President Obama demonstrates strong commitment to conservation with national monument designations

Mar 22, 2013

Rio Grande River Gorge

Flickr- Tolka Rover
The Wilderness Society applauds permanent protection of Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico...

The Wilderness Society applauded President Obama for the pending designation of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico, in addition to four other cultural and natural landmarks across the United States.  By using the Antiquities Act, President Obama will protect roughly 240,000 acres of critical animal habitat, exceptional outdoor recreation areas and a vital source of water for New Mexico.

Rio Grande del Norte, a critical priority for The Wilderness Society, includes some of the most ecologically significant lands in northern New Mexico. This includes Ute Mountain, which towers over the region and provides habitat for elk, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and great horned owl, among other species.  The new national monument will also protect the vast recreational opportunities enjoyed by many within the Rio Grande Gorge and Taos Plateau, such as hiking, biking, camping, rafting, hunting and fishing.

“Protecting our lands and waters can’t wait, and The Wilderness Society applauds President Obama for protecting the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and other significant landmarks across the United States,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. “Protecting the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument demonstrates President Obama’s commitment to conservation, and we join the local community in thanking the President for this legacy for future generations to enjoy.”

A recent survey found that 84 percent of New Mexico voters agree that public lands are an essential part of the state’s economy, and an economic study found that a national monument designation for northern New Mexico is estimated to fuel $15 million in new economic benefits, such as boosting tourism and supporting ongoing grazing.

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 came together to ask President Obama to permanently protect Rio Grande del Norte.  

Along with the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, President Obama will designate four other national monuments:

  • San Juan Islands: This national monument will protect roughly 1,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management Lands and 75 sites in Washington State. It will permanently protect important cultural places -- such as the lighthouse on Patos Island -- while also boosting tourism and helping the local economy.
  • Harriet Tubman: This national monument will protect several sites in Dorchester County, Maryland, including the home site of Jacob Jackson, a free black farmer who helped Tubman rescue her brothers from slavery. The national monument designation is recognition of Harriet Tubman’s unparalleled contribution to our nation’s history.
  • Charles Young House: This  national monument in Xenia, Ohio, is the site of the family home of Col. Charles Young, who was the third African American to graduate from West Point and the first to reach the rank of colonel; he also served as the first African American acting superintendent of a national park (Sequoia-Kings Canyon). The national monument recognizes and honors a significant part of African American and American military history.
  • Delaware Historic sites: This national monument will protect sites associated with the history of early Swedish, Dutch and English settlement in Delaware, while preserving the 1,100-acre Woodlawn tract as an urban green space. This designation also gives Delaware its first National Park Service unit, the last of the 50 states to get at least one NPS unit.

While legislation to protect Rio Grande del Norte and San Juan Islands was introduced during the 112th Congress, it stalled along with dozens of other conservation bills in the first Congress since World War II to not protect a single new acre of public land as a Park, National Monument or Wilderness Area.

Understanding that Congress is broken, The Wilderness Society is very pleased to see President Obama taking important steps toward putting conservation on equal ground with energy development. 

Ryan Bidwell