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Use of vehicles a sticking point

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One of the key differences between land designated a national monument and land designated wilderness has to do with the use of vehicles – a sticking point for both the sheriff and cattle ranchers.

In designating a monument, nothing changes in terms of road use; existing roads remain open to both law enforcement and the public. The law permits construction of new roads if there is a need, and need is determined by the managing federal agency – in the case of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks proposal, the Bureau of Land Management.

Road use in wilderness is normally far more restrictive. However, proponents of the legislation say it purposefully excludes the vast majority of roads in use from the proposed wilderness designation, along with 30-foot buffers along both shoulders, to keep those access points open to accommodate law enforcement, ranchers, hunters and the visiting public.

A few older, unused roads and four-wheeler tracks would be taken out of use by a wilderness designation.

An area near the border that is currently part of a Wilderness Study Area and therefore subject to restrictions on infrastructure would also be excluded from a wilderness designation. A proposed five-mile buffer zone would allow the Border Patrol to increase its surveillance capabilities, proponents say.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, who proposed the legislation alongside Sen. Tom Udall, says the plan represents “a step forward in terms of law enforcement and will protect existing grazing uses.”

“Despite the fact some stakeholders do not support the design,” he said, “it was still important that we meet their needs.”

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