Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland returned to New Mexico on Saturday along with US Sen. Martin Heinrich and US Rep. Teresa Ledger Fernandez, to celebrate the historic expansion of the Sabinoso Wilderness Area, a vast wilderness of mesas, pinons, and juniper forests located in the northeast corner of San Miguel County. The expansion of the rugged wilderness is the end of a 15-year push by Heinrich to protect this landscape and serves as a launch for a greater effort by the Biden administration to restore 30 percent of America’s land and water by 2030 through the America The Beautiful initiative.  

“It is through collaboration with Indian tribes, local communities, conservation organizations, and local governments that we are able to celebrate the donation of 9,617 acres that are now part of the majestic Sabinoso Wilderness,” Haaland said. The Secretary noted that the property donated by the Trust For Public Land is located on ancestral Jicarilla Apache land. 

“This is the largest land donation in history. And will almost double the size of the Sabinosa Wilderness,” she said. 

Sabinoso Wilderness first gained federal protection in 2009, but access was extremely limited due to the wilderness being surrounded by private land. It wasn’t until 2017 that the public gained access to the wilderness after the Bureau of Land Management accepted a donation by The Wilderness Land Trust.

Sen. Heinrich supported and pushed for the previous land donation in 2017 and had long been part of the effort to improve access to the rugged and isolated Sabinoso Wilderness. Heinrich first visited the little-known wilderness over a decade ago and has since played a significant role in the effort to improve access to the area.

“I am grateful for Secretary Haaland’s support of the largest wilderness land donation in U.S. history, which will open up a second public access point to the Sabinoso and provide even greater opportunities for outdoor recreation,” he said. 

Heinrich also commented that the enlargement and improved accessibility of the wilderness is a significant step forward in the economic recovery of surrounding communities. “Increasing access to the Sabinoso is an important economic opportunity for Las Vegas and surrounding communities in San Miguel County. And it couldn’t come at a better time as we rebuild our tourism and outdoor recreation industries in New Mexico,” he said.  

“Areas like the Sabinosa Wilderness are an important part piece of the puzzle as we work together to conserve, connect, and restore 30 percent of our land and water by 2030 through the president’s America The Beautiful implementation,” Haaland said.

  

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Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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