March 22, 2013
Contact: John Olivas 505-379-5551
Tisha Broska 505-843-8696
TAOS, N.M., March 21, 2013 –—President Obama today announced his intent to designate the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico on Monday, protecting some 240,000 acres in Taos County, including the Taos Plateau, Ute Mountain, and the Rio Grande Gorge.
“We are thrilled that President Obama will use his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate Rio Grande del Norte as a protected area, keeping it free of development,” said John Olivas, Traditional Community Organizer for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “Many generations have enjoyed and lived off this landscape, and today President Obama has ensured the local community that this special place will stay as it is for our children, grandchildren, and those who follow.”
The Rio Grande River that encompasses the RGDN area was protected in 1968 under the National Wild and Scenic River System and this new layer of protection as a National Monument adds security to the land surrounding the river. The designation also safeguards hunting, fishing, grazing, wood gathering, and herb/piñon gathering.
Over the last two decades, supporters—including grazing permittees, Taos Pueblo leadership, land grant heirs, acequia parciantes and mayordomos, local businesses, elected officials and a host of individual supporters—have urged the New Mexico federal delegation to move forward to protect this landscape as a legislative National Conservation Area. Today, under the authority of the Antiquities Act, President Obama has made Rio Grande del Norte a protected landscape.
On December 15, 2012, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar visited Taos County and held a town hall event to seek input from a standing-room-only group of supporters that unanimously asked Salazar to recommend to President Obama that a Rio Grande del Norte National Monument be created.
“This national monument designation will serve as a fitting legacy to retired Senator Jeff Bingaman, a champion for conservation in New Mexico,” Olivas said. “He introduced legislation to safeguard this area years ago, and worked diligently with his colleagues to move it through Congress.” Representative Ben Ray Luján and Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich backed Bingaman’s efforts through the years, in an attempt to preserve the land in its natural state. “We are grateful for the swift action of President Obama to allow us to pass down this land and our traditions to future generations.”
Esther Garcia, president of San Antonio del Rio Colorado Land Grant and mayor of the Village of Questa, said the preservation of traditional rights outlined in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is an important feature of the new monument. Mayor Garcia has also been invited to attend the White House ceremony next week.
“Those of us with deep roots here appreciate that this designation will preserve grazing within the national monument area and specifically protects our right to hunt, fish and collect piñon nuts and firewood,” Garcia said. ”It will direct the Bureau of Land Management to protect the cultural, natural and scenic resources in the area, and protects rights granted under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Monument designation ensures that these ancestral lands will remain for future generations to use and enjoy.”
Designation as a national monument is broadly backed by Taos County Commission, Taos Village Council, Taos Pueblo, Taos Chamber of Commerce, Taos Green Chamber, Taos Ski Valley, Village of Red River and more than 100 local businesses that recognize the importance monument designation has to local economies. Traditional users of the land such as hunters, fishermen, land grants, acequias, grazing permittees and tribal citizens all support President Obama’s historic move to protect the RGDN.
The southern New Mexico community cheered the announcement that Rio Grande del Norte will be protected as a national monument designation, while also urging similar action for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in Doña Ana County. Las Cruces Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Thomas pointed out that the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region enjoys overwhelming support from local businesses, sportsmen, cultural organizations and local governments.
“Thank you for announcing that the Rio Grande del Norte will soon become a national monument, President Obama. What Rio Grande del Norte is to northern New Mexico, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks are to southern New Mexico,” Thomas said. “We hope you will also consider the same protection for southern New Mexico’s iconic Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, where unique Chihuahuan Desert wild lands possess rich American history including the Butterfield Stagecoach Trail, Apollo Space Mission training sites, and literally thousands of Native American cultural and archeological areas.”
Timeline of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance’s involvement:
2007: NM Wild staff member Jim O’Donnell starts work on the Rio Grande del Norte campaign.
June 2007: Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signs letter of support for the Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area.
2008: NM Wild Traditional Community Organizer John Olivas begins working on the campaign. Olivas quickly gains support of the Northern New Mexico land grant community, which all starts in the living room of Esther Garcia.*
June 2008: Land Grant of San Antonio del Rio Colorado signs a resolution of support.
April 2009: Senator Bingaman introduces El Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area legislation (co-sponsored by Senator Tom Udall)in the Senate on April 23, 2009,
May 2009: Taos and Mora Valley chambers of commerce sign resolutions of support. Taos County Commission passes resolution of support.
May 2010: Congressman Lujan introduces legislation for Rio Grande del Norte NCA and Wilderness (cosponsored by Representative Martin Heinrich) into the House of Representatives on May 18, 2010. .
August 2010: NM Wild arranges for a flyover of the proposal area with media members from the Santa Fe New Mexican, a freelance writer, a member of NM Wild’s WOCLP** program and a Santa Fe County Commissioner. An additional flyover is conducted later that month and includes staff from Congressman Lujan and senators Bingaman and Udall, and Taos County elected officials.
March 2011: New legislation is introduced into the 112th Congress
May 2012: Taos County Commission passes an updated resolution of support.
June 2012: Santa Fe City Council and Taos Ski Valley Inc. pass resolutions of support.
December 2012: Rio Grande del Norte Grazing Permittees sign letter of support.
January 2013: Pueblo of Taos signs resolution of support.
Over 3,000 letters of support have been collected by NM Wild for RGDN.
*Garcia is an 11th generation New Mexican who has been very active in the northern New Mexico community. She is the Chairwoman of the Board of San Antonio Del Rio Colorado Land Grant, and is Commissioner for the Cabresto Lake Irrigation Community Ditch Association and is very active with the New Mexico Acequia Association. She is currently the Mayor of Questa. The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance would like to thank Garcia for all that she has done to support our efforts for Rio Grande del Norte.
** Olivas started the Wilderness Outdoor Connection Leadership Program (WOCLP) to work with youth in Mora and Questa in May 2008. The program began to help foster the next generation of conservation advocates in northern New Mexico. Students assisted in obtaining skills around grass roots organizing, working with federal delegation and their staff to create federal law and visited the campaign area, specifically Ute Mountain, Wild Rivers Recreation Area and the Rio Grande Gorge.