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BLM>New Mexico>National Conservation Lands>Wilderness and WSAs>Wilderness Study Areas
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Wilderness Study Areas (WSA)

Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) are managed so as not to impair their suitability for preservation as wilderness until Congress decides to permanently protect them as Wilderness, or release them from WSA status to non-wilderness uses.  To be non-impairing, a use or facility must meet a non-impairment standard:

  • The use or facility is temporary; and
  • The use or facility will not create new surface disturbance.

There are seven exceptions to the non-impairment standard (these are defined in BLM Manual 6330).  They are:

  • Emergencies
  • Public safety
  • Restoration
  • Valid existing rights
  • Grandfathered uses
  • Protect or enhance wilderness characteristics
  • Other legal requirements

Many WSAs are places that are used for recreation.  A variety of activities are allowed, including primitive and non-primitive activities, as long as the non-impairment criterion is met.  Some examples, that normally do not include any limitations, are:

• Hiking• Hunting• Camping• Horseback riding
• Photography• Fishing• Skiing• Snowshoeing
• River running• Bird watching• Climbing• Stock packing
• Canoeing• Sightseeing• Caving• Orienteering

Prohibited Activities
Activities that create new surface disturbance or involve new permanent facilities are prohibited in WSAs, though exceptions exist.  Examples of prohibited activities include:

• Driving motor vehicles cross country • Riding mountain bikes cross country
• Placing new installations (e.g. climbing bolts)• Establishing new recreation uses incompatible with a wilderness designation

Other Uses
Within WSAs, a variety of multiple uses may occur.  You may encounter the following uses:

  Restoration projects to maintain soil and water quality;
  Wildlife habitat restoration projects;
  Livestock grazing and related facilities;
  Mineral activities;
  Motor vehicle access (on some pre-existing routes);
  Aerial activities (if launch and landing does not require facilities or cross country motor vehicles);
  Mountain bike access (on some pre-existing routes);
  Commercial guiding services;
 Law enforcement activities;
  Study of cultural or paleontological resources; or,
  Wild horses and burros

There are 57 WSAs  managed by the BLM in New Mexico.

New Mexico WSAs


View interactive map of Wilderness Study Areas in New Mexico


New Mexico Wilderness Study Report (Sept. 1991) Vol 1

New Mexico Wilderness Study Report (Sept. 1991) Vol 2