NM Wild applauds U.S. Senate committee for taking up locally supported bill
TAOS, NM (November 20, 2013) – The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) applauded the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining for holding a hearing on the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act (S. 776). The legislation would protect 45,000 acres of incredible wildlife habitat, an important source of clean water, and a prized hunting and fishing destination.
The Act was introduced by Senator Tom Udall and co-sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (NM-3) introduced a House companion (H.R. 1683) that is co-sponsored by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-1).
“It’s amazing how a diverse community in Taos County has come together to speak to protect the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area,” said John Olivas, traditional community organizer for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “The legislation would protect 45,000 acres of land in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Northern New Mexico.”
On the heels of a newly designated Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument, a diverse group of Taos County citizens has asked the New Mexico federal delegation to protect the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area as true wilderness. The coalition working on the Columbine Hondo and Rio Grande del Norte campaigns has been recognized by our federal delegation as a model for conservation campaigns throughout the country.
“Taos County has unique and diverse groups of individuals and organizations who have stepped up to ask our federal delegation to move to protect this valuable resource,” said Olivas. “S776 does exactly that, by protecting the land, water and providing an economic engine for Taos County.”
Just north of Taos, the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area (WSA) is the last remaining portion of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to be designated as wilderness. It is crowned by 13 miles of high alpine ridges and peaks that tower above 11,000 feet, including its highest point, Gold Hill at 12,711 feet elevation.
Columbine Hondo is home to elk, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mountain lions, black bear, pine marten, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout. This area is a significant clean water source for the central Rio Grande Corridor of New Mexico, supplying water to two of the larger Rio Grande tributaries – the Red River and the Rio Hondo. The water safeguarded in the Columbine Hondo area supplies many Acequias used by the local agricultural community.
“Water is life here in New Mexico, and Columbine Hondo protects two of the Rio Grande largest tributaries,” said Esther Garcia, President of San Antonio Del Rio Colorado Land Grant and Mayor of the Village of Questa. “We are grateful that Senators Udall and Heinrich recognize the importance of this area for our traditional agricultural communities, and have acted to safeguard our culture and well-being.”
Congress formally recognized the wilderness values and character of the Columbine Hondo area in 1980 and gave it interim protection as a WSA. Designation as wilderness is the highest form of protection, and bars any development. Former Senator Jeff Bingaman introduced legislation to protect Columbine Hondo in the 112th Congress, but it stalled, along with dozens of other conservation bills.
NM Wild and the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition are hopeful that Congress follows Sen. Udall and Heinrich’s lead and protects New Mexico’s wilderness.
The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) is a non-profit 501(C)(3), grassroots, environmental organization dedicated to the protection, restoration, and continued enjoyment of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. The primary goal of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is to ensure the protection and restoration of all remaining wild lands in New Mexico through administrative designations, federal Wilderness designation, and ongoing stewardship.