TAOS, NM (February 20, 2013) – Members of the northern New Mexico community gathered in Taos on Saturday at a coalition meeting to urge Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Rep. Ben Ray Luján to protect Columbine Hondo as designated Wilderness. Over two-dozen people at the meeting also thanked the delegation for re-introducing legislation to protect Rio Grande del Norte, and supported President Obama designating it as a national monument.
The meeting occurred shortly after the 112th Congress ended, which was the first Congress since 1966 to not protect a single acre of wilderness, and the first Congress since World War II to not protect a single new acre of public land as a national monument, national park or wilderness area.
There was diverse participation in the meeting, ranging from veterans, ranchers and grazing permitees, Taos Pueblo, Hispanic leaders, mountain bikers, local elected officials, business owners, sportsmen, land grant representatives, and conservationists.
The community members met to show their support for the delegation re-introducing legislation to protect Columbine-Hondo. Former Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Sen. Tom Udall introduced the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act in the 112th Congress, and the community asked the entire delegation to introduce legislation in the House and Senate soon.
“As a livestock permittee, I realize that wilderness designations actually provide assurance that our traditional grazing rights will always be protected,” said Erminio Martinez, a livestock permittee in the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area. “I am grateful that you as our Congressional leaders are willing to take this to Congress to ensure that the Columbine Hondo Wilderness is enacted so that all of our surrounding communities and future generations can enjoy and benefit from these beautiful mountains, as we have.”
Future legislation would hopefully protect the 45,000-acre Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area. The Columbine Hondo area north of Taos boasts some of the state’s most spectacular landscapes, encompassing the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, including Gold Hill, its highest peak. Elk, mountain lions, black bear, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, pine marten, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout make their home here. It contains the headwaters for two important rivers that supply water to the acequias used by the community.
“The wilderness experience while hunting or fishing provides an experience that has no rival,” said Max Trujillo of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “Protecting these areas will ensure that our fish and wildlife resources along with this excellent habitat will naturally exist, and future generations of hunters and anglers will have a place to experience what will soon become a rarity in the United States. Protecting the Columbine Hondo will prove to be a welcome addition to the natural treasures of Northern New Mexico and a destination for generations of hunters and anglers.”
Congress formally recognized the wilderness values and character of the Columbine Hondo area in 1980 and gave it interim protection as a wilderness study area (WSA). Designation as wilderness is the highest form of protection, and bars any development.
The mission of the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition is to protect the land, water, values, heritage, culture, and traditions embodied in the lands and communities surrounding the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area by elevating its status to full Wilderness designation.