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Protection of our lands protects our way of life

From the Taos News
BY: John Olivas, JACO Outfitters, LLC in Holman.

As a guide/outfitter, sportsman, recreationalist, land-grant heir, and “norte-o,” I depend on the near-by wild and undeveloped public lands for the welfare of my business and my family’s well-being here in Northern New Mexico. Having public land available to hunt, fish and hike on is the foundation of my livelihood. That’s one reason I feel strongly about the need to protect the El Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area and Ute Mountain in Taos County.
 Sen. Jeff Bingaman has recently introduced an important conservation measure to do just that, which will ensure that these lands will stay as they are, for the use and enjoyment of future New Mexicans. His proposal protects the use and rights of the traditional northern communities, which are very important to us.
 I currently operate my business on five public land districts throughout New Mexico, and without this public land available, I would be forced to move out of the north and return to the city where jobs are more prevalent.
 I did the city life for some years, and worked in the public and private sectors with minimal job satisfaction. Through my outfitting business I was able to move my family back home to rural Northern New Mexico where my business has flourished.
 Because of the clean industry of outfitting, I am able to make a good living, and there is no better place than Northern New Mexico for keeping my family and raising my children.
 I think of what I do as “living off the resource.” Traditional people continue to live this type of lifestyle and the importance of land and water goes hand-in-hand with our work.
 My resource is the wildlife that includes elk, mule deer, black bear and antelope to name a few that exists on these protected places. As residents and visitors come to experience hunting, fishing, hiking and camping here in Northern New Mexico, Bingaman’s proposal will help guarantee that these resources can remain protected for future generations.
 More and more people are recognizing that the opportunities ecotourism can bring into rural New Mexico are endless. This environmentally friendly industry can provide the chance to make a decent living in jobless areas in rural New Mexico, and remain on the land that their grandparents and great grandparents called home.
 More than nine in 10 people in this state hunt on public lands, and New Mexico’s hunters spend more than $150 million annually pursuing this sport. Our anglers contribute another $176 million to the state’s bank account, and together with hunters support some 8,000 jobs. They help keep small businesses like mine thriving. That’s why it wasn’t surprising to me that several important local groups recently passed resolutions in support of the proposed conservation act. The Taos County Commission and the Chambers of Commerce of Mora Valley and Taos each went on record backing this bill last month.
 Business leaders and local elected officials, more than most, understand the importance these lands play in our quality of life here and in protecting our livelihoods.
 At an Economic Development Workshop in Questa recently, three of us shared our stories with community members about how we’ve been able to stay in rural New Mexico through our outfitting businesses. Children who grow up in these rural communities hunting, fishing and hiking the hills have the ability to turn what they know into a viable environmentally clean business. But our wild public land is critical to keeping these dreams and work alive.
 I want my kids and theirs to have the opportunity to continue in this tradition if that is what they choose to do. That’s why I hope Congress will act on Sen. Bingaman’s El Rio Grande Del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act soon. It will preserve grazing and traditional uses, recognize the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and protect the rights of our traditional communities for future generations. And ultimately, it will protect our way of life.

New Mexico Conservation Bill Takes Key Step Towards Passage

For Immediate Release

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New Mexico Conservation Bill Takes Key Step Towards Passage
El Rio Grande del Norte NCA/Wilderness Bill Before Senate Subcommittee

A hearing by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests today was cheered by New Mexico conservationists and sportsmen as a key step toward the passage of the El Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act (S. 874).

“Today’s action by members of the Senate Subcommittee is an important step in the passage of this conservation bill,” says John Olivas, Northern Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, based in Mora.  “This legislation will help ensure that our traditional ways of life in northern New Mexico will be available to our children and theirs – whether it’s making a living as an outfitter, as I am; a hunter; a rancher; or a small business owner who depends on the dollars visitors who treasure our open spaces leave in our local cash registers.”

The bill will designate nearly 236,000 acres as a National Conservation Area (NCA), including two wilderness areas – the 13,420-acre Cerro del Yuta Wilderness (the iconic Ute Mountain) and the 8,000-acre Rio San Antonio Wilderness.   The area contains some of the most spectacular lands and habitat in the state, and is an important migratory flyway for a number of bird species.  Areas within the Rio Grande gorge – which at some places is a half mile wide across and drops to the Rio Grande River 800 feet below – are treasured for hiking, “peak bagging,” horseback riding and wildlife watching.

“Senator Bingaman’s legislation will ensure that we can protect valuable hunting and fishing opportunities for New Mexican sportsmen,” says Oscar Simpson of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, “an important resource in this state.”

Last month, the legislation won the endorsement of three significant local groups – the Taos Chamber of Commerce, the Mora Valley Chamber of Commerce, and the Taos County Commission.

“Senator Bingaman’s proposal will protect and enhance the recreational, ecological, scenic and cultural resources of northern New Mexico’s shared public lands,” says Olivas, “while also recognizing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, protecting the rights of our traditional communities for future generations.”

Working with New Mexico Community Land Grants

The land grants currently recognized by the State of New Mexico are the Mexican land grants from the early to mid-1800s that were acknowledged in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  In 2004, New Mexico recognized land grants as local governments under state law, enabling them to regulate land uses on their common lands and to acquire state and federal funds for community development.  Specifically, the Legislature passed law recognizing land grants as political subdivisions of the State of New Mexico or local governments.

The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is committed to working with all traditional communities throughout New Mexico. Acequia organizations and cattlemen associations are our key partners in current and future efforts around designating federal lands as National Conservation Areas, National Monuments, or Wilderness.

Our El Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area (NCA) proposal encompasses three land grants. In 2010, we succeeded in including language in the bills introduced to designate the NCA which explicitly protected and honored the land use rights of these traditional communities. Our staff continues to coordinate efforts between Congressional offices and the Land Grant communities.

Read more about land grants in New Mexico: New Mexico Community Land Grants (PDF format)