New Mexico could prove next chapter in wilderness protection

Ute Mountain, Rio Grande, New Mexico. Courtesy Conservation System Alliance.

Last month, we witnessed one of the most important milestones in our nation’s conservation history when over 2 million acres were added to the National Wilderness Preservation System with the passage of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act.

This week, a new chapter in wilderness protection began in New Mexico when U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D. N.M., introduced legislation that would protect 235,000 acres of the most scenic and ecologically significant lands in northern New Mexico.

The legislation would establish the El Río Grande Del Norte National Conservation Area and designate 21,000 acres of wilderness within the conservation area.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the area is Ute Mountain, rising from the surrounding sage plain to an elevation of 10,093 feet – the highest point on New Mexico Bureau of Land Management land.

The bill would also protect the upper reaches of the Rio Grande Gorge, known as one of the world’s great avian migratory routes. Eagles, falcons and hawks nest on the walls of the Gorge and numerous species, including majestic sandhill cranes, migrate through the area. Wilderness protection assures the ecological future of these incredible birds, as well as important game species like pronghorn and elk. The legislation would also safeguard world-class recreation opportunities.

“This bill would ensure that present and future generations continue to enjoy opportunities to hunt, fish, camp, hike and experience New Mexico’s natural heritage,” said Paul Spitler, National Wilderness Campaigns Associate Director at The Wilderness Society.

The El Río Grande Del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act is an exciting step forward for wilderness protection. Protecting these treasured wild lands will benefit the northern New Mexico communities that have enjoyed these lands for generations.

photo: Ute Mountain, Rio Grande, New Mexico. Courtesy Conservation System Alliance.

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