Sabi­noso Wilder­ness open­ing a ‘bless­ing’

Wyss Foun­da­tion do­na­tion helped pro­vide pub­lic ac­cess to this rugged and re­mote land­scape

Albuquerque Journal - - OP-ED - BY BRAD JONES AL­BU­QUERQUE RES­I­DENT

This Thanks­giv­ing, as I re­flected upon my many bless­ings, I was es­pe­cially thank­ful for the re­cent pub­lic open­ing of the pre­vi­ously in­ac­ces­si­ble Sabi­noso Wilder­ness Area. I am thank­ful for the many pri­vate or­ga­ni­za­tions and pub­lic of­fi­cials for their lead­er­ship, tenac­ity, and hard work to se­cure pub­lic ac­cess to this spe­cial place. And I am thank­ful that I was there when the gates opened.

Since its es­tab­lish­ment by Congress in 2009, the 16,000-acre Sabi­noso Wilder­ness has been sur­rounded by pri­vate land, with no pub­lic ac­cess. Over the years since, nu­mer­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions have at­tempted to ne­go­ti­ate ease­ments or ac­quire pri­vate hold­ings to grant pub­lic ac­cess to the rim­rock canyon land­scape and its abun­dant wildlife. None were suc­cess­ful — un­til now.

The Wilder­ness Land Trust, whose mis­sion is to ac­quire lands in and around wilder­ness ar­eas to trans­fer them to the pub­lic, re­cently pur­chased the 4,000acre Rim­rock Rose Ranch along the south­west­ern bor­der of the Sabi­noso. This ac­qui­si­tion was made pos­si­ble by a gen­er­ous $3 mil­lion do­na­tion from the Wyss Foun­da­tion with the in­tent that it be do­nated to the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment for in­clu­sion into the Sabi­noso Wilder­ness upon ap­proval from In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke. Cham­pi­oning this trans­fer, Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Hein­rich or­ga­nized a tour of the Sabi­noso for Zinke in July, high­light­ing the need for pub­lic ac­cess to this rugged and re­mote land­scape. Af­ter con­sid­er­able de­lib­er­a­tion, Sec­re­tary Zinke did right by the cit­i­zens of New Mex­ico by ap­prov­ing the trans­fer of Rim­rock Rose to the BLM’s Sabi­noso, con­clud­ing a decade­long bat­tle to open the only in­ac­ces­si­ble Amer­i­can Wilder­ness.

Just be­fore noon, while the rest of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment was ob­serv­ing Vet­er­ans Day, the BLM Field Manager ar­rived to un­lock the gate to Sabi­noso. She smiled and apol­o­gized for the de­lay. I had been wait­ing for years to set foot in Sabi­noso, but only a few hours that morn­ing. As she di­aled the com­bi­na­tion on the lock, I was struck by the mod­esty of the mo­ment. There was no me­dia frenzy. There were no cheer­ing crowds or protest­ing mobs. There were no rib­bon­cut­ting politi­cians seek­ing a front page photo op. There was a sole pub­lic land hunter and his dog. Af­ter years of an­tic­i­pa­tion, with as lit­tle ef­fort and cer­e­mony as when the lock was placed on the gate pre­vent­ing pub­lic ac­cess, the lock came off. And just like that, the Sabi­noso was open to its right­ful own­ers.

On be­half of the New Mex­ico Chap­ter of Back­coun­try Hunters and An­glers and pub­lic land own­ers ev­ery­where, I give thanks to the Wilder­ness Land Trust, the Wyss Foun­da­tion, the BLM, Sens. Udall and Hein­rich, and Sec­re­tary Zinke for their lead­er­ship and ef­forts in open­ing this amaz­ing place to the pub­lic. In the spirit of Thanks­giv­ing, I in­vite my fel­low New Mex­i­cans to re­flect upon the great many bless­ings we share as a state, such as our wild places and their wild crea­tures. Even in try­ing times, the Sabi­noso rep­re­sents what the Amer­i­can peo­ple can achieve when we work to­gether for good. In the words of Theodore Roo­sevelt, “Here is your coun­try. Cher­ish these nat­u­ral won­ders, cher­ish the nat­u­ral re­sources, cher­ish the his­tory and ro­mance as a sa­cred her­itage, for your chil­dren and your chil­dren’s chil­dren.”

JIM THOMP­SON/ JOUR­NAL

Canyon Largo in the Sabi­noso Wilder­ness.

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