• Wilderness designation would severely impact the ability to properly manage and maintain our ranches, and to realize a return on our investment.  Permanent, regular access essential to ranch management is lost, with imposition of a permitting process allowing “occasional” use of vehicles and other mechanized equipment.

  • Wilderness usually results in reductions in livestock numbers.  If you can’t properly maintain all the improvements, you can’t run the cattle.

  • Wilderness negatively impacts ranch values and saleability.

  • Wilderness brings the likelihood of conflicts with the administrative agency over normal management practices, such as reservoir and road repairs, cattle numbers, etc.

  • In Wilderness, new improvements are prohibited unless allowed by a permit process to maintain historical operations.  Any business which cannot make improvements and maintain existing improvements is likely to fail.

  • Wilderness causes reductions in income from livestock sales (fewer cattle; fewer pounds to sell) and increases in operating expenses (increased time and manpower required in every management practice due to prevention of vehicle and equipment use, increased time in dealing with the administrative agency, etc.)

  • Wilderness sooner or later causes loss of the ability to continue ranching operations. 

  • National Conservation Area (NCA) designation can be as restrictive as wilderness.  (The El Malpais NCA management plan is over 200 pages, and provides numerous possible justifications for reducing livestock grazing and the use of livestock exclosures.)

  • The hidden agenda of some “environmentalist” groups is to stop any beneficial use of the land, including livestock grazing.  They promote Wilderness or NCA status to achieve their agenda.

  • Multiple-use management practices presently in use on all areas in Doña Ana County currently proposed as wilderness and in the proposed NCA’s and administered by BLM are effective in caring for and preserving the lands.  Wilderness designation severely curtails use and enjoyment by most of the public, while preventing some management practices essential for ranching operations and which also benefit wildlife (maintaining water, salt, control of invasive plant species, etc.)

  • Grazing fees are assessed by BLM in part for BLM administrative costs, and to fund improvements such as wells, storage tanks, pipelines, earthen reservoirs, fences, and brush control.  Ranchers’ property rights associated with their ranches include water rights, rights-of-way associated with roads and trails, ownership of improvements, ownership of deeded land, grazing permits and State land lease rights.  When wilderness is established, the ranchers’ property rights are diminished.

  • Wilderness designation does not improve or add to the rights of anyone, but in fact severely restricts the public’s rights of access and use, while seriously harming the ranchers.

  • Why impose oppressive wilderness designation when multiple-use management is working well and when other protective designations are available for special features, to prevent sale or exchange, and to preserve the open spaces important to the ranchers and the public.

Written by Tom Cooper, following discussions with other Doña Ana County ranch families whose ranches lie within the areas proposed for Wilderness or National Conservation Area designations.  November 15, 2006 (updated July 14, 2007)

Our concerns are also expressed in other postings on this web-site, especially in letters written by ranchers and other concerned citizens to members of our Congressional Delegation.   You can read an article on the history of one ranching family that was faced with federal Wilderness designation: "The Gila Wilderness and a Ranch Family History".  There are also a few helpful editorials in the News section.

The Western Heritage Alliance Statement on Behalf of Members in response to wilderness and NCA proposals (07/21/07). 

Ø  With regard to zoning changes, annexations, subdivision plans, BLM’s Resource Management Plan amendments, etc:

Question:  What do these land use plans and amendments have in common?

Answer:  While there may at times be dissatisfaction with the process, the public is nevertheless allowed opportunities to comment, before a vote is taken or a final decision is made.

Ø  With regard to the proposal for designating over 300,000 acres (more than 475 square miles!  all within operating cattle ranches and currently open to public access) in Doña Ana County as Wilderness and National Conservation areas (NCA’s):

Question:  Should the public and the ranchers have been allowed to comment?

Answer:   Of course.  But they were not invited to comment either before or after the Councils of Hatch, Mesilla, Sunland Park, and Las Cruces, and the County Commission sent resolutions to Senator Domenici supporting the proposals.  The resolutions were in support of immediate Congressional action designating wilderness and NCA’s!

Question:  Prior to approving the resolutions, didn’t the councils and commission at least contact the ranchers, whose way of life, their investments and livelihoods would all be put at risk?

Answer:      They did not contact a single rancher!

Question:    Then who did have input?

Answer:  Paid staff of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, mostly non-residents brought in from out of town to advance the NMWA proposals.  NMWA had not talked with a single rancher, either, but represented they had the ranchers’ approval of their proposals!


Question:  Would the public and the ranchers retain access into the cattle ranches which comprise the proposed wilderness areas?

Answer:   Vehicles and other mechanized equipment are generally not allowed in Wilderness areas.  Ranchers may be allowed “occasional” use through a permit process which is totally unsatisfactory and impractical.

