The Department of the Interior has issued an advisory stating that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will be holding a public hearing tomorrow, Saturday the 15th, in Taos to “explore the best path forward to preserve and protect the Río Grande del Norte in northern New Mexico.” This is a huge step towards securing permanent protection for the Rio Grande del Norte, and ensuring that future generations will be able to use and enjoy the area as it exists today. Stay tuned for more updates.
From the DOI media advisory:
TAOS, NM – As part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors program, on Saturday, December 15, 2012, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will host a public listening session to explore the best path forward to preserve and protect the Río Grande del Norte in northern New Mexico. Secretary Salazar will be joined by U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján and Bureau of Land Management State Director for New Mexico Jesse Juen.
“I look forward to hearing from New Mexicans about what the Río Grande del Norte means to their community and what their vision is for its future,” said Secretary Salazar. “Public lands provide huge economic benefits to communities through tourism and outdoor recreation, and the Río Grande del Norte is no exception. We need to ensure that generations to come have the opportunity to experience this iconic western landscape.”
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.
Many local ranching families rely on the use of federal lands for grazing their livestock, and these federal grazing permittees play an important role in conserving our undeveloped public lands, places where local wildlife continue to thrive. One such permittee shared some photos and video with us showing a massive herd of elk moving across his allotment. Permanently protecting the Rio Grande del Norte will allow these permittees to continue to use the land, and ensure that the wonderful variety of wildlife here - from eagles, hawks and falcons, to cougars, elk and bighorn sheep - will continue to have a place to call home.
Elk herd on the Rio Grande del Norte lands
Wide view of an elk herd on Rio Grande del Norte lands
A new video released by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation and Trout Unlimited examines the enduring conservation legacy of retiring U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman. The Senator is getting set to retire after three decades serving in the United States Senate. New Mexico Representative Martin Heinrich, himself a staunch supporter of public lands, will fill Bingaman’s seat beginning in January.
From the video’s press release:
“New Mexico is a better place thanks to Senator Bingaman’s tireless and thoughtful efforts to protect public lands,” said Kent Salazar, a lifelong Albuquerque hunter and angler and former president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “His hard work in Congress has improved and protected outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing and hiking for sportsmen like me. Thanks to his efforts, Senator Bingaman has helped ensure that all New Mexicans have the opportunity to enjoy our state’s natural gifts.”
The Rio Grande del Norte offers exceptional outdoor recreation opportunities, and designating it as a national monument would be an economic boon to Northern New Mexicans - this according to Adriana Blake in her recent Op-Ed published in the Taos News. Blake is the administrative manager at Taos Ski Valley, and treasurer of the Taos County Chamber of Commerce.
From the Taos News:
Northern New Mexicans are asking for a Río Grande del Norte National Monument because it makes economic sense. According to a recent study by an economic research firm, a national monument could add $15 million annually to our local economy and create 279 jobs. This growth is on top of the $3.8 billion that outdoor recreation already contributes to New Mexico’s economy annually and the 47,000 New Mexico jobs it supports.
Senators. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall and Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich have been working on legislation to protect Río Grande del Norte. However, the bills are stalled in Congress, so our elected officials have asked President Obama to protect the area by using the Antiquities Act.
Esther Garcia and Darren Cordova, the mayors of Questa and Taos respectively, have called on President Obama to exercise his authority under the Antiquities Act and designate the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. In an Op-Ed published Saturday in the Santa Fe New Mexican, the mayors Garcia and Cordova touted the preservation of traditional land uses and the economic boost the region would receive as reasons to support the creation of a national monument.
From the Santa Fe New Mexican:
A Rio Grande del Norte National Monument would safeguard existing user rights on the lands, protecting people’s rights to graze livestock, continue hunting and fishing traditions, and enjoy the mountains with their families. It is equally important to protect religious and cultural sites and protect the traditions of Pueblo members. A Rio Grande del Norte National Monument would spur economic growth in Northern New Mexico. According to a recent study, a national monument would fuel an estimated $15 million in new economic benefits for Northern New Mexico by boosting tourism and supporting ongoing grazing. This growth is on top of the $3.8 billion that outdoor recreation already brings into New Mexico’s economy annually that supports 47,000 jobs across the state.
Garcia and Cordova acknowledged that while legislation has been introduced to protect the Rio Grande del Norte - by Sens. Bingaman and Udall in the Senate, and Reps. Lujan and Heinrich in the House - those efforts are currently stalled in a Congress plagued by gridlock.
