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Happy fifth anniversary, Río Grande del Norte National Monument.

Five years ago this month, President Barack Obama listened to the community of el norte and established this monument at the urging of residents across Northern New Mexico. (The designation took place on March 25, 2013.)

In lobbying for this designation, traditional Hispanic and tribal communities, hunters, anglers, hikers and other outdoors lovers came together in an effort that lasted decades. A big push came from the business community, which still celebrates the positive economic impact the Río Grande del Norte has had on such towns as Taos and Questa. Since receiving monument status, average annual visits have been over 180,000 people.

The outdoors is beautiful, yes. But it is also good business.

Now, with President Donald Trump seeking to strip protections from public lands and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke unpersuaded about the worth of monuments, national parks and the like, supporters of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument want everyone to realize they are just as determined now to protect this wild land.

In Taos, community members celebrated by discussing how local businesses can be leaders in protecting the environment. A group of partners even took out a full-page ad in our sister newspaper, The Taos News, and will be releasing an infographic that explains the ways the monument benefits Northern New Mexico.

Volunteers from the Río Grande del Norte National Monument Coalition, along with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, held a service project last weekend at the Orilla Verde Recreation Area inside the monument. More than 35 volunteers removed overgrown vegetation and helped save cottonwoods from beaver damage. Protecting public lands is not simply a designation; it continues in perpetuity. This is our nation’s collective heritage.

It’s important to remind everyone — especially the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. — how essential public lands are to the health and wealth of the West. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, after reviewing a group of monuments, recommended amending the Río Grande del Norte National Monument proclamation to prioritize “public access; infrastructure upgrades, repair, and maintenance; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights.”

However, that shows Zinke is uninformed about the monument’s establishing proclamation. Obama’s work on creating the monument ensures access for ranching, hunting and fishing. Native American traditional uses can continue. Zinke’s amendment likely is a not-so-subtle way to open the area to energy development, to bring in ranching where it did not exist historically and to establish other uses — for profits, not for the people — that would alter the monument’s character.

Both New Mexico senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, stepped up to write White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to outline inaccuracies in Zinke’s recommendation, including mistakes about the nature of roads and grazing accesses. Citizens and must urge Trump to ignore Zinke and keep protections for our monument intact.

The Río Grande del Norte National Monument has been successful for the land, wildlife, people and businesses of Northern New Mexico. Residents want to see it continue to flourish. For that to happen, Washington must stop interfering and leave the monument alone. That’s what the people want at the local level, where community support remains strong and sustained.

 

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