Bill to Protect New Mexico’s Rio Grande Gorge introduced

Mar 30, 2011

Senator Bingaman reintroduces Rio Grande del Norte

Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation led by U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman yesterday re-introduced legislation cosponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) that would protect roughly 236,980 acres of the most scenic and ecologically significant lands in northern New Mexico. A House version was introduced by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D, NM-3), cosponsored by Rep. Martin Heinrich (D, NM-1).

The legislation, the Río Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act (S. 667/H.R. 1241), would protect over 21,000 acres of Wilderness and roughly 236,980 acres as a National Conservation Area. It would ensure protection of some of the most ecologically significant lands in the state of New Mexico and help secure traditional ways of life in Northern New Mexico for local residents as well as hunters, ranchers, and outfitters. The legislation was first introduced in April 2009, but did not pass before the 111th Congress adjourned.

One of the most striking features of the area is Ute Mountain, the highest point on New Mexico Bureau of Land Management land. Ute rises up from the surrounding sage plain to an elevation of 10,093 feet.

The legislation would 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, such as hiking, hunting and fishing. Grazing and vehicle and utility access would continue in already-existing areas, and water rights would not be affected.

“This important bill would keep New Mexico’s most treasured natural resource pristine and protected,” said Michael Casaus, the New Mexico State Director at The Wilderness Society.  “The El Río Grande Del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act would protect our wild lands that New Mexico communities have enjoyed for generations.”

Through efforts with our local partners -- such as New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and New Mexico Wildlife Federation, hunters and anglers, business leaders and outfitters and state and federal elected officials --The Wilderness Society hopes to see the Río Grande Del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act finally enacted this Congress to protect our lands and waters for New Mexico’s future.