Community Responds to President Trump’s Attack on Río Grande del Norte National Monument

Order could threaten national parks, monuments, and public lands, and oceans across the country

Taos, New Mexico (April 25, 2017) – President Donald J. Trump is expected to sign an Executive Order tomorrow that could threaten the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. The order “directs the Department of the Interior to review prior monument designations and suggest legislative changes or modifications to the monument proclamations.”

The Río Grande del Norte National Monument was designated in 2013 in response to support from local business owners, local chambers of commerce, sportsmen and ranchers, local elected officials, Hispanic organizations, Native American tribes, and countless others.

The Executive Order threatens not only Río Grande del Norte and our native and cultural heritage, but it will also hurt surrounding communities and small businesses that have come to rely on access to this outdoor recreation haven. 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. 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 each year.

Mark Gallegos, Taos County Commissioner and Mayor of the Village of Questa said, “There was, and continues to be, strong support for our Río Grande del Norte National Monument. Our community depends on our national monument, and people choose to visit and live here because of it. I stand with the citizens of Taos in urging our elected and appointed officials to ensure that Río Grande del Norte remains as it is today.”

A recent study found that outdoor recreation alone drives a $887 billion economy and supports 7.6 million jobs. Additionally, numerous studies have shown that communities located near monuments and other protected public lands have stronger economies, and that the outdoor and recreational opportunities they provide increase residents’ quality of life, making areas near monuments more attractive to new residents, entrepreneurs and small businesses, and investment.

“One of the main reasons people visit the Taos area is to explore our Río Grande del Norte National Monument,” said Nick Streit, Taos Fly Shop. “Thanks to the national monument, we have seen our tourism and outdoor recreation sectors flourish. Fly-fishing and sportsmen opportunities in the monument are world class and truly unique to this area. Why would you want to destroy that? My business would not be where it is today without the Río Grande del Norte National Monument.”

Since it was signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the Antiquities Act has been used on a bipartisan basis by the majority of U.S. presidents (16, 8 Republicans and 8 Democrats) to protect America’s most iconic natural, cultural, and historic places including: Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, Bandelier, Aztec Ruins, and more.

Groups representing sportsmen, cultural heritage organizations, evangelicals, conservation, recreation businesses, historic preservation, and many others all oppose efforts to undermine the Antiquities Act because of the widespread historic, cultural, and natural treasures that have been protected through its use.

“As a sportsman, I value our protected public lands like the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. Without permanent protection, I know my dreams of taking my grandchildren fly-fishing on the Rio Grande are just a dream, and may never become a reality. I urge President Trump, Secretary Zinke, and members of Congress to keep the Río Grande del Norte National Monument the way it is,” said Mark Casias from Blue Creek Outfitters.

The public overwhelming supports national parks, monuments, and public lands and oceans. A 2014 Hart Research poll showed that 90% of voters supported Presidential proposals to protect some public lands and waters as parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness. In the 2017 Conservation in the West poll, only 13% of western voters supported removing protections for existing monuments while 80% supported keeping them in place.

Community applauds protecting sensitive areas within Río Grande del Norte National Monument

Senators Heinrich and Udall reintroduce bill to protect wilderness within the national monument

Susan Torres, [email protected], 908-331-1472

TAOS, NM (Feburary 17, 2017) – A diverse coalition today applauded the reintroduction of the Cerro del Yuta and Rio San Antonio Wilderness Act. This legislation would designate two new wilderness areas – Cerro del Yuta and Río San Antonio) – within the national monument and was introduced by Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall.

The Senators also reintroduced the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act today, which would preserve wilderness within the southern New Mexico national monument. The reintroductions come as communities across the country are seeing an aggressive assault on America’s public lands, including national monuments.

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 two proposed wilderness areas in the Cerro del Yuta and Rio San Antonio Wilderness Act will comprise 21,420 acres of the 242,500-acre national monument northwest of Taos, New Mexico.

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. 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.

