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New National Monument for New Mexico

PHOTO: Ute Mountain is part of the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Photo credit: Stuart Wilde
PHOTO: Ute Mountain is part of the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Photo credit: Stuart Wilde
March 25, 2013

TAOS, N.M. - Three New Mexicans are in Washington, D.C., today joining President Obama for a signing ceremony. They are among hundreds of New Mexicans who have worked for years to get federal protection for the Rio Grande del Norte. Designating the area as a national monument adds an extra layer of security to 240,000 acres of public lands in northern New Mexico.

In addition to being an important recognition of the traditions and cultural heritage of the area, the designation also means business, according to Brad Malone, board of directors chair, Taos Chamber of Commerce.

"It's going to create jobs through direct federal jobs - more study of the petroglyphs, and the rivers and the Gorge," he said. "It's also going to increase economic activity by people coming to visit the wilderness areas."

A recent report by BBC Research & Consulting says the more than $17 million pumped into the area's annual economy from tourism is expected to nearly double as a result of the new national monument.

This means the Bureau of Land Management will keep the landscape largely free from energy development, infrastructure and roads. John Olivas, traditional community organizer with the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, who is at the signing ceremony today, stressed its importance to New Mexicans.

"A whole gamut of recreational opportunities are available," he said, "and this landscape protects that. When people come into Taos, they will not only get the cultural and heritage component, but all those recreational opportunities are preserved for everyone who visits Taos County."

Having national monument status means cultural, natural and scenic resources will remain for future generations. Religious and cultural sites will be preserved, and traditional uses - grazing, hunting and fishing, and gathering firewood, piñon and herbs - will remain undisturbed, Olivas stressed.

"Nothing will change," he said. "We've actually made that clear within the language of the legislation. Any type of future development, around any type of oil and gas or any mineral extraction, is definitely going to keep this landscape the way it has always been."

Rio Grande del Norte contains thousands of archeological sites, some dating back 11,000 years. The area is also home to bears and cougars, elk, pronghorn and bighorn sheep, and is an important stop along the Rio Grande migratory flyway. Olivas said the designation has been supported by environmentalists, ranchers, outdoor sports aficionados and the business community.

Renee Blake, Public News Service - NM