November 19, 2014
By Michael Ritterhouse, Sangre de Cristo Chronicle
November 19, 2014
WASHINGTON, D.C.— The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act, a bill introduced by U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) that would designate 45,000-acre Columbine Hondo Wilderness Area near Red River as a federal wilderness area, cleared the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Thursday (Nov. 13) and now awaits passage by the full Senate.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Red River Mayor Linda Calhoun Monday (Nov. 17) about the bill’s chance of passing the full senate.
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The bill, which has broad support from Red River and Taos County residents, would also expand the Wheeler Peak Wilderness by approximately 650 acres while modifying a boundary in order to create a loop trail accessible by mountain bikes along the Lost Lake trail from Taos Ski Valley to the East Fork trail to Red River.
“[This] vote is a great step forward in the on-going grassroots efforts to permanently protect the Columbine-Hondo,” said Sen. Udall. “The recreation opportunities are tremendous, and a Columbine-Hondo Wilderness will provide critical protection for New Mexico’s wildlife and water resources. We’ve already seen the benefit that the Río Grande del Norte National Monument has had on the economy of Taos County, and the tourism and jobs that will follow this wilderness designation will continue to benefit New Mexicans. I am proud of our years-long collaboration with local stakeholders, who have worked tirelessly to preserve this slice of northern New Mexico into the future.”
“It’s special places like the Columbine-Hondo that inspire us all to continue to work together to ensure our public lands are protected now and for generations to come,” said Sen. Heinrich, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. “New Mexicans have a deep connection to the outdoors and benefit from the recreation, wildlife, water, and tourism opportunities that wilderness provide. I want to thank the community of northern New Mexico who has worked incredibly hard to permanently protect this area. Today marks an important step toward ensuring that happens.”
Last month, Senator Heinrich joined the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Coalition, regional stakeholders, and local officials for a hike in the area to highlight conservation and water initiatives and growing the outdoor recreation economy. There is strong, local support for the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act, including from business owners, tribal leaders, ranchers, sportsmen, acequia parciantes, mountain bikers, conservationists, and others. Local residents discussed why they support permanently protecting the Columbine Hondo and what the area means to them.
Among those joining Senator Heinrich was Bill Adkison, president of the Enchanted Circle Trout Unlimited chapter. Regarding the future of the bill in the Senate Adkison said, “ I remain cautiously optimistic that this bill (one of a dozen such wilderness actions) will be passed by the senate during the lame duck session. Fortunately, there is not great corporate interest in development that could derail the process.”
Located in the Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico, the Columbine-Hondo has been managed as a Wilderness Study Area since 1980. The Columbine-Hondo is one of the most treasured places in the state and a key attraction for the local tourism economy. The area’s watershed serves as the headwaters for the Rio Hondo and Red River, which support local agricultural communities and ultimately flow into the Rio Grande. The Columbine-Hondo also offers some of the best hunting and fishing opportunities in the state, with high-elevation coldwater fisheries, and unparalleled habitat for elk, deer, and antelope.