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.

Preserving Unique Landscapes

Mayor Esther GarcíaMayor Esther García’s life and work have been shaped by the landscape around Questa, New Mexico. In a recent op-ed she talks about her family connection to Rio Grande Del Norte and the community support for it’s permanent protection.

From the Santa Fe New Mexican:

My family goes back many generations here, living and working in this unique and beautiful landscape. Many of us consider the area, including the stunning Rio Grande Gorge, which at some places is a half mile wide across and dropping to the Rio Grande 800 feet below, to be truly sacred land.

My grandfather, J. P. Rael, and his brothers started a cattle business and general store in Questa in 1930. When I was growing up, there was no running water. We walked to the store, grew our own food and put up hay for our cattle. We survived because of the land and water that nature had so generously provided us. As my grandfather said, “Without land you have nothing; without water there is no life.”

As an elected official, I understand the difficult choices one must make when trying to balance competing interests. We need to meet the needs of a growing community, while ensuring that some of what attracts both visitors and those who will settle here stays just as it is. That is what I shared with members of Congress who may soon be considering legislation introduced by Rep. Ben Ray Luján and Sen. Jeff Bingaman to safeguard these special lands for our children and grandchildren…

There is overwhelming local support for this measure. Because of the collaborative way our congressional delegation has crafted this measure, many groups that haven’t always seen eye to eye on conservation issues have come together to support protecting this special landscape. Community involvement was extensive and the considerations taken in the bill’s language to accommodate the needs of traditional communities were significant.

That is why the overwhelming majority of Northern New Mexicans, including the Taos County Chamber of Commerce, the Mora Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Taos County Commission, the Latino Sustainability Institute and dozens and dozens of area businesses want to see this bill become law. Forever protecting the Rio Grande del Norte area would be a priceless gift for those who will come after us. The time has come.

Read the full article.