 Question:   Would access be allowed via “cherry stems” into the Wilderness areas?  Note:  Cherry stems are roads into but said to be “outside” of Wilderness areas by lines drawn on the map, in itself a departure from the Wilderness ideal.

Answer:   The proposals would allow very limited access viacherry stems”.  Most of each proposed area would be accessible only by walking in or by horseback, effectively closing the areas entirely to most people.

 We believe most people are unaware that Wilderness designations would end the public’s ability to drive into and through most of the open spaces now accessible for sightseeing, picnicking, camping, hunting, bird-watching, hiking, or simply finding solitude.  The great open spaces managed and preserved under multiple-use management for decades would in large measure be removed from public use and enjoyment by Wilderness designations.  Further, the few areas remaining under multiple-use management and open to public access would be heavily impacted with increased traffic.

Question:  How are NCA areas managed?

Answer:  Grazing management and access in NCA’s will be subject to a management plan to be written for each NCA.  The management plans  typically impose  restrictions similar to those in wilderness areas.

Question:  Would the ranchers be able to continue ranching with such restrictions on the use of vehicles and other mechanized equipment and without adequate access?

Answer:  As a practical matter, probably not for long.  There were 18 operating cattle ranches in the Gila Wilderness.  Today, there are none.  The ranchers were unable to operate under the restrictions placed on them.

Question:  Isn’t NMWA in favor of continued ranching in the proposed Wilderness areas?

Answer:  If you believe what the paid staff says, you might think so.  But their statement that under the Wilderness Act ranching is allowed to continue appears to be “tongue in cheek” given their real agenda.  A search on the internet for background on NMWA board members (including one who recently resigned) reveals statements which make it obvious that their agenda includes elimination of livestock grazing on the “public” lands.  A former high level NMWA staff person has stated that NMWA’s agenda following wilderness designations is to remove the livestock and the people “one ranch at a time”, and that wilderness designations are merely the first step in meeting their agenda.

NMWA chooses to ignore the many studies completed by professional range management specialists, including those conducted by specialists at New Mexico State University, which demonstrate that well-managed livestock grazing is beneficial to the soils and to the plant communities.


Question:  How can we reverse the effect of the City and County resolutions which endorsed the NMWA proposal to designate over 300,000 acres of Doña Ana County ranch land as Wilderness and NCA’s?

Answer:  We believe that our city/town councilors, and our county commissioners would not knowingly support a plan having potential to cause ranchers operating 18 separate grazing allotments to lose their substantial investments as well as their livelihoods, and to cause the public to lose the cherished access to the open spaces which they have enjoyed for decades.  Nevertheless, that would be the likely results of wilderness and NCA designations as proposed, and as reflected in the resolutions supporting the proposals.  While some councilors and commissioners have acknowledged that additional input should have been allowed and considered, and that their vote would be different based on their current knowledge, the resolutions remain a part of the official records.  The resolutions should be rescinded, in consideration of the affected residents who were not allowed to provide input.

              Wilderness and National Conservation Areas can be designated only by an Act of Congress.  Our Congressmen need to know we want vehicular access into the ranch country in Dona Ana County, and we want to preserve the ranchers’ ability to manage the land and preserve the open spaces under multiple-use management, as they have for decades.

We should send messages to our Congressmen, objecting to the resolutions which were sent to them, and opposing the proposed wilderness and NCA designations, at the email addresses below.

It would also help to contact our councilors and commissioners and to provide copies of our letters to them.  We would appreciate receiving a copy as well at westernheritagealliance@gmail.com.

Senator Pete Domenici  Callie_Gibson@domenici.senate.gov
Senator Jeff Bingaman senator_bingaman@bingaman.senate.gov
Congressman Steve Pearce  Grant.Olson@mail.house.gov
The Rancher's Perspective provides an overview of some of the issues related to wilderness, ranching and open space.  

At the request of the Dona Ana County Commission and the City of Las Cruces, Senator Domenici drafted proposed legislation in late 2005 that would:

1) Designate 8 Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) in the County consisting of approximately 216,500 acres as additions to the National Wilderness Preservation System (or similar protective designation) and release 8500 acres from WSA and Wilderness classification.  The department of the Interior in 1991 concluded that 181,110 acres in the studied areas were suitable for Wilderness and stated that 2 of the 6 WSAs (Las Uvas and Robledos) were not suitable for Wilderness.  2 of the WSAs in the proposed legislation were created in 1993, after development of the Department of the Interior WSA inventory and resulting study;

2) Create a 35,000 acre National Conservation Area (NCA) and appropriate management plan for the Organ Mountains;

3) Acknowledge approximately 65,000 acres listed for disposal in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Resource Management Plan, create an Advisory Board to advise on land disposals, and designate 10% of land sale proceeds to Dona Ana County, 10% to the City of Las Cruces, and 80% of the remainder for land acquisitions, and the balance for reimbursement of disposal costs and conservation purposes;

4) Authorize NMSU/BLM exchange of land and mineral interests;

5) Authorize Phelps Dodge/BLM land exchange.

