The Wilderness Society today applauded Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and President Obama for holding a public hearing on the permanent protection of Rio Grande del Norte in northern New Mexico.
Hispano leaders and organizations, small business owners and the Taos and Mora Valley Chambers of Commerce, sportsmen and ranchers, Native American Pueblos and elected officials, and conservation organizations have all come together to ask President Obama to use the Antiquities Act to permanently protect the Rio Grande Gorge and Taos Plateau.
The calls to action from community members and the New Mexico congressional delegation are a result of Congress’ unwillingness to act on public lands legislation. Currently, there are 27 such bills stalled in Congress, including Rio Grande del Norte. Legislation to protect the area was introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Rep. Ben Ray Luján, both of whom have called on President Obama to designate Rio Grande del Norte as a national monument.
“The Wilderness Society applauds this critical step in permanent protection of Rio Grande del Norte,” said Michael B. Casaus, the New Mexico regional director of The Wilderness Society. "Protecting this gem will also protect northern New Mexico’s economy, way of life and future.”
The national monument would protect some of the most ecologically significant lands in northern New Mexico, including Ute Mountain, which towers over the region and provides excellent habitat for a wide array of species, including elk, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and great horned owl. It would also protect the vast recreational opportunities contained within the Rio Grande Gorge and Taos Plateau.
In addition to protecting New Mexico’s cultural, historical and natural legacy, a Rio Grande del Norte National Monument will also protect the local economy. According to a 2012 economic study, a national monument designation in northern New Mexico is estimated to fuel $15 million in new economic benefits, such as boosting tourism and supporting ongoing grazing.
In southern New Mexico, community members have also come together to protect Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument, citing the same dysfunction from Congress. Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall sent a letter asking that the president protect the two areas as National Monuments.
The Wilderness Society looks forward to seeing President Obama protect Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.