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Tue, Apr 23, 2013

New Mexico’s U.S. senators renewed an effort Monday to make the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area in the Carson National Forest into an official wilderness.

The legislation is the same as a bill introduced in last session’s Congress, according to a news release from Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, as well as U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who expects to introduce an identical bill in the House today.

Besides granting wilderness status to about 45,000 acres in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Taos County, the bill also would add about 650 acres to the Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area, bringing it to some 19,550 acres.

“For more than 30 years we have considered the Columbine Hondo’s economic, recreational and scenic values for protection,” said Udall in the news release. “And Taos County locals resoundingly agree that this area is deserving of permanent wilderness status. Designating the Columbine-Hondo as wilderness will only increase profitable tourism opportunities and provide for continued traditional land uses, such as hunting and grazing.”

That land had been a wilderness study area since 1980, but no final report was issued or any action taken since then. The wilderness designation is supported by the Taos County Commission, Taos Pueblo, the towns of Taos and Red River, villages of Questa and Taos Ski Valley, Taos County Chamber of Commerce and others, according to the news release.

“The people of Taos and the surrounding communities have made it clear that protecting the Columbine-Hondo is a top priority,” Luján said.

This effort follows President Barack Obama last month designating 240,000 acres in Taos and Rio Arriba County, known as Rio Grande del Norte, a national monument.

The proposed Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act also transfers some National Forest land to the town of Red River and village of Taos Ski Valley. That land contains two wastewater treatment plants, a cemetery, a local park and a portion of a town road.

It also authorizes the Forest Service to sell two parcels of developed land in and near Red River. An updated survey showed that the development was a trespass on Forest Service lands.