“One of the main reasons people visit the Taos area is to venture into our magnificent wilderness areas and rushing waters,” said Francisco Guevara, Owner of Los Rios River Runners. “Protecting wilderness within the incredible Río Grande del Norte National Monument is necessary to continue to grow our tourism and outdoor recreation sectors. It will also safeguard our sources of clean water that sustains our communities.”

Grazing would continue in places where it already occurs, and water rights would not be impacted. Traditional activities like wood and piñon gathering would also continue.
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 foster world-class recreation opportunities already enjoyed within the national monument, such as hiking, hunting, and fishing for future.

“Wildlife is only as healthy as the lands and waters that it depends on,” said Ivan Valdez, co-owner of The Reel Life fly shop in Santa Fe. “These two wilderness designations will ensure that our children and grandchildren of hunters and anglers will always have access to their birthright just as we do today. I want to thank Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall for their steadfast leadership in safeguarding our natural heritage that belongs to all of us.”



Opinion: President Obama should seek conservation legacy in New Mexico

Credit: Conservation Lands Foundation

In an op-ed printed in the High Country News, Ben Long of Resource Media argues the importance of balancing leasing with protection of our public lands, pointing out that while oil and gas production has soared under President Obama, public land conservation has lagged far behind.

Although President Obama currently sits behind President Reagan, President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush when it comes to protecting public lands - not exactly something to be proud of - Mr. Long points out that New Mexico presents the perfect opportunity to begin balancing the equation.

From the High Country News:

A great place for Obama to begin correcting this imbalance is in New Mexico, with the Rio Grande del Norte.  I was in New Mexico in the fall, working with some folks who love to hunt elk and mule deer and fish for trout in this region.

The land is impressive on its own – vast sagebrush plateaus, framed by ancient volcanic cinder cones and cleft by the narrow whitewater canyon of the Rio Grande. I was equally impressed by the broad swath of support from New Mexicans coming together to conserve this special place – not lock it up under glass, but to make sure it remains special and available for people to use and enjoy long into the future.

New Mexicans have drawn up a balanced, visionary proposal that would conserve about 250,000 acres of the Rio Grande del Norte. If Congress is too lost in Beltway politics to listen to the people, Obama should perk up his famous ears and act toward the future.

Check out the Center for American Progress for more on the need to balance leasing with conservation.

Taos Pueblo passes resolution supporting Rio Grande del Norte proposals

The Taos Pueblo Government Office has passed a resolution supporting the protection of Rio Grande del Norte either by designation as a National Conservation Area or by presidential proclamation as a National Monument.

The Taos Pueblo is located on 99,000 acres of land just north of the city of Taos, and is governed by a tribal governor and war chief appointed yearly by the Pueblo’s Tribal Council, a group of some 50 male tribal elders.

The Taos Pueblo resolution includes the following statements:

Whereas, the proposed Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area/National Monument in Taos and Rio Arriba Counties is an area of extraordinary environmental, economic, cultural and recreational value;

Whereas, the people of Taos Pueblo have for centuries been important Earth stewards honoring the interconnection of all life in the Rio Gorge and surrounding plateau and mesas;

Whereas, the Conservation Area or National Monument will ensure that these public lands will be conserved and enhanced for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations of all species;

THEREFORE, BE IT HEREBY RESOLVED Taos Pueblo in the strongest terms supports federal protection of the lands contained within Rio Grande del Norte Proposal through a legislated National Conservation Area or a presidentially proclaimed National Monument in order to protect its scenic, cultural, environmental, economic, and recreational values.

Read the entire Taos Pueblo resolution here.

Sportsmen show support for monument proposal

With Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s trip to Taos County complete and discussions about a Rio Grande del Norte national monument ongoing, Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued a statement opposing the monument designation, citing a lack of public input and referring to the Antiquities Act as “controversial” and a way to “lock up federal land and resources behind Congress’ back.”

The New Mexico Wildlife Federation has responded to Bishop’s concerns regarding a lack of public input, pointing out that permanent protection of Rio Grande del Norte “has been the subject of widespread public discussion and media coverage for years.”

