12.20.12

Interior Secretary Salazar Holds Public Meeting on New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte

Last weekend, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar held a public meeting in Taos to explore the best path forward for the preservation and protection of the Rio Grande del Norte in northern New Mexico. A monument designation protecting the Rio Grande del Norte – an area beloved by sportsmen, hikers and local tribes alike for its beauty, diverse wildlife and cultural significance – would be a significant addition to America’s National Conservation Lands, becoming part of our nation’s permanently protected collection of public lands.

In an editorial printed earlier this week, The Santa Fe New Mexican acknowledged that a public meeting is often the last step before an area of public land is officially designated for protection, and described what makes the Rio Grande del Norte so special:

This status would protect some of Northern New Mexico’s most precious outdoors areas, whether for hunting, fishing, rafting, wood cutting, grazing or plain ol’ enjoying. A dream of a wide variety of norteños, this designation — some 236,00 acres of public land northwest of Taos — also is a fitting tribute to Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who is retiring after 30 years in the Senate. Indian, Hispanic and Anglo peoples of the north, outdoorsmen and conservationists, business owners and environmentalists all have worked together to show the benefits of preserving the area, which contains parts of the Rio Grande Gorge, Ute Mountain and the Taos Plateau; in other words, some of the most spectacular and wild places in New Mexico.

If the mood at the public meeting is any indication, a national monument designation may be all but inevitable at this point. Despite short notice, a standing-room-only crowd gathered in Taos to discuss a potential designation. The Conservation Lands Foundation’s own executive director, Brian O’Donnell, was on hand and discussed the proceedings with Environment & Energy Publishing:

“I think the landscape and the resources there are absolutely worthy of protection,” said Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Durango, Colo.-based Conservation Lands Foundation, who attended Saturday’s meeting.

According to O’Donnell, Salazar at one point in the meeting asked for a show of hands of those who support a national monument designation, and almost all hands went up. None was raised after Salazar asked who opposed such a designation, O’Donnell said. Salazar said he was there to take the opinion of the community back to the president.

Neil Kornze of the Bureau of Land Management addresses the crowd in Taos

The public meeting with Interior Secretary Salazar and the Bureau of Land Management is the first official action taken by the Obama Administration towards providing permanent protection for the Rio Grande del Norte. The hope is that the overwhelming local support for a potential national monument will bring about a designation by President Obama sooner rather than later, and with it, a well deserved addition to our National Conservation Lands.

Brian O’Donnell, executive director at the Conservation Lands Foundation, captured this image of the Rio Grande on his way to Taos

For more on the public meeting:

Worthy of preservation, Santa Fe New Mexican

Salazar mulls monument proposal for N.M.’s Rio Grande, Environment & Energy Publishing

Salazar visits Taos to get comments on conservation area, Taos News

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