Sportsmen show support for monument proposal

With Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s trip to Taos County complete and discussions about a Rio Grande del Norte national monument ongoing, Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued a statement opposing the monument designation, citing a lack of public input and referring to the Antiquities Act as “controversial” and a way to “lock up federal land and resources behind Congress’ back.”

The New Mexico Wildlife Federation has responded to Bishop’s concerns regarding a lack of public input, pointing out that permanent protection of Rio Grande del Norte “has been the subject of widespread public discussion and media coverage for years.”

From the New Mexico Wildlife Federation’s press release:

“Contrary to Rep. Bishop’s statements, well-publicized legislation and proposals regarding Rio Grande del Norte have been discussed for several years, with the overwhelming amount of it favoring permanent protection of these vital public lands,” said Max Trujillo of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “The representative’s assertion that designating this area as a national monument without sufficient public input reeks of a desperate 11th-hour attempt to stop presidential action that would help the local economy and be highly popular in New Mexico.”

In fact, permanent protection of Rio Grande del Norte has been the subject of widespread public discussion and media coverage for years. It has been supported by numerous entities including the Taos County Commission, Taos Town Council, Taos Pueblo, local businesses and chambers of commerce, as well as individual ranchers, sportsmen and veterans. A recent book highlights the support voiced by 100 northern New Mexicans from all walks of life.

“Contrary to Rep. Bishop’s recent comments, a tremendous amount of public input has gone into the development of the proposal to protect Rio Grande del Norte,” said Taos County Commissioner Larry Sanchez. “That is why there is no local opposition to designating a national monument. That is why the many traditional uses of these public lands are being recognized. Grazing, hunting, fishing, gathering of firewood and piñon and herbs, religious and cultural sites—it would all be protected. Designating Rio Grande del Norte as a national monument would also provide badly needed economic growth for this area,” he continued. “I would be happy to give Rep. Bishop a personal tour of the area to show him directly how much local support there is.”

You can find additional coverage in the Taos News here.

Audubon New Mexico’s Executive Director discusses protecting Rio Grande Gorge region

In her op-ed in the Santa Fe New Mexican, Aububon New Mexico’s Executive Director Karyn Stockdale lays out her reasons for extending permanent protection to the Rio Grande Gorge region by designating the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Though she touches on the economic and tourism boosts the area will receive, her primary argument focuses on the region’s critical wildlife habitat, especially for birds – from larger species such as eagles, hawks and falcons that nest in the Rio Grande Gorge, to smaller songbird species which depend on the riparian margins along the river’s banks.

Stockdale writes:

During the spring and fall, the Rio Grande becomes a critical pathway for dozens of migrant species making their long journeys between their summer breeding grounds in the northern U.S. and Canada and their wintering grounds in Mexico, Central and South America. While everyone notices the larger migrants, like the trumpeting Sandhill Cranes, they are just a visible symbol of dozens of smaller species that cannot complete their migratory journeys without the habitats fed by the waters of the Rio Grande.

And it’s not just an amazing assembly of birds that can be found in the Rio Grande Gorge region. Animals big and small live in the habitats of the high mesas of the Taos Plateau and Ute Mountain.

The annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count is currently taking place across New Mexico, providing not only a great opportunity to learn which birds are in our area but also to contribute to our understanding of them. Over time, these bird counts give us a picture of the health of bird populations and the environment, and the latest data beg us to pay attention. Last week, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported about the decline in the number of birds wintering in Northern New Mexico and across the United States. These long-term changes in bird numbers bring to light the need for us to make sure we are protecting important habitat for our resident and migrating birds.

Read the full article in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

More support for Rio Grande del Norte monument

Those choosing to speak at Saturday’s public meeting hosted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar consistently delivered the same message – overwhelming support for a Rio Grande del Norte national monument.

Around 50 or so people spoke at the two-hour meeting, which was also attended by Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and Jesse Juen, state director for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The meeting was meant to gather public comment on plans to designate 236,000 acres in and around Taos County as a conservation area or national monument.

