John Olivas: A Champion for Public Lands

Former New Mexico Wild Traditional Community Organizer John Olivas has played a pivotal role in some of the most significant conservation victories in northern New Mexico over the past decade. We are proud to highlight some of his most significant accomplishments as we continue to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month.

John’s effectiveness lies in his ability to assemble large, diverse coalitions of stakeholders to build support for conservation movements at the state and federal level. Nowhere is John’s coalition-building expertise more evident than in the designation of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County.

In an effort that spanned over two decades, John was integral in elevating the importance of the Taos Plateau, Ute Mountain, and the Rio Grande Gorge. John knew that federal protections were needed to protect these wild places from development for the sake of traditional users in northern New Mexico, including hunters, anglers, wood gatherers, and grazers.

John immediately got to work by partnering with the Town of Questa and Taos County to host workshops and training to educate the public about the permitting process for outfitters and the potential economic benefits of a federally-protected Rio Grande del Norte.

After initially helping to secure a resolution of support from the Land Grant of San Antonio del Rio Colorado, John went on to lead efforts to secure additional resolutions from the Taos County Commission, Taos Village Council, Taos Pueblo, Taos Chamber of Commerce, Taos Green Chamber, Taos Ski Valley, Village of Red River, and Town of Mora.

John’s organizing skills helped initiate the introduction of the first piece of legislation aimed at protecting the Rio Grande del Norte – the El Rio Grande Del Norte National Conservation Area in April 2009, co-sponsored by former Senator John Bingaman and Senator Tom Udall. The following year Congressman Ben Ray Lujan and then-Congressman Martin Heinrich co-sponsored legislation to designate the Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area and a Wilderness designation in the House of Representatives.

John’s grassroots work was rewarded when President Barack Obama designated more than 240,000 acres of land in Taos County as the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument on March 25, 2013. With the support of grazing permittees, Taos Pueblo leadership, land grant heirs, acequia parciantes and mayordomos, local businesses, elected officials, sportsmen, ranchers, and others, the new national monument represented a victory for all New Mexicans.

While John has since moved on to other ventures, we at New Mexico Wild will never forget his commitment to northern New Mexico’s public lands and wild places. Without his efforts, victories like the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument would have never been possible.

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