According to a new study cited by the Taos County Chamber of Commerce, designating the Rio Grande del Norte as a national monument would have a “significant” impact on the local economy, resulting in an annual economic impact of approximately $15 million, and creating nearly 300 new jobs.
Those figures come from a new independent study by BBC Research and Consulting. By estimating current and future spending by national monument visitors, the study concluded that, “a public land designation, such as a national monument, may signal enhanced quality of a potential visitor experience, substantially increasing visitation.”
The Taos Chamber of Commerce also noted the recent letter sent to President Obama by U.S. Sens. Udall and Bingaman, requesting national monument status for Rio Grande del Norte and the Organ Mountains.
“Protecting Rio Grande del Norte as a national monument clearly makes good business sense,” said Brad Malone, Chairman of the Taos County Chamber of Commerce. “This study suggests that recognizing the area as a national monument should bring more folks from across the country and around the world here to visit. We know how spectacular this place is, but having such recognition will raise awareness of its value enormously. In addition, the national monument designation would protect wildlife habitat prized by hunters and anglers and a broad variety of archeological and historic resources for future generations.”
Taos County Commissioners Larry Sanchez and Nicklos Jaramillo announced their support today for U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman. Earlier this week, Udall and Bingaman submitted a letter to President Obama requesting National Monument status for two areas in New Mexico - the Rio Grande del Norte, and the Organ Mountains in Dona Ana County.
“Senator Bingaman and Senator Udall continue to champion the protection of the Rio Grande del Norte,” Taos County Commissioner Nicklos Jaramillo said. “Even the political stalemate in Congress can’t dissuade them from fighting for our economy and our cultural heritage, and all of Taos County joins me in appreciation.”
Both Sanchez and Jaramillo stressed the broad local support for designating Rio Grande del Norte, and the many benefits such a designation would bring.
“I support the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument as a county commissioner, and as a veteran,” said Taos County Commissioner Larry Sanchez. “These lands matter for our water supplies, our livestock, our tourism economy, and our outdoor way of life. But the Rio Grande del Norte also offers healing to veterans returning from war, and a respite for all of us. I commend our senators for urging the president to act where Congress has not, and protect a place integral to our community.”
New Mexico hunters and anglers have voiced their support of U.S. Senators Bingaman and Udall, who on Thursday submitted a letter to President Obama requesting the designation of National Monuments at Rio Grande del Norte and the Organ Mountains. In their letter, Sens. Udall and Bingaman cited the broad local support for protecting the two locations, as well as the inability of Congress to act before the year is up.
“For anglers, permanent protection of this stretch of the Rio Grande is the key to long-term health of our local fishing opportunity and the economic contribution that fishing brings to this area,” said Nick Streit, owner of the Taos Fly Shop and a lifelong Taos hunter and angler.
Hunting guide Mark Casias of Taos also applauded the senators’ request for national monument status for El Rio Grande del Norte. “Residents of northern New Mexico have
used this area for centuries to feed their families and pass on the hunting tradition,” he said. “As a national monument, we can be assured that those uses will continue on into the future.”
U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman have submitted a letter to the White House requesting President Obama consider designating two special areas in New Mexico as National Monuments - the Rio Grande del Norte, and the Organ Mountains and additional public lands down in Dona Ana County. The senators themselves have sponsored legislation that would elevate these two areas to National Conservation Area or Wilderness Area status, but acknowledged in their letter how difficult it has been to pass legislation in this Congress.
Udall and Bingaman’s letter to the President stated:
New Mexicans on every level, from grassroots campaigns to Mayors and County Commissioners, have expressed their support for the protection of these special places. Community leaders, business owners, student groups, and conservation advocates from across New Mexico have traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with your staff and representatives at the Department of Interior to lend their support for the protection of the Rio Grande del Norte in Taos County and the Organ, Potrillos, Robledo Mountains and related areas in Dona Ana County. Still, there is much work to be done to ensure these areas are protected this year.
We will continue to work to advance legislation in the Senate to conserve these important areas in New Mexico, but in the absence of any certainty about the passage of the legislation, we believe you should work with local communities to explore how a National Monument designation would protect the archeological and cultural resources in these two regions.
In their subsequent news release, Sens. Udall and Bingaman stressed that by designating the Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains as National Monuments, the lands and their wildlife habitat could be protected while preserving existing uses such as hunting, fishing and grazing.