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Announcement that Rio Grande del Norte To Become a National Monument is Cheered by the Local Community

For Immediate Release
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.

Northern New Mexicans urge federal delegation to protect Columbine Hondo: Lawmakers listen to community in coalition meeting

For Immediate Release
February 20, 2013

TAOS, NM (February 20, 2013) – Members of the northern New Mexico community gathered in Taos on Saturday at a coalition meeting to urge Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Rep. Ben Ray Luján to protect Columbine Hondo as designated Wilderness. Over two-dozen people at the meeting also thanked the delegation for re-introducing legislation to protect Rio Grande del Norte, and supported President Obama designating it as a national monument.

The meeting occurred shortly after the 112th Congress ended, which was the first Congress since 1966 to not protect a single acre of wilderness, and the first Congress since World War II to not protect a single new acre of public land as a national monument, national park or wilderness area.

There was diverse participation in the meeting, ranging from veterans, ranchers and grazing permitees, Taos Pueblo, Hispanic leaders, mountain bikers, local elected officials, business owners, sportsmen, land grant representatives, and conservationists.

The community members met to show their support for the delegation re-introducing legislation to protect Columbine-Hondo. Former Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Sen. Tom Udall introduced the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act in the 112th Congress, and the community asked the entire delegation to introduce legislation in the House and Senate soon.

“As a livestock permittee, I realize that wilderness designations actually provide assurance that our traditional grazing rights will always be protected,” said Erminio Martinez, a livestock permittee in the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area. “I am grateful that you as our Congressional leaders are willing to take this to Congress to ensure that the Columbine Hondo Wilderness is enacted so that all of our surrounding communities and future generations can enjoy and benefit from these beautiful mountains, as we have.”

Future legislation would hopefully protect the 45,000-acre Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area. The Columbine Hondo area north of Taos boasts some of the state’s most spectacular landscapes, encompassing the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, including Gold Hill, its highest peak. Elk, mountain lions, black bear, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, pine marten, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout make their home here. It contains the headwaters for two important rivers that supply water to the acequias used by the community.

“The wilderness experience while hunting or fishing provides an experience that has no rival,” said Max Trujillo of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “Protecting these areas will ensure that our fish and wildlife resources along with this excellent habitat will naturally exist, and future generations of hunters and anglers will have a place to experience what will soon become a rarity in the United States. Protecting the Columbine Hondo will prove to be a welcome addition to the natural treasures of Northern New Mexico and a destination for generations of hunters and anglers.”

Congress formally recognized the wilderness values and character of the Columbine Hondo area in 1980 and gave it interim protection as a wilderness study area (WSA). Designation as wilderness is the highest form of protection, and bars any development.


The mission of the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition is to protect the land, water, values, heritage, culture, and traditions embodied in the lands and communities surrounding the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area by elevating its status to full Wilderness designation.


Website Launched to Celebrate Wilderness 50th Anniversary

For Immediate Release
March 19, 2013

Contact: Lisa Eidson
Wilderness50 Media/Publicity Chair
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone: 406-396-3607

The 50th Anniversary National Wilderness Planning Team (Wilderness50) is pleased to announce the launch of http://www.wilderness50th.org, a new website dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. “Having a website of its own will give Wilderness50 and all the exciting preparations for the 50th anniversary of our wilderness system a much more immediate and vibrant appeal to folks around the country,” said Vicky Hoover, Wilderness50 co-chair and longtime wilderness advocate and volunteer.

The website honors 50 years of preservation, use and enjoyment of wilderness by:

  • Cataloging all local, regional, and national 50th anniversary events, meetings, programs, and projects occurring between now and 2014 and dedicated to raising awareness of wilderness. As event planning escalates this year, event hosts and organizers are encouraged to enter their events onto the map and calendar.
  • Providing resources and materials for people and organizations interested in hosting or organizing 50th anniversary local community events. Possible events can include Walks for Wilderness; outings and service trips; museum, airport, or visitor center exhibits; speakers; interpretive programs; trainings or workshops; photography or writing contests; art shows; music or dance programs; book or poetry readings; stewardship projects and more.
  • Providing information about the National Wilderness Conference, to be held October 15-19, 2014 in Albuquerque, NM. This event will be Wilderness50’s premier forum for discussing the growing challenges of perpetuating the values of wilderness in a time of unprecedented environmental and social change.

