Celebrate 50 years of Wild and Scenic with more designations

Everyone has a river story.

A favorite story of mine is when my dad took our family on a rafting trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon when I was a teenager, in 1967. At that time, there was a proposal to dam the river in the canyon, flooding it for 27 miles. My father, Stewart, was secretary of the Interior under President Johnson. He said the secretary “should never make armchair judgments on national conservation issues.” He wanted to see the run of the river and canyons for himself. He wanted to “let the canyons speak for themselves.”

The beauty of the canyons and river did speak for themselves. And they convinced my father that the Colorado shouldn’t be dammed. At the end of the trip, he held a press conference and said we're not going to build dams in the Grand Canyon. It's a magnificent place, and we should leave it alone. And that was that.

In New Mexico, we know “agua es vida” -- water is life. New Mexicans depend on our rivers to irrigate our farms, bring water to our cities and villages, support fish and wildlife and recharge our aquifers, and as places to spend time as families to fish, float, and play. Rivers protect water quality and sacred and cultural sites and support local businesses serving recreationists and tourism -- like fly fishing shops, guiding services, commercial rafting, restaurants, and hotels.

October 2 marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. We have much to celebrate this year.

The Act took four years to make its way through Congress to President Johnson's desk, but Democrats and Republicans worked together to make it happen. Back then, they understood that our common heritage and our national treasures shouldn’t have a party label.

I couldn’t be prouder that my father helped shepherd this landmark legislation through Congress. He understood the value of rivers and the urgency to protect the most special from dams, diversions, and development. For him, it was about balance, common sense, and leaving a legacy for our children, grandchildren, and beyond.

New Mexicans can be proud that one of the first eight rivers designated under the Act was part of the Rio Grande. That segment flows through the iconic Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Later, sections of the Chama, the Pecos, and the East Fork of the Jemez were designated and now enjoy the protected status as Wild and Scenic Rivers. 

I’ve been proud to carry on my father’s legacy of working in Washington for New Mexico to protect important lands and waters. When it comes to beautiful rivers, New Mexico is lucky. But with that luck, comes responsibility.  

After 50 years, we’ve made some progress, but still only about 1/10 of 1 percent of the approximately 108,014 river miles in New Mexico are protected – only 124 miles.

That is not enough.

I know that many New Mexicans are working to protect the Gila River, to keep it wild and free flowing. The river runs through the Gila Wilderness – the first designated wilderness in our country, in 1924. Its role in New Mexico’s history, economy, and geography can’t be overstated. I appreciate the efforts to build a strong and diverse coalition of people who care about the river and want to keep it the way it is.  It’s vital that people come together to protect it and to assure that it can nourish future generations. I’m excited to see what we can do working together to protect the Gila and our other precious rivers.

We are all the beneficiaries of the vision and determination of people like my father, and we honor them during this anniversary year. But they also challenge us to look forward with renewed commitment, with renewed determination. We owe that to future generations. I hope we leave them a New Mexico where our most special rivers and lands are protected. 

Tom Udall is the senior senator from New Mexico.

Monuments to Main Street features hikes, aerial tours, rafting and more

Monuments to Main Street features hikes, aerial tours, rafting and more

Cheryl Fallstead, For the Sun-News Published 3:28 p.m. MT Aug. 29, 2018 | Updated 3:52 p.m. MT Aug. 29, 2018

This is the first of four columns informing readers about Monuments to Main Street.

LAS CRUCES - It’s almost September and as temperatures cool, it’s a great time to explore everything that makes our part of southern New Mexico special. Monuments to Main Street (M2M) — a monthlong celebration of the national monuments, people, history and culture of Las Cruces, Mesilla, and beyond — has many activities on the first weekend of the month, Labor Day, including the Hatch Chile Festival and Harvest Wine Festival, plus hikes, aerial tours, river rafting, yoga at Dripping Springs, and a bicycle ride to the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

The full schedule of activities is at Monuments 2 Mainstreet.

M2M will celebrate its third-year kickoff from 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, with a fiesta in Las Cruces’ Mesquite Historic District at Klein Park, 155 N. Mesquite St., with live music by Phat Soul, Folklorico dancing, stagecoach rides, an arts and farmers market, Chocolate on the Camino Real Trail, and the "What's Your Las Cruces?" oral history project.

The goal of M2M is to get people outside, enjoying the natural beauty of our desert southwest, while introducing them to new activities and taking them to special places they may not explore on their own. True to its moniker, the outings, tours, and activities take participants to our regional monuments, White Sands National Monument, Prehistoric Trackways National Monument and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, as well as activities right on the main streets of Las Cruces and Mesilla.

