M onday was an important day for Northern New Mexico — not to mention for the state and even the nation.
On that day, President Barack Obama officially designated the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, preserving some 240,000 acres of our finest wilderness for generations to come.
What a long time coming!
Residents of Northern New Mexico, whatever their views on politics, should take a moment to thank the president for listening to the sportsmen, business people, tribal members and traditional residents of our north.
Despite Congress' inaction on preservation of wild lands — a bill to set aside the acreage as a National Conservation Area never made it to the president — Obama used his powers under the Antiquities Act to preserve the land west of Taos and north to the Colorado border.
He was encouraged to do so by a congressional delegation that had spent many hours trying to pass legislation that would conserve the area — Sens. Jeff Bingaman, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, as well as U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, all understood the importance of this land to our state.
The Rio Grande del Norte was one of five monuments that Obama designated; given that Congress will not act on preservation, we look forward to seeing the president figure out a way to provide protection to the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Area soon.
For today, we are pleased to see the Rio Grande del Norte become a national monument. Backers estimate that designation will fuel an estimated $15 million in new economic spending and create 279 jobs, all because of increased tourism in Northern New Mexico.
The designation, too, protects traditional activities, including grazing, one reason so many diverse groups supported it.
Groups as disparate as the Taos County and Mora Valley Chambers of Commerce, ranchers, sportsmen, elected officials, Indian tribes and Hispano organizations all spoke with one voice. They realize that designating the area as a national monument preserves not just a place, but a way of life. It preserves traditional rights outlined in the Treaty of Guadalupe, meaning that people can collect firewood and pinon nuts as they have always done.
Important to the rest of the state, the monument designation helps protect the water of the Rio Grande, whether for irrigation, rafting or fishing.
The beauty of the place — the Rio Grande Gorge, Taos Plateau or Ute Mountain — will be safeguarded, as will the wildlife that inhabits it.
In 50 years, our children and grandchildren can look up and watch a Sandhill crane migrating through, or be fortunate enough to see a hawk swoop down on its prey. They can fish or go hunting, spend the night under the stars. The land, which sustains us all, is safe, tribute to the combined efforts of hundreds of nortenos.
Despite the modern world, they remain connected to this land and this place, still dedicated to the notion that we all need a little wild at the core.
— The Santa Fe New Mexican