- Associated Press - Sunday, January 10, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A proposal to fold thousands of acres into the Pecos Wilderness area northwest of Santa Fe is drawing resistance from nearby residents.

A group of people living in and around the village of Penasco, which is near forest involved in the proposed expansion, have been strongly opposed to the idea, the Albuquerque Journal reported (https://bit.ly/1Pm7L9X).

State lawmakers and wilderness advocates have thrown their support behind expanding the Pecos Wilderness, which includes 220,000 acres, by 30 percent with another 78,000 acres.

Residents say they are worried about still being able to hunt or gather wood if management of the forest changes, as well as how any change would impact addressing wildfire danger.

“I think it’s (the wilderness expansion) crazy and I guarantee all of the people back here are against it,” said lifetime Penasco resident Roy Brown.

Supporters of the plan say the proposal allows for a 14,000-acre “special management area” outside of Penasco. In this area, officials could permit mountain biking and other activities that would not be allowed in an area with a full wilderness designation. They can also ban commercial timber harvesting, mining and other industries.

“That’s what’s so cool about this proposal, is that it’s not just wilderness,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Foundation. “The special management component that comes down closer to the communities is a document that can be written specific to the management ideals of a particular community, but it does prevent major development.”

Gilbert Ortega has lived in Penasco his entire life, and says the new wilderness areas could become barriers to crews fighting wildfires.

“I’ve fought fires for 30 years,” Ortega said. “In the wilderness, it was always a mess.”

New Mexico Wilderness Alliance Executive Director Mark Allison says the areas of concern are not good candidates for thinning projects that reduce fuel for fires.

“I just think this fire conversation is too generalized and, when we look at the areas we are proposing, it’s not in the front country and it’s not in the urban interface,” Allison said.

Pecos Wilderness first received federal protection in 1964. The authority to make a decision on the proposal belongs to Congress.


Information from: Albuquerque Journal, https://www.abqjournal.com

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