Commenters included river guide Cisco Guevara:

“I was probably only about 3 years old and I was looking into the kitchen sink,” Guevara told Salazar. “My dad had gone fishing and he was going to feed the whole clan — there were more than 10 of us — with two fish. They were huge. They were going over the edges of the sink. And I said, ‘Dad, where did these fish come from?’ ‘El Río Grande del Norte.’ And from then on, I always wanted to visit that magic place.”

Taos Pueblo Lt. Gov. Gilbert Suazo mentioned the cultural significance of the Rio Grande region:

“We have Indian names for all these places here,” said Suazo, pointing to landmarks on a giant map and reciting the Tiwa name for each. “All of those places are a part of a history, a part of our culture, a part of our tradition. So we are interested in having that area protected.”

And Questa Mayor Esther García stressed safeguarding the land and respecting the historic activities of longtime Hispano residents:

“For me, protecting El Río Grande del Norte is very important, but I also want to protect the traditional uses of land,” García said. “We are land grant heirs in New Mexico. Grazing is important. The fishing, the hunting, the herb gathering. Everything that has been traditional for my culture is very important to me.”

You can find more from the Taos News here.

Audience at Taos public meeting expresses overwhelming support for Rio Grande monument

A full house in Taos for the Rio Grande public meeting

When Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asked those gathered in front of him to raise their hands if they support a national monument designation for the Rio Grande del Norte, the result was swift and telling – arms from one corner of the Kachina Lodge meeting room to the other burst into the air.

And yet just as telling was the reaction Salazar received when asking for those opposed to do the same – not a single person in attendance raised a hand in protest.

Despite short notice, a standing-room-only crowd gathered in Taos to discuss protecting the Rio Grande del Norte, an area prized by sportsmen, hikers and tribes for its wildlife and sacred values. Nearly 50 local residents – from landowners and grazing permittees, to sportsmen, local tribal leaders and veterans - had the opportunity to give public comments, and they were unanimously in favor of providing added protections to the region.

From Environment and Energy Publishing:

For conservationists, the meeting marked the administration’s first official step toward using the Antiquities Act to designate the 236,000-acre Rio Grande Gorge and Taos Plateau as a national monument.

“I think the landscape and the resources there are absolutely worthy of protection,” said Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Durango, Colo.-based Conservation Lands Foundation, who attended Saturday’s meeting.

Salazar said he was there to take the opinion of the community back to the president. He was accompanied by Neil Kornze, acting deputy director for policy and programs at the Bureau of Land Management, which administers the area, O’Donnell said. The meeting also included BLM New Mexico State Director Jesse Juen and Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who has introduced H.R. 1241 to protect the land as a national conservation area.

While Luján’s bill carries the support of BLM and there is companion legislation sponsored in the Senate by New Mexico Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, few expect the legislation to pass both chambers during the fiscal talks of the lame duck. The lawmakers in recent months have suggested that a national monument is the only viable path forward amid the partisan dysfunction in Congress.

As mentioned in the E&E Publishing article, this is the first official taken by the Obama Administration towards providing permanent protection for the Rio Grande del Norte. The hope is that with overwhelming local support and little in the way of opposition, a national monument designation by President Obama could be just around the corner.

You can read the full article from Environment & Energy Publishing here [subscription required].

Read coverage from the Taos News here.

The Vet Voice Foundation was on hand as well.

Taking a family trip to the Taos Plateau

Mike Matz, Director of the Pew Environment Group’s “Campaign for America’s Wilderness,” recently blogged about his family’s Thanksgiving trip to the Rio Grande del Norte. Mike gives a wonderful description of his family’s inaugural journey to Rio Grande, and provides some beautiful photos to boot.

