Rio Grande Del Norte National Monumnet

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POSTED: 12:05 am SANTA FE — New Mexico is about to get a new national monument. Rio Grande del Norte, whose 240,000 acres encompass portions of the spectacular Rio Grande Gorge and Ute Mountain, will receive that designation with a proclamation scheduled to be signed by President Barack Obama on Monday, according to a White House official. Obama will make the designation under the federal Antiquities Act. This action will bypass Congress, which has failed to support efforts by the state’s congressional delegation since at least 2009 to further protect this area of Taos and Rio Arriba counties. The land has been managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which will continue to do so under the new designation, according to the White House official. The news drew applause from New Mexico’s senators and Rep. Ben Ray Luján, whose district covers that area. “I’m excited about it,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., in a telephone interview. “That area has always been really special to me.” The designation “gives an overlay of protection to make sure that the viewsheds are not developed,” he said. “The idea is not to turn it into a Disneyland, but to protect it in the kind of undeveloped splendor that has always drawn people…” The lawmakers roundly praised former Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who first started working on the project in 2007. “Protecting the Río Grande del Norte means we are not only preserving this beautiful space, but ensuring that it will continue to be used by anglers, ranchers, and land grant heirs,” Bingaman said in a news release, adding his thanks to the Obama administration. “It is my hope that this decision has a very positive impact on the economy of the region.” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said, “This is a victory for the people of Taos and Rio Arriba counties and will be a lasting part of Jeff’s legacy. I am proud to have been a part of such a successful effort to protect some of northern New Mexico’s most historically and culturally rich land for the benefit of locals and visitors.” Luján echoed the praise for Bingaman’s work, and said, “By working together with small businesses, local governments, Taos Pueblo and those who appreciate this pristine land for recreation, traditional and cultural uses, or finding inspiration—we have finally ensured that the history and future of the Río Grande del Norte will be protected and preserved.” Outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visited the area in December to hear from local residents, most of whom spoke in favor of the national monument. The northern New Mexico designation has received widespread local support, with Taos Pueblo, Taos city and county governments, various conservation organizations, as well as individual businesses and the Taos and Mora Valley chambers of commerce backing the plan. A study by BBC Research & Consulting has estimated that making Rio Grande del Norte a national monument would create $15 million in new revenue annually and create 279 new jobs thanks to an increase in visitation to Taos and Rio Arriba counties, according to the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. Stretching from a deep part of the gorge west of Taos all the way to the Colorado border, the soon-to-be monument includes petroglyphs, archaeological sites, habitat for birds and other wildlife, and cultural resources stretching from ancient inhabitants to later Spanish settlers. Obama also is slated to create other national monuments in a signing ceremony on Monday: First State National Monument in Delaware; Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland; Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio, and San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington State. Rio Grande del Norte will be the first new national monument created in New Mexico since President Bill Clinton gave that designation to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument near Cochiti in 2001. — This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal