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Bush Signs Ojito Wilderness Act

Associated Press
      New Mexico has a new wilderness area.
    President Bush on Thursday signed a bill designating about 11,000 acres in Sandoval County as the Ojito Wilderness, overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
    The Ojito area south of San Ysidro, preserved since 1991 as a wilderness study area, has vast cultural resources, ancient sites, rare plants and impressive landforms that include multicolored badlands.
    It was the first wilderness designation in New Mexico in more than 15 years.
    Designating the region as wilderness means it will remain open to hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, rock climbing, grazing and historical uses, but will be protected from development, including mining and off-road vehicles.
    The law adds protections to land buffering the wilderness area, largely surrounded by Zia Pueblo.
    The pueblo will be allowed to buy those lands as long as they remain open for recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, paleontological and conservation use and as long as their natural character is preserved. That will let the pueblo unite two separate parts of its land with aboriginal lands that have important religious, cultural and historical value to Zia.
    The measure passed the Senate in July and was approved by the House of Representatives last week. It had broad local support, including endorsements from the Sandoval and Bernalillo county commissions, the Albuquerque City Council and several area Indian pueblos and environmental groups.