Ah, Wilderness for Río Grande del Norte National Monument

Senators Udall and Heinrich introduce bill to protect special areas as wilderness within the northern New Mexico national monument

TAOS, NM (May 7, 2015) – A diverse coalition today applauded the reintroduction of the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act. The legislation would provide extra protection for special areas contained within the Río Grande del Norte National Monu¬ment. It would designate two new wilderness areas – Ute Mountain (Cerro del Yuta) and San Antonio Mountain (Rio San Antonio) – within the national monument and was introduced by Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall.

Designated in 2013, Río Grande del Norte National Monu¬ment was supported by business owners, sportsmen, tribal leaders, local and federal elected officials, and grazing permittees.

“One of the main reasons people visit the Taos area is to marvel at and venture into our magnificent wilderness areas and public wild lands,” said Stuart Wilde, a local wilderness guide and Llama Trekking outfitter. “Protecting wilderness within the incredible Río Grande del Norte National Monu-ment will only enhance our tourism and outdoor recreation.”

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 additional wilderness protections contained in the legislation will permanently safeguard special areas as wilderness within Rio Grande del Norte,” said Max Trujillo, a sportsman with the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “These two wilderness designations will ensure that future generations of hunters and anglers will always have truly wild places 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.”

The legislation would also safeguard world-class recreation opportunities already enjoyed within the national monument, such as hiking, hunting, and fishing. Grazing would continue in already-existing areas, and water rights would not be impacted.

“My family has been grazing in northern New Mexico for hundreds of years, and we depend on places like the wilderness within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument for our livelihoods,” said Erminio Martinez, a grazing permittee. “I hope that my children and grandchildren will be able to continue the traditions passed on to me by my father and grandfather.”

In March, 2013, President Obama designated Rio Grande del Norte as a national monument. The two proposed willderness areas in the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act will comprise 21,420 acres of the 242,500-acre national monument northwest of Taos, New Mexico.


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.

An economic engine to help drive Northern New Mexico’s economy

In an op-ed published in the Taos News, Erin Sanborn – Director of the Taos Green Chamber of Commerce and Collaborative Green and a local business owner – explains why protecting the Rio Grande del Norte is an investment in northern New Mexico’s economy.

The Río Grande del Norte  — and the opportunities it provides for hunting, fishing, rafting, ballooning, climbing, hiking, camping, and other forms of recreation — is already a major economic engine for the Taos region. This area is important to local businesses and our personal economies in other ways, such as by providing clean drinking and irrigation water, farm land, fish and game to feed our families, and a place to graze livestock, gather firewood and piñon pine nuts.

Once this beloved landscape has a permanent protection, the Río Grande del Norte will be available as a resource in perpetuity to assist us all to create new jobs and contribute to the long-term sustainability of our community, economy, and way of life.

Read the full article.

Public Lands Day a chance to reflect

In an Albuquerque Journal op-ed inspired by National Public Lands Day, retired professor Anthony Hunt writes on why this is the perfect time to honor our public lands.

Amid the partisan posturing of the election season, National Public Lands Day is an opportunity for us to remember what pulls us together. Surely we all agree that past measures to set aside outstanding public lands in New Mexico for present and future generations have been worthwhile…

Take, for instance, efforts to protect the Rio Grande del Norte region. Located in northern New Mexico west of Taos, this rugged region has long been a source of joy not only for the tourists who are charmed by it (and who spend money in the local economy), but also for the countless generations of New Mexicans who have hunted, fished, gathered wood and grazed livestock there.

Read the full article.

Agua es vida…Water is life

Francisco Guevara, a native New Mexican and owner of Los Rios River Runners, explains in the Los Alamos Monitor why the Rio Grande del Norte is so much more than just a river.

There is a well-known saying in the southwest: “Agua es vida,” or “water is life.” This isn’t just a reference to our limited supplies, but also to the cultural, spiritual and economic significance of water to our way of life.

As the owner of a rafting company in Northern New Mexico, water is indeed my life. I take tourists and residents whitewater rafting, camping and fishing while exposing them to the culture, natural beauty and majesty that makes Northern Mexico so special. That’s why I support efforts underway to protect the Rio Grande Gorge as part of a potential Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area. But it is also why I was pleased to hear President Obama had designated a new national monument in Colorado recently.

Chimney Rock west of Pagosa Springs isn’t a vital water resource. Instead, its ancient pueblos are held sacred by Native Americans. I’m hoping that if the President is willing to act to recognize and protect the important cultural significance of Chimney Rock, he’ll also act to protect the Rio Grande del Norte, which is sacred to us.

Here in Northern New Mexico, families have irrigated from acequias for hundreds of years. We grow chiles, corn and apples.
We rely on water from the Rio Grande to feed our families, but also to feed our souls.
Ask any local potter, silversmith, writer or painter.
Ask a clergy or tribal member.
Ask any rafter, hunter or angler.
The answer is the same: “Agua es vida.”

In addition to supporting our cultural heritage, the Rio Grande is also the lifeline for many small businesses like mine in rural communities throughout New Mexico. Recreation-based businesses rely on the Rio Grande to support rafting, fishing and hunting trips. Indirectly these activities also support restaurants, lodging, outfitters and guides in addition to contributing to the local tax base. According to the data from the Outdoor Industry Association, more than 100,000 New Mexicans participate in hunting every year, nearly 200,000 in fishing, more than 66,000 in rafting and a whooping 469,000 in wildlife viewing.

