands encompass 192.5 MILLION ACRES of land, which is an area equivalent to the size of Texas."

National Park Service:

"The National Park System comprises 83.6 MILLION ACRES in every state (except Delaware), the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. These areas include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House."

U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE

"The USFWS controls 95.4 MILLION ACRES.

These 4 federal agencies manage 633 MILLION ACRES of land.  This does not include State Parks, military land and other land designations.  
 

   
 

In Dona Ana County, the total land area of the county is roughly 2,436,480 acres.

Less than 13% of Dona Ana County land is held in private ownership.

The ownership breaks out as follows (in acres)*:
 
BLM 1,120,000
Military 500,000
State 300,000
Other** 156,000
NPS 53,000
Private 315,000

* Taken from the City of Las Cruces Regional Land Management workgroup Findings Report, April 2007
** NASA, Bureau of Reclamation & other Federal agencies

The original New Mexico Wilderness Alliance Proposals for Wilderness are (in acres):
  Aden Lava Flow 30,375
  Broad Canyon 63,349
  East Potrillos 22,620
  Las Uvas Mountains 11,068
  Mount Riley 9,027
  Organ Foothills 6,936
  Organ Mountains 7,211
  Organ Needles 5,958
  Pena Blanca 4,781
  Robledo Mountains 13,028
  West Potrillos 151,054
  TOTAL 325,407

The proposed wilderness acreage represents nearly 13.5% of the land area in Dona Ana County.