Please join Wilderness50 in celebrating “50 Years of American Wilderness” by visiting http://www.wilderness50th.org. Enter your email address on the home page to sign up for future key 50th updates.

Wilderness50 is a coalition of more than 25 non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and government agencies that is planning and implementing local, regional, and national events and projects. This coalition is charged with raising public awareness of wilderness and engaging youth during 2014, the 50th anniversary year. Our nation’s wilderness system was established in 1964 for the use and enjoyment of the American people and provides many direct and in-direct benefits, such as those relating to ecological, geological, scientific, educational, scenic, spiritual, economic, recreational, historical, and cultural uses and activities.  The 758 wilderness areas that exist today are managed by all four federal land managing agencies, the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service. You can learn more about Wilderness50 by visiting our website at http://www.wilderness50th.org or you can follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/50thAnniversaryOfTheWildernessAct and Twitter at http://twitter.com/wild50th.


Supporters back national monument status for Organ Mountains

For Immediate Release
March 20, 2012

By Steve Ramirez


LAS CRUCES — With the afternoon sun creating all kinds of hues and shadows, the Organ Mountains served as the backdrop Tuesday of a news conference of southern New Mexico leaders urging President Barack Obama to designate the mountain range as a national monument.

“It’s time to get it done, it’s time it happened,” said Billy Garrett, Doña Ana County commissioner, and retired deputy general superintendent of the Gateway National Recreation Area, in the port of New York and New Jersey.

Garrett was the master of ceremonies at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Museum, where politicians, as well as business, education, and civic leaders, representing 175 entities, gathered to endorse the proposal. Together, they submitted a letter Tuesday to the president asking that the Organ Mountains be designated a national monument. White Sands National Monument is nearest U.S. monument to Las Cruces and the Organs.

“As historians, archeologists, geographers, and cultural preservation experts, we write to express our strong support of protecting the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region as a new Bureau of Land Management national monument,” said a portion of the consortium’s letter to Obama. “Possessing such nationally unique resources as the Butterfield Trail, Billy The Kid’s Outlaw Rock, Geronimo’s Cave, Kilbourne Hole, and Aden Lava Flow, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region is an international treasure, characterized by unique and irreplaceable natural and cultural resources.

“We are confident that supporting the conservation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks assets will protect our rich cultural heritage for generations to come, and be a beacon for those eager to explore one of the most beautiful and historically rich regions of the American Southwest.”

Supporters said the benefits of the designation are numerous. In addition to the preservation of historical, cultural, and natural resources, they said declaring the mountain range a national monument would also have a strong economic impact on southern New Mexico.

“We’re thrilled and excited to talk about this new protection strategy,” said Renee Frank, president of the board of directors of the Green Chamber of Commerce of Las Cruces. “It cannot be overstated just how much this new national monument would impact us. … Simply, there’s no question the Desert Peaks National Monument will create jobs. It fits with what the Green Chamber calls the “Triple Bottom line,’ it would be good for people, good for the planet, and good for prosperity.”

Mayor Ken Miyagishima said he believes in the initiative.

“What better way to promote Las Cruces and southern New Mexico than by establishing this monument,” Miyagishima said. “… This is good for the community, good for jobs, good for the environment, and good for preserving history.”

Petitioning the President

• Some southern New Mexico politicians, business owners, educators and interested residents have asked President Obama to designate the Organ Mountains as a national monument.

• They have suggested naming the proposed national monument the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

• They said the designation would not only protect the lands at and near the mountain range east of Las Cruces, but it could also stimulate southern New Mexico’s economy.

• National monuments are protected public lands with unique characteristics that are managed to ensure their natural, historic and cultural values are protected for future generations.