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Bill would protect Cerro de la Olla as a wilderness area

SANTA FE – Cerro de la Olla could become New Mexico’s next wilderness area.

Last week, U.S. senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall of New Mexico introduced legislation that would establish 13,103 acres within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico as a wilderness area.

The area offers solitude and stunning views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east and San Juan Mountains to the west and overlooks the Rio Grande Gorge, according to a news release.

“These mountains serve as an important wildlife corridor and provide security habitat for species such as elk, mule deer, black bears, and mountain lions,” Heinrich said in a statement. “I’m proud to join the community to introduce legislation to designate Cerro de la Olla as wilderness to ensure this outdoor treasure is there for future generations.”

Udall, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, said the Cerro de la Olla caldera carries deep environmental, historical and recreational importance.

“Protecting this wilderness safeguards a vital wildlife corridor for treasured species like elk, mountain lions, and migratory birds, and boosts the local outdoor recreation economy,” he said.

Cerro de la Olla loosely translates to “Pot Mountain,” according to a news release from New Mexico Wild, a nonprofit group that works for the protection, restoration and continued respect of New Mexico’s wildlands and wilderness areas.

“This bill recognizes the importance of saving this special place for tomorrow’s visitors, human and wildlife alike, that they may have the same opportunities that we are fortunate enough to have today,” Mark Allison, New Mexico Wild’s executive director said.

The area has been used by people in the Taos area for hundreds of years as a hunting ground, place to gather herbs and firewood.

“As the primary inhabitants of the Taos Valley, the Red Willow People commonly known as the Taos Pueblo, have always recognized the sacredness of Cerro de la Olla, whether spiritual in nature or for the life sustaining resources provided,” said Taos Pueblo War Chief Gary J. Lujan. “Our people will continually acknowledge this in perpetuity, therefore it is important that, as an entire broader community, we look to protect the sanctity of Cerro de la Olla.”

Last year, the two new wilderness areas in Taos County – the Cerro del Yuta and Rio San Antonio – were signed into law under the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, a package of federal public lands legislation.