From the New Mexico Wildlife Federation’s press release:

“Contrary to Rep. Bishop’s statements, well-publicized legislation and proposals regarding Rio Grande del Norte have been discussed for several years, with the overwhelming amount of it favoring permanent protection of these vital public lands,” said Max Trujillo of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “The representative’s assertion that designating this area as a national monument without sufficient public input reeks of a desperate 11th-hour attempt to stop presidential action that would help the local economy and be highly popular in New Mexico.”

In fact, permanent protection of Rio Grande del Norte has been the subject of widespread public discussion and media coverage for years. It has been supported by numerous entities including the Taos County Commission, Taos Town Council, Taos Pueblo, local businesses and chambers of commerce, as well as individual ranchers, sportsmen and veterans. A recent book highlights the support voiced by 100 northern New Mexicans from all walks of life.

“Contrary to Rep. Bishop’s recent comments, a tremendous amount of public input has gone into the development of the proposal to protect Rio Grande del Norte,” said Taos County Commissioner Larry Sanchez. “That is why there is no local opposition to designating a national monument. That is why the many traditional uses of these public lands are being recognized. Grazing, hunting, fishing, gathering of firewood and piñon and herbs, religious and cultural sites—it would all be protected. Designating Rio Grande del Norte as a national monument would also provide badly needed economic growth for this area,” he continued. “I would be happy to give Rep. Bishop a personal tour of the area to show him directly how much local support there is.”

You can find additional coverage in the Taos News here.

Audubon New Mexico’s Executive Director discusses protecting Rio Grande Gorge region

In her op-ed in the Santa Fe New Mexican, Aububon New Mexico’s Executive Director Karyn Stockdale lays out her reasons for extending permanent protection to the Rio Grande Gorge region by designating the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Though she touches on the economic and tourism boosts the area will receive, her primary argument focuses on the region’s critical wildlife habitat, especially for birds - from larger species such as eagles, hawks and falcons that nest in the Rio Grande Gorge, to smaller songbird species which depend on the riparian margins along the river’s banks.

Stockdale writes:

During the spring and fall, the Rio Grande becomes a critical pathway for dozens of migrant species making their long journeys between their summer breeding grounds in the northern U.S. and Canada and their wintering grounds in Mexico, Central and South America. While everyone notices the larger migrants, like the trumpeting Sandhill Cranes, they are just a visible symbol of dozens of smaller species that cannot complete their migratory journeys without the habitats fed by the waters of the Rio Grande.

And it’s not just an amazing assembly of birds that can be found in the Rio Grande Gorge region. Animals big and small live in the habitats of the high mesas of the Taos Plateau and Ute Mountain.

The annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count is currently taking place across New Mexico, providing not only a great opportunity to learn which birds are in our area but also to contribute to our understanding of them. Over time, these bird counts give us a picture of the health of bird populations and the environment, and the latest data beg us to pay attention. Last week, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported about the decline in the number of birds wintering in Northern New Mexico and across the United States. These long-term changes in bird numbers bring to light the need for us to make sure we are protecting important habitat for our resident and migrating birds.

Read the full article in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

More support for Rio Grande del Norte monument

Those choosing to speak at Saturday’s public meeting hosted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar consistently delivered the same message - overwhelming support for a Rio Grande del Norte national monument.

Around 50 or so people spoke at the two-hour meeting, which was also attended by Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and Jesse Juen, state director for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The meeting was meant to gather public comment on plans to designate 236,000 acres in and around Taos County as a conservation area or national monument.

Commenters included river guide Cisco Guevara:

“I was probably only about 3 years old and I was looking into the kitchen sink,” Guevara told Salazar. “My dad had gone fishing and he was going to feed the whole clan — there were more than 10 of us — with two fish. They were huge. They were going over the edges of the sink. And I said, ‘Dad, where did these fish come from?’ ‘El Río Grande del Norte.’ And from then on, I always wanted to visit that magic place.”

Taos Pueblo Lt. Gov. Gilbert Suazo mentioned the cultural significance of the Rio Grande region:

“We have Indian names for all these places here,” said Suazo, pointing to landmarks on a giant map and reciting the Tiwa name for each. “All of those places are a part of a history, a part of our culture, a part of our tradition. So we are interested in having that area protected.”

