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.
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.