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.”