Opinion: Extend time for public comment on Wild and Scenic Rivers

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Letter to James Duran, Carson National Forest supervisor:

New Mexico’s waterways – no matter how small – are often the lifeblood our communities and our traditions. It has come to our attention that the Carson National Forest is reviewing the Wild and Scenic River eligibility of multiple segments of rivers within the Forest’s jurisdiction. Local news outlets have reported that after surveying 217 river segments, the Carson National Forest’s current proposal is to move from 103 eligible ‘wild and scenic’ river segments to 48, a cutting in half the number of eligible segments which will receive protection.

Reducing the number of eligible rivers as well as deciding to reassess many previously assessed rivers is concerning in light of the limited public input the Forest has sought.

In making these changes, we believe it is important that you increase public involvement to hear from the communities located in and around the Carson National Forest and the rivers being evaluated.

We request that the Forest Service extend the comment period for an additional 30 days beyond the current Nov. 15 deadline and that the Forest provide additional public outreach, with the public about the wild and scenic river eligibility review and the Forest’s findings.

In addition, it is our understanding that while a segment of river is awaiting designation and is deemed ‘eligible’ by a federal land management agency, the agency must to work to maintain and manage the free-flowing nature and outstandingly remarkable values contained in the river segment.

If the Forest Service now believes there are large numbers of rivers which no longer have the outstandingly remarkable values previous Forest evaluations found, we request that the Forest Service provide clear justifications as to how these rivers lost those values and what changed circumstances justify the downgrade.

In addition, we would also like to know what the agency should have done better to protect those values, so we can assure we do not continue to lose those values over time.

We appreciate your stewardship of our public lands on behalf of the American people and look forward to your swift response.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján are Democrats representing New Mexico in Congress.

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