WASHINGTON — Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) today introduced legislation that would protect 235,000 acres of the most scenic and ecologically significant lands in northern New Mexico. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) co-sponsored the measure.
“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. “This legislation will benefit the northern New Mexico communities that have enjoyed these lands for generations.”
The legislation would establish the 235,000-acre El Rio Grande Del Norte National Conservation Area. The measure would also designate two wilderness areas totaling 21,000 acres within the conservation area. It would protect outstanding scenery, including Ute Mountain, rising from the surrounding sage plain to an elevation of 10,093 feet, and the upper reaches of the Rio Grande Gorge. It would also preserve of one of the world’s great avian migratory routes and protect important game species, including pronghorn and elk.
Spitler said the legislation would safeguard and even bolster local economies, because visitors to the area would continue to enjoy world-class birdwatching, camping, hiking, horseback riding, hunting and fishing.
The proposed National Conservation Area and wilderness would formally become part of the National Landscape Conservation System should the legislation become law. The National Landscape Conservation System, managed by the BLM and recognizing the best land and waters managed by the agency, is the nation’s newest system of conservation lands, having been signed into law by President Obama on March 30.
“This legislation shows that the nation’s newest conservation system has a bright future,” said Kevin Mack, National Landscape Conservation System Campaign Director at The Wilderness Society, “and the opportunity to conserve, protect and restore these landscapes managed by the BLM cannot be understated.”
Once the bill is introduced, it will be referred to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where it could be heard as early as this spring.