Influenced by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, the Dona Ana County Commission, Las Cruces City Council, Sunland Park City Council, Village of Hatch Council, and Mesilla Town Council in early 2006 adopted resolutions that would:

1) Increase the number of Wilderness areas from 8 to 10 and the acreage from the proposed 213,668 acres to 422,138.  4 of the 10 areas and 241,028 of the 422,138 acres endorsed in the resolution have not been determined as suitable for Wilderness;

2) Increase the size of the Organ Mountain National Conservation Area from 35,000 acres to 108,000 acres.


1) The governing bodies in the county have endorsed Wilderness areas and the NCA without prior input from operating ranch businesses within the affected areas.  The continued viability of ranching on federal lands in Dona Ana County would be seriously jeopardized by legislative adoption of the Wilderness Alliance proposal;

2) Scientific review was ignored with regard to more than 50% of the land area proposed to be subjected to restrictive regulatory administration.  These additional lands were found not suitable for Wilderness by BLM, i.e. not meeting Wilderness criteria;

3) Vehicular access will be restricted or even disallowed, meaning no access for most of the public, as well as curtailment of access essential for ranch operation and maintenance;

4) Property rights of owners of grazing allotments may be reduced or even eliminated as evidenced by abusive regulatory actions by agency personnel administering grazing allotments in existing Wilderness areas.


Read a press release statement by Tom Mobley from 7/18/07.

Statement from the Rancher Stakeholder Group to the City Workgroup Meeting by Tom Mobley  11/30/06

The organizers of these proceedings have aptly categorized us as “stakeholders” for we are truly engaged in a game of chance.   But every stakeholder here, except the ranchers, acquired their stake at little or no cost. Your stake, your investment, is your passion, perhaps the most formidable force on earth.  The rewards from your stake will be idyllic, a sense of nobility, a sense that you have saved the wonders of nature from destruction.  These are rewards that fall into the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  That is something to be respected and not ridiculed. And yet your losses, if any, in this game of chance will be nil.

Ranchers, on the other hand, have a stake that was acquired at great financial cost and years of work.  The rewards from our stake cross the entire spectrum of the hierarchy of needs.  From the stake we have in our ranches we derive the basest to the highest of needs—food and water, security, our family and friends, our sense of achievement, and our belief that we will leave our lands better for our having been here.  We stand to lose all of this if you and we fail in the task before us.

During the course of these proceedings you will be told that the proposals for Wilderness and National Conservation Areas will not adversely affect ranchers. You will find comfort in that notion because you are good people and you don’t want to do harm to an industry and a way of life that is a part of the heritage of Dona Ana County.

You will be told that there will be no curtailment of grazing rights due to Wilderness designation.  We will show that in spite of provisions in the law, livestock numbers on Wilderness allotments have been reduced by greater percentages than non-Wilderness allotments under similar conditions.

You will be told that ranchers will be able to maintain existing range improvements and perform most ranch operations using motorized equipment.  We will show that on existing Wilderness allotments, ranchers have, for the most part been relegated to practices characteristic of the 19th century.

You will be told that National Conservation Areas are less restrictive on ranching than Wilderness designation.  We will show that in some instances National Conservation Areas are more restrictive.

You will be told that only Wilderness and NCA designation can preserve and protect our federal lands.  We will show that the preservation of the open character of federal lands and the retention of its natural features are in no small part due to the existence of actively managed cattle ranches, and that there are alternatives to Wilderness and NCA for providing needed protection.

You will be told the public’s ability to use and enjoy the federal lands can be preserved only through Wilderness and NCA designation.  We will show that those rights will be diminished in many instances by Wilderness and NCA designation.

You will be told that ranchers do not have property rights with respect to federal lands.  We will show the basis of our property rights and will object to efforts to diminish those rights.

It is our intention to approach these proceedings with open minds and a desire to understand the ideals and the objectives of each stakeholder.  To the best of our ability we will attempt to reach decisions that will mutually benefit the rights of all stakeholders that do not infringe on other rights.  We ask that each of you do the same.


Click here to read more letters and statements.

We also have additional information on the history of ranching, property rights and the devastating impacts of wilderness designation.

The Reference Material Section contains information on Grazing Issues, Property Rights Issues, Wilderness Management Issues and Trail Closures & Removals.