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Rio Grande del Norte NCA/Wilderness Bill Introduced in U.S. House

Conservationists Cheer Rep. Lujan’s Companion Legislation

Representative Ben Lujan’s introduction of legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives today to protect nearly 236,000 acres in northern New Mexico was hailed as an important step forward in ensuring this wild land stays as it is for future generations. The measure is the House companion legislation to the Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act, introduced by Senator Jeff Bingaman in the U.S. Senate.

“We are pleased that Congressman Lujan is championing this important measure in Congress, and look forward to working with him to see this conservation bill become law this year,” said John Olivas, Northern Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, based in Mora. “New Mexicans value their hunting and outdoor traditions, and this legislation will enable us to pass down those traditions to our children and grandchildren.”

Nearly 236,000 acres will be designated 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 includes some of New Mexico’s most spectacular landscapes, including the Rio Grande gorge – which at some places is a half mile wide across, dropping to the Rio Grande River 800 feet below, and is a vital migratory flyway for a number of bird species.

“Those of us with deep roots here appreciate that this legislation preserves grazing within the National Conservation Area and specifically protects our right to hunt, fish and collect piñon nuts and firewood,” said Esther Garcia, President of San Antonio Del Rio Colorado Land Grant and Mayor of Questa. “It directs 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. This measure will help ensure that we are good stewards of the land.”

The legislation is broadly backed by area businesses, which recognize the importance of wilderness designation to local economies. Supporters include the Taos Chamber of Commerce, the Mora Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Taos County Commission, and more than one hundred local businesses.

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