More: Monuments to Main Street will celebrate OMDP in September

This year, M2M offers even more excursions, including a bikepacking campout, jeep tours into OMDP, a Panoramic Peaks tour in the Sierra de las Uvas, a hike of Picacho Peak, and tours of Slot Canyon, along with returning favorites such as the Old West stagecoach ride, aerial tours of the Mesilla Valley and World War II bombardier training sites, and river rafting excursions.

Monument tours are offered by a variety of groups, including New Mexico Wild, the Friends of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, the Green Chamber of Commerce, Sierra Club, Southern New Mexico Trail Alliance, Mesilla Valley Audubon Society, and a local company, Southwest Expeditions.

Jeff Steinborn, southern New Mexico director for New Mexico Wild, notes that the city of Las Cruces was an integral part of the event, with Visit Las Cruces promoting activities and helping with the kickoff celebration.

“In addition to promoting our national monuments, the city has also recently made outdoor recreation a targeted sector in its economic development and tourism efforts," he said. "We are actively working together to grow the outdoor recreation economy and celebrate the importance of our protected public lands.”

Here’s a schedule of the activities for the first week of M2M so you can go enjoy those public lands. Get more details on these activities at Monuments 2 Mainstreet. Note that several outings, including the aerial and rafting tours, require reservations, which you can easily make from this website. Get ready to fill your calendar!

September 1:

  • Hatch Chile Festival, $10 per car (September 1-2)
  • Harvest Wine Festival $25 (September 1-3)
  • Organ Mountains City to Sky Plane Tour, $90
  • River Rafting on the Rio Grande, $25
  • Yoga in the Monument, activity free, $5 park entry per car
  • Guided Hike at Achenbach Canyon, free

September 2:

  • WWII Bombardier Targets Aerial Tour, $90
  • Slot Canyon Tour, free
  • River Rafting on the Rio Grande, $25

September 6:

  • Monumental Loop Ride with Friends of OMDP, free

September 7:

  • First Friday Downtown Art Ramble, free

September 8:

  • Organ Mountains City to Sky Plane Tour, $90
  • Youth Archery Lessons, free
  • Guided Hike of Soledad Canyon
  • Billy the Kid Tour, $25
  • Yoga in the Monument, activity free, $5 park entry per car
  • Monuments to Main Street Kick-off Fiesta, free

September 9:

  • Photographing Birds of the Organ Mountains, free
  • El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro tour, $25
  • Slot Canyon Tour, free

Senator Heinrich: Gila not appropriate for flyovers

Thursday, August 16, 2018
Gila not appropriate for flyovers
Dear Friend,
I hope you can take a moment to read and share an op-ed I wrote in the Silver City Daily Press about why I am calling on the Air Force not to expand airspace over the Gila Wilderness. I have heard from many concerned citizens about this issue, and I agree with them that military overflights through the Gila are not the right approach.
Please continue to stay in touch with me about this and other issues important to you and your community.
MARTIN HEINRICH United States Senator
 Heinrich Gila overflights letter 8
The Gila is not appropriate for flyovers
By U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich
I am calling on the Air Force not to expand airspace over the Gila and surrounding areas. Especially when there are other more appropriate overflight options, it makes no sense to threaten what makes the Gila so special and unnecessarily create hostility between the public and the military in New Mexico.
Nearly 100 years ago, a forester named Aldo Leopold recognized the beauty and irreplaceable value of an untrammeled area of mountains, rivers, and mesas in southwestern New Mexico. As lands across the West were being broken up by development, roads, and railroads, Leopold proposed that the headwaters of the Gila River should be preserved as the nation's first road-less, unimpeded wilderness. Today, so many of us are grateful for Leopold's foresight.
Some of my best memories are the camping trips I've been able to take with my wife, Julie, and our two sons in wild places like the Gila Wilderness. I have always been drawn to places like the Gila-landscapes where you can get away from the cell phones, computers and everything else that tends to clutter the mind. Backpacking trips into places like McKenna Park and Turkey Feather Pass, the Jerky Mountains and the Gila River canyon have given me the time and space to grow closer to my family and friends and reflect.
From the outset, local residents have expressed steady and firm opposition to the Air Force's proposal for the Gila and have made it abundantly clear that low-level flights and flares in wilderness areas would be disruptive to their way of life, threaten public safety and damage the local economy.
The outdoor recreation opportunities in the Gila are integral to the quality of life and economy of Grant and Catron Counties. Visitors from around the world are drawn to the region's hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, and peaceful wilderness. Many local residents-from retirees to young entrepreneurs-choose to live in the area because of its unrivaled natural surroundings. The military would also lose more than it would gain from the proposal. New Mexico already has in place a number of airspace agreements for military aircraft training locations, also known as Military Operation Areas, which have been based on positive and mutually beneficial relationships between the military and the public for over 30 years. Reshaping and expanding the existing airspace agreement over the Gila risks jeopardizing the appropriate balance that has been in place for decades.
Throughout the airspace evaluation, I have urged the Air Force to coordinate with local stakeholders and to address community concerns. If the Air Force listens to those who know New Mexico best, I am confident they will reach the same conclusion I have: that an expansion of airspace over the Gila would be a mistake, and that optimizing airspace elsewhere would enable the Air Force to better train its pilots and ensure the positive relationship with the military in New Mexico endures.
This is about striking the right balance. New Mexico has maintained a good working relationship between the military and the surrounding communities for years by listening to community concerns and making smart decisions. Today, that means recognizing that overflights through the Gila are not the right approach.

