Congressman Ben Ray Luján introduces bill to protect wilderness within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument
TAOS, NM (April 24, 2018) – The introduction of the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act in the U.S House was applauded by a diverse coalition of local supporters. The legislation introduced by Congressman Ben Ray Luján would provide extra protection for sensitive areas (click here for map) contained within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument (http://www.riograndedelnorte.org). It would designate two new wilderness areas within the national monument – Ute Mountain (Cerro del Yuta) and Rio San Antonio. New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and the U.S. Senate passed a similar bill just months ago.
Designated in 2013, Río Grande del Norte National Monument was supported by business owners, sportsmen, tribal leaders, local and federal elected officials, and grazing permittees.
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, including hiking, hunting and fishing.
“Wildlife is only as healthy as the lands and waters that it depends on,” said Joaquin Anaya, Sportsman, Taos Resident and local business owner. “These two wilderness designations will ensure that future generations of hunters and anglers will always have access to their birthright just as we do today. I want to thank Congressman Ben Ray Luján for standing with our community and safeguarding our natural heritage that belongs to all of us.”
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 (see Fact Sheet). Additionally, 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.
“Wilderness designation provides the highest level of protection for our most special places”, says Stuart Wilde, who leads hiking and camping trips in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. “Here in New Mexico, public lands conservation is a vital economic engine that increases tourism, creates jobs, and benefits the entire community.”
Congressman Luján made the announcement about his introduction while visiting the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. He hiked with local community leaders and was presented with art work from Questa students commemorating the 5th anniversary of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Additionally, he received postcards signed in support of the national monument following the Trump administration’s national monument “review.”
“Wilderness within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument safeguards our precious water that is vital to our wellbeing,” said Esther Garcia, President of the San Antonio del Rio Colorado Land Grant in Questa, who was at an event with Congressman Luján on Monday. “Waters that flow to our acequias are protected by the wilderness areas. I want to thank Congressman Luján for preserving our water – the lifeblood of our community.”
Grazing would continue in already-permitted areas, and water rights would not be impacted under the proposed legislation. Additionally, traditional activities like wood and piñon gathering would continue.
Floyd Archuleta, a rancher from El Prado, added, “The livestock our ranch depend on the water that is safeguarded by the wildest places within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. In addition to sustaining our family, we see hunters, fisherman, and other folks come to experience all that the national monument has to offer, and wilderness plays a big part of that.”
In March 2013 President Obama designated Río Grande del Norte as a national monument. The two proposed wil–derness 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.