That is why there is such a diversity of support for permanent protection of the Rio Grande del Norte. Supporters include business owners, ranchers, sportsmen, veterans, recreationists, elected officials, Native Americans, land grant leaders, and other conservationists.

Ask anyone that had ever been to the Rio Grande gorge, young or old, and they can tell you that this stretch of river and the surrounding area is some of the wildest and most spectacular in the whole state.

It is vital that we work together to preserve it, and we need President Obama’s help.
Legislation to protect the area has been stalled in the U.S. Congress. While our congressional delegation is valiantly working hard to overcome gridlock in Washington, I worry that this opportunity to protect the Rio Grande del Norte, and benefit our state and nation is so many ways, will be lost.

Protecting our water supplies and way of life cannot be put on hold while the U.S. House of Representatives takes yet another run at dismantling our health care or attacking clean energy.

Instead, it is the Rio Grande del Norte that needs our attention, and President Obama’s leadership; nothing less than our culture, economy, and way of life depend on it.

Francisco Guevara is a multigenerational, native northern New Mexican. He has run his rafting business, Los Rios River Runners for more than 40 years.

Protect our land, protect our character

Joseph M. Maestas, former Mayor of Espanola, discusses in the Santa Fe New Mexican why declaring Chimney Rock a national monument was the right thing to do, and why extending the same protection to Rio Grande del Norte should be next on President Obama’s agenda.

From the Santa Fe New Mexican:

In fact, in the words of Lilia Diaz of Santa Fe, who was featured in a recently published book about New Mexicans speaking out for protection of the Rio Grande del Norte (see www.RioGrandedelNorte.org/book), “this ancient area has enriched the minds, bodies, hearts and souls of New Mexicans for generations. Protecting this land will mean the enhancement of many more lives to come.”

The Rio Grande del Norte proves that our heritage need not be an artifact in a museum or a footnote in a history book to be worthy of our admiration and protection. Our community — like my family — values this place as our legacy to the next generation. These lands have been here for thousands of years. We call on President Obama to help ensure they remain protected for a thousand more for our spiritual, cultural, economic and community well-being.

Read the full article here.

Optimism remains that Congress will act before the year is up

Mike Matz, Director of the Pew Environment Group’s Campaign for America’s Wilderness, knows doing business in Washington can be difficult. Yet he remains optimistic that a host of public lands proposals – including one that would establish a Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area – will find their way to the Congressional finish line.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., at the end of a distinguished 30-year career, has offered proposals to establish a Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area, protect the Organ and Robledo mountains and nearby wilderness, and designate Columbine Hondo in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System…

By some counts, more than 160 memorials are in our nation’s capital. Yet some of the largest, and perhaps most-striking, testaments to the enduring accomplishments of U.S. political leaders can be found far outside Washington. And as the 112th Congress winds to a close, I hope outgoing members will take this unique opportunity to add their legacy to the collection of truly remarkable places preserved over the past 48 years as wilderness areas across America.

Read the full article.

Person-centric approach to conservation

Alexa Schirtzinger from the Sante Fe Reporter, talks about how it’s people that make the Rio Grande Del Norte such an important part of our community.

A new book takes a person-centric approach to Rio Grande conservation

Taylor Streit, a longtime fly-fishing guide in northern New Mexico, calls the Rio Grande del Norte "my favorite place in the world. It's as wild and free as it gets!"

Taylor Streit, a longtime fly-fishing guide in northern New Mexico, calls the Rio Grande del Norte “my favorite place in the world. It’s as wild and free as it gets!”

Nature-lovers are familiar with the classic, conservationist coffee-table book: Usually, it’s full of Aldo Leopold quotes and scenic, if sometimes static, photos of mountains and rivers and meadows full of [insert endangered mammal here].

Rio Grande del Norte: One Hundred New Mexicans Speak for a Legacy has some of those images, but they’re not the focus. Instead, this tome examines the people who both drive and justify conservation efforts, specifically on the northern Rio Grande.

Read the full article.

Land and waters that should be protected

On National Trails day in June, retired accountant Terry Chastain, had the opportunity to hike up Ute Mountain and celebrate New Mexico’s great outdoors. In an article in The Taos News, Terry shared why it’s important to him that this special place be protected.

The Río Grande del Norte area is the protectant of New Mexico’s water. Deep within in the land lies the beginning, or headwaters, of many rivers that sustain the downstream communities. The Río Grande River is responsible for a lot of the water in New Mexico, and the abundance of water could not be possible without protection.

The Río Grande del Norte takes us back to when the Earth was pristine and its peoples lived in harmony with the land. El Río Grande del Norte is a time capsule of our nation’s rich history. It is home to many vestiges of American Indian history, including ancient legends, petroglyphs and ruins.

Read the full article.

Bringing attention to Ute Mountain

On any given Saturday, Pronghorn, deer and elk stroll around the plateau surrounding Ute Mountain. And on National Trails Day, you’ll also find hikers. Taos News reporter, Matthew van Burren, joined the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance for a hike up Ute Mountain earlier this month and learned more about the support that exists for protection of the Río Grande del Norte area in Taos and Río Arriba counties.

Read the full article.