From the Pew Newsroom – Dispatch from the Taos Plateau:

On our first day, we drove to the edge of the gorge where the Rio Grande cuts through the surrounding plateau of igneous rock and looked down 600 feet to see its shimmering, roiling waters. Traveling on rugged routes marked by the Bureau of Land Management, we startled a herd of pronghorn, which raced across the sparsely vegetated tablelands at an astonishing clip—beautiful white flanks flashing in the sun.

Each of the brisk mornings in the predawn darkness, we were serenaded by the yipping and yowling of coyotes, prompting our domestic canine to answer back with annoyed barks. The nights are frigid this time of year, but we had a wall tent, with a wood stove, on which to cook meals, read books, play cribbage, and have a family slumber party. My wife and I gave the kids the choice of pulling up the stakes and heading into Taos each day, and they voted to stay and camp.

The plateau surrounding the gorge is remote and full of Elk tracks and pellets. Though we never caught a glimpse of any, it’s abundantly clear they’re there, and the mixed sagebrush and lush pine forest provides excellent habitat, which makes this region a hunter’s paradise.

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Secretary Salazar to hold public meeting in New Mexico on Río Grande del Norte

RGDN Support StickerThe Department of the Interior has issued an advisory stating that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will be holding a public hearing tomorrow, Saturday the 15th, in Taos to “explore the best path forward to preserve and protect the Río Grande del Norte in northern New Mexico.” This is a huge step towards securing permanent protection for the Rio Grande del Norte, and ensuring that future generations will be able to use and enjoy the area as it exists today. Stay tuned for more updates.

From the DOI media advisory:

TAOS, NM – As part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors program, on Saturday, December 15, 2012, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will host a public listening session to explore the best path forward to preserve and protect the Río Grande del Norte in northern New Mexico. Secretary Salazar will be joined by U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján and Bureau of Land Management State Director for New Mexico Jesse Juen.

“I look forward to hearing from New Mexicans about what the Río Grande del Norte means to their community and what their vision is for its future,” said Secretary Salazar. “Public lands provide huge economic benefits to communities through tourism and outdoor recreation, and the Río Grande del Norte is no exception. We need to ensure that generations to come have the opportunity to experience this iconic western landscape.”

For more information on the where and when of the public meeting, here is the complete Department of the Interior media advisory.

Conquering a Cliff by Protecting a Gorge

The Sierra Club's Eliza Kretzmann

On the Sierra Club’s “Lay of the Land” blog, Eliza Kretzmann of the Club’s Resilient Habitats program writes that with the nation teetering at the edge of a fiscal cliff, protecting the Rio Grande del Norte and reaping the economic benefits that a national monument designation would bring is a win-win proposition.

From Lay of the Land:

In addition to protecting one of the state’s most treasured landscapes, the prospect of a national monument designation also provides other opportunities during what have been tough times for this region. As the ‘fiscal cliff’ approaches, a Rio Grande del Norte National Monument represents a ray of economic hope in an otherwise bleak storyline; a recent study by the Denver-based BBC Research and Consulting found that national monument designation of this special place would bring in an estimated $15.7 million annually, and provide over 270 jobs. For a county with a 28% poverty rate, this is big economic news.

Read the full post from Eliza Kretzmann here.

If you’re interested in supporting the Sierra Club’s petition to designate the Rio Grande del Norte, you can sign up here.

Wildlife thriving at Rio Grande del Norte

Many local ranching families rely on the use of federal lands for grazing their livestock, and these federal grazing permittees play an important role in conserving our undeveloped public lands, places where local wildlife continue to thrive. One such permittee shared some photos and video with us showing a massive herd of elk moving across his allotment. Permanently protecting the Rio Grande del Norte will allow these permittees to continue to use the land, and ensure that the wonderful variety of wildlife here – from eagles, hawks and falcons, to cougars, elk and bighorn sheep – will continue to have a place to call home.

Elk Herd 1

Elk herd on the Rio Grande del Norte lands

Elk Herd 2

Wide view of an elk herd on Rio Grande del Norte lands