March 25, 2013
By Larry Sanchez / Taos County Commissioner on Mon, Mar 25, 2013
I am very proud to be a New Mexican, a Taos County leader and a Vietnam-era veteran. But I am especially proud today because of how we all came together as a community to support designation of the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.
As a veteran, I believe strongly in the importance of service to our country. This is the greatest nation on Earth. We take care of each other and our communities. We fight for everyone to have a chance to access better education, housing, services and safety. We strive for a healthy environment to preserve our rich cultural heritage.
These are the values American soldiers have always fought to protect, and they are the values we pass down to each successive generation.
It is this cooperative spirit at its best that helped protect the public lands and the watershed of Rio Grande del Norte.
Sportsmen, ranchers, business owners, community leaders and conservationists all worked with the Taos County Commission and our congressional delegation to develop legislation that met our shared needs and goals.
When Congress was unable to pass a bill protecting Rio Grande del Norte, we joined together and appealed to the Department of the Interior and the White House for action. Thankfully, our calls for action were answered by President Obama through his designation of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.
The reason for our persistence is Rio Grande del Norte’s value to New Mexico.
Many people in both Taos and Rio Arriba counties have used and enjoyed Rio Grande del Norte lands for generations – grazing their cattle, gathering firewood and piñon nuts, and hunting and fishing. The region also attracts visitors from around the country and state who come here to enjoy outdoor recreation with their families.
These visitors are particularly important to our local economy, staying in our hotels and eating in our restaurants. Thanks to our collective efforts, future generations will continue to be able to enjoy this unique landscape.
Most important, as a veteran I want to point out that our men and women returning from war have benefited from our public lands as a place to heal.
After serving during the Vietnam era, I was fortunate to return home to Questa and be embraced by my family and community. I hunted on the lands of Rio Grande del Norte and fished the river.
Today, I volunteer with the non-profit Disabled American Veterans to help build better lives for all of our nation’s disabled veterans and their families. I want to help other veterans experience the peace and recreation that our public lands offer.
Ensuring veterans and our families can always access the Rio Grande del Norte took a village, as they say.
Several local policymakers worked hard, including retired Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan and Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich. They all worked for action in Congress and later, from the White House. Other local collaborators include mayors, small business owners, chambers of commerce, ranchers and farmers, artists, sportsmen’s organizations and, yes, even veterans, all of whom pushed for permanent protection of the public lands that are essential to our community.
Together, we’ve ensured that Rio Grande del Norte will be passed down intact to the next generation. We have also left a lasting example for our young people of how serving and collaborating with one another can improve our community.
And now that it is a national monument, Rio Grande del Norte will be protected forever.