New Mexico's wild Columbine Hondo awaits Congressional protection

The 12,700-foot “Gold Hill” is one of Columbine Hondo’s main attractions.

flickr, dherrera_96

New Mexico's wild lands got another foothold with the reintroduction of the Columbine- Hondo Wilderness Act on April 23. The bill would designate the 45,000-acre Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area as permanently protected wilderness. The Wilderness Society has been working with a diverse coalition on the ground to protect this area. We have been an integrated part of a community effort that includes local ranchers, local elected officials, small business owners, Hispanic and Pueblo leaders and sportsmen. 

Columbine Hondo is nestled deep in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico. Located outside the towns of Taos, Questa and Red River, it is a recreation haven, attracting hikers, hunters, anglers, horseback riders and wildlife lovers.

Columbine Hondo contains important headwaters of the Red River and Rio Hondo, major tributaries of the Rio Grande, which provide water for local acequias and downstream communities.

“We all have a shared responsibility to protect our precious water sources and protecting the Columbine Hondo does just that,” said Michael Casaus, the New Mexico State Director of The Wilderness Society.

The area serves as home for elk, deer, mountain lion, black bear, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and is critical habitat for the endangered Rio Grande cutthroat trout.

Legislation to protect this area was reintroduced by Senator Tom Udall, Senator Martin Heinrich and Representative. Ben Ray Luján. Congress recognized the Columbine Hondo as a wilderness study area in 1980 and locals have been advocating for its permanent protection ever since. Legislation failed to pass last Congress, but we are hopeful that the 113th Congress will turn a new page and protect priceless wild places like this one.

The Wilderness Society was a major player in moving this action forward, even working with coalition partners to build relationships with and win the public support of groups who were originally among the most vocal opponents of the campaign.

Casaus also facilitated a meeting in February with Sens. Udall and Heinrich and Rep. Lujan. It was a historic event for New Mexico because it was a meeting of wilderness supporters that truly reflected the diversity of the community: ranchers, farmers, Land Grant heirs, acequia parciates, small business owners, Hispanic and Pueblo leaders, mountain bikers, conservationists, sportsmen, as well as Republican and Democrat town mayors and county commissioners. Senator Udall called it a “model for how we should do conservation work.”

 

Here is a map courtesy of The Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition (click to enlarge):

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