What are Wilderness Study Areas (WSA)?
Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) are roadless areas that have been inventoried and found to have wilderness characteristics as described in the Wilderness Act of 1964. Congress will decide whether to designate these areas for long-term protection as wilderness or to manage these areas for other purposes. Until Congress makes that determination, WSAs are managed so as not to impair their suitability for preservation as wilderness.
How are WSAs established?
WSAs were established where identified through an inventory process that concluded in 1980. The inventory process consisted of identifying roadless federal lands of 5,000 acres (or less where of sufficient size to be manageable as wilderness) which appear natural and have outstanding opportunities for solitude or primitive recreation. Where these qualities existed, the area became a WSA. Additional WSAs were designated up until 1993 through BLM’s planning process. The BLM does not currently designate new WSAs.
What is the status of WSAs in New Mexico?
There are 57 WSAs in New Mexico totaling nearly one million acres.
What recreation activities occur in WSAs?
Recreational uses in wilderness study areas include activities such as hiking, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, backpacking, camping, nature study, photography, and rock climbing. Motorized and mechanized (e.g. mountain bike) activities may also occur in WSAs only as limited to existing routes; WSAs are not places where development or promotion of motorized or mechanized recreation occurs.
Are motor vehicles allowed?
Motor vehicles may be allowed on existing routes (referenced to as “ways” or “primitive routes”) that are not otherwise identified as closed. Motor vehicle use off existing routes is not allowed except for certain administrative cases such as motor vehicles being operated by ranchers (with authorization), BLM fire crews, or law enforcement personnel.
Can I ride my bicycle in a WSA?
Only on those routes which were existing at the time of the WSA’s designation (1990) and which have not otherwise been closed.
Is hunting permitted?
Yes. Hunting and fishing are allowed in WSAs, subject to applicable state and federal laws. Hunting and fishing activities must be properly licensed, as required by state laws.
Are guides and outfitters allowed to operate in WSAs?
Yes, when consistent with the managing office’s resource management plan. Guides and outfitters are required to be permitted by the BLM.
Are wheelchairs allowed?
Yes. However, BLM is not required to provide any form of special accommodation.
Is grazing permitted?
Yes. Grazing is permitted to continue by Section 603(c) of FLPMA.
How does a WSA designation impact mining?
Where a valid claim had been identified before WSA designation, those minerals may be mined so long as such mining does not cause unnecessary or undue degradation. New mining claims may be established in WSAs but they may not be mined until Congress determines whether or not to designate the area as wilderness.
Can roads, power lines, or pipelines be constructed?
Generally no. However, where a valid existing right exists, new construction could take place.
How will BLM allow access to state or private lands within WSAs?
Where state owned or privately owned land is completely surrounded by wilderness, access through the WSA may be granted to support use of the land for the purpose under which it was originally conveyed from federal ownership.
Are fires allowed to burn?
In cases where fire is a natural part of the wilderness characteristics of an area, the BLM will work to maintain the natural role of fire. However, all fires must be controlled to prevent loss of human life or property within wilderness or on lands adjacent to wilderness areas. The equipment and tactics used to fight fires will be designed to minimize the impact to wilderness characteristics.
If I’m injured in a WSA, will rescue be allowed?
Yes, including the use of motor vehicles where necessary to accomplish a rescue.