BY SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH
Today is National Public Lands Day, a great time to visit one of New Mexico’s incredible national parks, monuments, forests, and wilderness areas—most have waived their entrance fees to mark the occasion.
The outdoors has always been at the center of my life. When other kids were playing baseball, I was catching snapping turtles to keep as pets. After college, I served in AmeriCorps with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in New Mexico and worked on the effort to restore the Mexican wolf. Later, I became an outfitter guide, taking young people into the backcountry of America’s public lands, stripping away all those electronic screens and devices so they could learn who they really were. And I’ve spent my entire adult life working to protect the landscapes that I love and the people who rely on them.
It’s worth recognizing that no other country in the world has our history of public land. Protecting landscapes that house natural wonders and cultural heritage, and making them accessible to anyone no matter the size of your bank account, is uniquely American. Here in New Mexico, we are lucky to have so many public lands with wide-open skies, stunning scenery, complex history, and abundant wildlife. I have been proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with New Mexicans to protect these places for future generations.
I have successfully passed laws to make White Sands one of our newest National Parks, to designate and protect more than a dozen new wilderness areas throughout our state, to transfer the management of Valles Caldera National Preserve to the National Park Service, and to create the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque’s South Valley. I led the coalition that unlocked public access to the Sabinoso Wilderness, which was previously surrounded by private lands. And I championed the successful community-driven campaigns to establish the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte National Monuments.
Earlier this year, I celebrated a monumental new addition to the Marquez Wildlife Area in western New Mexico. The high mesas, dramatic volcanic cones, and wide-open valleys within the historic L Bar Ranch property that will soon be open to the public represent the single greatest addition to protected public land in New Mexico in a generation. These lands are also home to cultural sites for the Pueblos of Acoma, Laguna, and Zuni, and the Navajo Nation and massive elk herds that range from lower foothills all the way up to the high plateau of Mt. Taylor.
During my time in the Senate, I have found that our public lands are a uniquely uniting force. I have worked with Republicans and Democrats alike to pass public lands laws like the Great American Outdoors Act, which fully and permanently funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund and invested in the infrastructure that improves access and visitor experiences at all of our public lands, and grows our outdoor recreation economy.
Right now, I am partnering with Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri to pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which would invest in proactive, on-the-ground conservation work led State and Tribal wildlife agencies that support the long-term health of fish and wildlife and their habitat. And I am advancing legislation to provide long overdue recognition that Tribal Nations have sacred sites, historical ecological knowledge, and ongoing cultural practices on our public lands.
I am also focused on expanding opportunities for everyone to enjoy our public lands. I passed the Every Kid Outdoors Act, which provides all fourth graders and their families with free entrance to our public lands. And I welcomed New Mexico’s first-of-its-kind effort to create an Outdoor Equity Fund that supports locally-driven efforts to take kids from underserved communities on outdoor adventures.
I am enormously proud of all that New Mexicans have accomplished together to protect the public lands that we all love and treasure. I hope you will take some time today to get outside and explore what they have to offer.