And Questa Mayor Esther García stressed safeguarding the land and respecting the historic activities of longtime Hispano residents:

“For me, protecting El Río Grande del Norte is very important, but I also want to protect the traditional uses of land,” García said. “We are land grant heirs in New Mexico. Grazing is important. The fishing, the hunting, the herb gathering. Everything that has been traditional for my culture is very important to me.”

You can find more from the Taos News here.

Audience at Taos public meeting expresses overwhelming support for Rio Grande monument

A full house in Taos for the Rio Grande public meeting

When Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asked those gathered in front of him to raise their hands if they support a national monument designation for the Rio Grande del Norte, the result was swift and telling - arms from one corner of the Kachina Lodge meeting room to the other burst into the air.

And yet just as telling was the reaction Salazar received when asking for those opposed to do the same - not a single person in attendance raised a hand in protest.

Despite short notice, a standing-room-only crowd gathered in Taos to discuss protecting the Rio Grande del Norte, an area prized by sportsmen, hikers and tribes for its wildlife and sacred values. Nearly 50 local residents - from landowners and grazing permittees, to sportsmen, local tribal leaders and veterans - had the opportunity to give public comments, and they were unanimously in favor of providing added protections to the region.

From Environment and Energy Publishing:

For conservationists, the meeting marked the administration’s first official step toward using the Antiquities Act to designate the 236,000-acre Rio Grande Gorge and Taos Plateau as a national monument.

“I think the landscape and the resources there are absolutely worthy of protection,” said Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Durango, Colo.-based Conservation Lands Foundation, who attended Saturday’s meeting.

Salazar said he was there to take the opinion of the community back to the president. He was accompanied by Neil Kornze, acting deputy director for policy and programs at the Bureau of Land Management, which administers the area, O’Donnell said. The meeting also included BLM New Mexico State Director Jesse Juen and Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who has introduced H.R. 1241 to protect the land as a national conservation area.

While Luján’s bill carries the support of BLM and there is companion legislation sponsored in the Senate by New Mexico Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, few expect the legislation to pass both chambers during the fiscal talks of the lame duck. The lawmakers in recent months have suggested that a national monument is the only viable path forward amid the partisan dysfunction in Congress.

As mentioned in the E&E Publishing article, this is the first official taken by the Obama Administration towards providing permanent protection for the Rio Grande del Norte. The hope is that with overwhelming local support and little in the way of opposition, a national monument designation by President Obama could be just around the corner.

You can read the full article from Environment & Energy Publishing here [subscription required].

Read coverage from the Taos News here.

The Vet Voice Foundation was on hand as well.

Taking a family trip to the Taos Plateau

Mike Matz, Director of the Pew Environment Group’s “Campaign for America’s Wilderness,” recently blogged about his family’s Thanksgiving trip to the Rio Grande del Norte. Mike gives a wonderful description of his family’s inaugural journey to Rio Grande, and provides some beautiful photos to boot.

From the Pew Newsroom - Dispatch from the Taos Plateau:

On our first day, we drove to the edge of the gorge where the Rio Grande cuts through the surrounding plateau of igneous rock and looked down 600 feet to see its shimmering, roiling waters. Traveling on rugged routes marked by the Bureau of Land Management, we startled a herd of pronghorn, which raced across the sparsely vegetated tablelands at an astonishing clip—beautiful white flanks flashing in the sun.

Each of the brisk mornings in the predawn darkness, we were serenaded by the yipping and yowling of coyotes, prompting our domestic canine to answer back with annoyed barks. The nights are frigid this time of year, but we had a wall tent, with a wood stove, on which to cook meals, read books, play cribbage, and have a family slumber party. My wife and I gave the kids the choice of pulling up the stakes and heading into Taos each day, and they voted to stay and camp.

The plateau surrounding the gorge is remote and full of Elk tracks and pellets. Though we never caught a glimpse of any, it’s abundantly clear they’re there, and the mixed sagebrush and lush pine forest provides excellent habitat, which makes this region a hunter’s paradise.