Senate passes measure to protect special areas as wilderness within Río Grande del Norte National Monument
TAOS, NM (December 22, 2017) – Just days before Christmas, the U.S. Senate passed the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act (S. 432). A diverse coalition of business owners, sportsmen, tribal leaders, local and federal elected officials, grazing permittees, and more applauded the passage.
“My livelihood depends on the backcountry within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument,” said local outfitter/guide Stuart Wilde. “The passage of the Cerros del Norte Bill reflects the value that New Mexican’s place on wilderness and wild places. In a time when our public lands are under constant threat, this reaffirms our community’s commitment to the protection and conservation of our most special places.”
The legislation would provide extra protection for special areas contained within Río Grande del Norte National Monu¬ment by designating two new wilderness areas –Cerro del Yuta and Río San Antonio. The national monument was designated by President Obama in 2013 after Congress failed time and again to move legislation supported by the local community. Because only Congress can designate Wilderness, Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall introduced the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act following the national monument designation to protect these critical areas.
“Wilderness areas provide the best wildlife habitat for the numerous land and water species that call this area home. These two wilderness designations will ensure that future generations of hunters and anglers will always have true backcountry areas to visit in northern New Mexico. I want to thank Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall for their steadfast leadership in safeguarding our natural heritage,” added Nick Streit, owner of Taos Fly Shop.
Grazing would continue in the already-existing areas and water rights would not be impacted. Additionally, the proposed wilderness areas within the national monument serve as one of the world’s great avian migratory routes. It is also home to important game species like pronghorn and elk. The legislation would also safeguard world-class recreation opportunities already enjoyed within the national monument, such as hiking, hunting, and fishing.
Erminio Martinez, a grazing permittee, said, “My family has been ranching in Northern New Mexico for over 400 years, and we want future generations to have these same opportunities. The national monument designation has not impacted our operations, and neither will preserving Cerro del Yuta and Río San Antonio as wilderness. Our cattle depend upon clean, abundant water, and wilderness will help preserve that precious, diminishing resource.”
Wilderness designation within the national monument will boost local businesses:
- One year after President Obama designated the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, there was a 40 percent increase in visitors and a 21 percent increase in the Town of Taos Lodgers’ Tax Revenue.
- A recent EcoNorthwest study found that “quiet recreation” on Bureau of Land Management lands generated $173 million dollars and supported 1,712 jobs across the state.
- According to Headwaters Economics, the local economies of communities surrounding Río Grande del Norte National Monument have grown, with per capita income increasing as much as 27 percent from 2001 to 2015.
The two proposed wil¬derness areas in the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act will comprise 21,540 acres of the 242,500-acre national monument northwest of Taos, New Mexico.