Nov 21, 2013 Albuquerque Business First Gary Gerew, Assistant Editor
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) both spoke at a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing to push for a bill that would designate the 45,000-acre Columbine-Hondo area in Taos County as wilderness.
Udall and Heinrich introduced the proposal earlier this year. A companion bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM-03).
The legislation would expand the Wheeler Peak Wilderness by approximately 650 acres. The proposal would also modify a boundary that creates a loop trail accessible by mountain bikes along the Lost Lake trail from Taos Ski Valley to the East Fork trail to Red River, according to the senators.
“This bill is the result of years of work by many people on how best to protect the Columbine-Hondo’s economic, recreational and scenic values,” Udall said. “Taos County residents, ranchers, governments and businesses resoundingly agree that this area deserves permanent wilderness status. By designating the Columbine-Hondo as wilderness, we will open up new tourism and recreation opportunities and protect vital tributaries to the Río Grande, while providing for continued traditional land uses, such as hunting and grazing.”
“The Columbine-Hondo is one of the most treasured places in New Mexico,” Heinrich said. “Columbine-Hondo is a central attraction for visitors to Taos County, where outdoor recreation and tourism drive the local economy,” Heinrich said. “People come to these mountains to hike, camp, hunt, fish, and spend time with their families, and invariably they leave Taos County with their wallets a little lighter.”