New Mexico Wild Applauds Introduction of Bill to Enhance and Protect New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments (2)

NMW Logo 20th CMYK tight crop

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                            

Contact: Tisha Broska, Deputy Director, New Mexico Wild, 505-321-6131, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Albuquerque, NM, July 17, 2018 - New Mexico Wild applauded today’s introduction of the America’s Natural Treasures of Immeasurable Quality Unite, Inspire, and Together Improve the Economies of States Act of 2018 (“The ANTIQUITIES Act” of 2018) in the United States House of Representatives by Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D- CD1, NM) and Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-CD3, NM) along with 63 co-sponsors. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) sponsored and introduced the bill and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) co-sponsored the legislation in the US Senate in January.

This bill would legislatively protect 51 national monuments that were designated by executive authority dating back to 1996, including those threatened by President Trump’s national monument review.

New Mexico Wild has asserted that a president does not have the authority to rescind, harm, or amend previous presidential proclamations made under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Last year, New Mexico Wild announced its intention to bring legal action against President Trump if either of New Mexico’s national monuments named in the review, Rio Grande del Norte (RGDN) or Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks (OMDP), were harmed. New Mexico Wild is filing an amicus brief in solidarity with the All Pueblo Council of Governors for the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which President Trump shrunk by 85 percent in December.

While New Mexico Wild stands ready to take additional legal action if necessary, we praise Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham’s and Congressman Luján’s leadership in taking steps to safeguard these national monuments, including expanding protections for the Bears Ears National Monument. Moreover, New Mexico Wild and our thousands of supporters throughout the state are elated that the bill would designate over 249,000 acres of federal public lands in New Mexico as Wilderness, consisting of lands within the RGDN and OMDP national monuments.

“These areas have a special place in the hearts of New Mexicans and this legislation recognizes the desire to keep them wild and free for this and all future generations,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild. “New Mexicans are rightly proud of the importance of these areas to our natural and cultural heritage.”

Designated in 2013 and 2014 respectively, both RGDN and OMDP enjoy overwhelming community support from diverse coalitions of business owners, sportsmen, tribal leaders, local and elected officials, faith leaders, and the general public. During the recent comment period for the Department of Interior national monument review process, New Mexico had the most comments submitted per capita of any state, with nearly 98 percent of those for RGDN and 93 percent of the comments received for OMDP wanting no changes. New Mexicans support protection of these areas as sources of clean water; areas to practice traditional uses such as hunting, fishing, and as ceremonial sites; places to recreate; and for the health of New Mexico’s economy.  

“This bill recognizes and responds to the extreme attacks President Trump has leveled against the nation’s bedrock conservation laws, our national monuments, and public lands in general,” said Allison. “Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham and Congressman Luján are demonstrating the vision and leadership to go to bat for New Mexicans and protect the Land of Enchantment. They are doing what we all want the rest of congress to be doing – offering solutions.”


ABOUT NEW MEXICO WILD: The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance or “New Mexico Wild” is a non-profit 501 (C)(3), grassroots conservation organization dedicated to the protection, restoration and continued respect of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. Founded 21 years ago with staff and supporters throughout the state, the organization is aligned with our nation’s landmark Wilderness Act of 1964 and is dedicated to the rights and the value of citizen involvement in protecting increasingly rare wild places within public lands. Just as freedom is every American’s birthright, so too is Wilderness.