PHOTO: U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich speaks at the 2017 Wildlife Corridor and Connectivity Summit in Taos, New Mexico. August 22, 2017.
SANTA FE, N.M. – Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M), member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was the keynote speaker at the 2017 Wildlife Corridor and Connectivity Summit hosted by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Colorado Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation and Trout Unlimited. The summit focused on U.S. Forest Service landscape connectivity projects in the Upper Rio Grande Watershed and the importance of collaboration between local, state, federal, tribal and non-profit agencies and organizations.
During his remarks, Senator Heinrich recognized the unique opportunity to collaborate across state and regional lines to support landscape connectivity in the decades to come. Senator Heinrich emphasized that issues like the movement of wildlife, the spread of wildfires, and the health of water supplies don’t recognize state borders or national forest boundaries, and praised the summit for bringing together community leaders and organizations to strengthen connectivity.
Senator Heinrich’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below.
I want to thank all of you for gathering here today for the Upper Rio Grande Wildlife Connectivity Summit.
And I’d especially like to recognize the New Mexico Wildlife Federation’s Andrew Black and the National Wildlife Federation’s Jeremy Romero for their hard work putting this event together. Andrew, your grandfather is and was, very proud of you.
This summit follows up on last year’s seminal workshop that brought together the Forest Service, BLM, state wildlife agencies, sportsmen and wilderness groups and local community leaders from Colorado and New Mexico.
This is—as far as I know—among the very first concerted efforts in the nation to take a multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency, and multi-state approach to work on a broad, regional planning process to protect the health of whole ecosystems, wildlife populations and landscapes.
An early forest ranger here in the Southwest named Aldo Leopold wrote in a book titled, A Sand County Almanac: “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
What does that mean in the context of today’s scientific understanding of sustainable wildlife populations and migration corridors?
For starters, it means that we must recognize that an eagle nesting above the Taos Box may hunt jackrabbits on BLM land across the state line in Colorado.
And we must recognize that while that eagle may nest in a national monument, where it hunts is every bit as critical to its survival.
It means that if we value the mule deer that summer in the South San Juans, we must value every bit as much, the sage flats east of San Antonio Mountain that carry them through the winter.
And it means that we must rely on data wherever that data may take us. Even if it flies in the face of our expectations.
I remember driving down a hardscrabble road a few years ago that straddles the New Mexico/Colorado border.
I was driving in and out of spruce, fir and aspen groves when a herd of antelope came flying out of the conifers at full speed, raced across the small meadow I was crossing and dove into the aspens that line the rim of the Cruces Basin Wilderness on the other side.
Had I not seen these tree dwelling capridae myself, I would not believe it, but that’s why observation and data are so very important if we want to safeguard these sometimes unpredictable populations.
Finally, I believe the moral compass of Leopold’s words are very much present here in this room today.
We have different federal agencies, state agencies, local elected officials, tribal leaders, representatives of traditional Hispanic communities, sportsmen, wilderness organizations, and private landowners all here in the same room.
In my experience, I’ve found that when we can bring our unique identities, varied communities and cultural traditions into the same room with open minds and common purpose, we can accomplish almost anything.
Honestly, I wish we could do more of this back in Washington, D.C.
But I think there is something unique about our connection to our land and water here in New Mexico and the Southwest.
Our identities and livelihoods are connected to our open spaces, the health of our water, our forests, and our wildlife.
Who among us can’t remember that first trout we caught in a mountain stream somewhere in the high country?
My hope is that through your focus on watershed restoration and forestry, maybe our grandkids will create that memory in the same landscape, but with a native Rio Grande cutthroat on an elk hair caddis.
With management plan revisions for the Carson, Santa Fe, and Rio Grande National Forests underway, we have a unique opportunity to collaborate across state and regional lines to support landscape connectivity in the decades to come.
It is critical for us to recognize that the latest science shows us that issues like the movement of wildlife, the spread of wildfires, and the health of water supplies don’t recognize state borders or national forest boundaries.
The Upper Rio Grande watershed provides important habitat for species like bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, native cutthroat trout, golden eagles, and sandhill cranes.
These animals must move across different jurisdictions to feed, breed and raise young.
And human induced changes beyond their comprehension, ranging from road construction to climate change, can permanently alter their presence across our landscape.
We must ensure that we are using the latest science to identify and manage the corridors where these species move to safeguard their future and resiliency.
And I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to make sure we are devoting real resources to further development of that body of science so that we can make data-informed decisions on how to best manage and conserve our wildlife and landscapes.
Last week I was in Yellowstone photographing grizzly bears with my sons Carter and Micah. I couldn’t help but think of a photographer named Joe Riis that I have had the opportunity to meet a few times now.
Joe is famous for his images of game migrating through the beating heart of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. If you saw last summer’s National Geographic on Yellowstone you saw his images of bear, elk and antelope.
He has worked with field biologists to document their corridors --his stunning photographs capturing the public’s imagination.
This combination of GPS collar data and beautiful images has already resulted in the preservation of migration corridors nearly choked off by human activity.
Think about that.
Greater Yellowstone, with its enormous scale and full suite of native species is still at risk of losing whole herds to a single poorly placed subdivision or oil and gas field.
Imagine what northern New Mexico and Colorado could lose before we even have the data to know where each of those critical corridors lies.
This gathering itself is a hopeful sign that we have the generosity of spirit to seek and even find the solutions to these important challenges.
You know as well as I do that it will take not only the Forest Service, BLM, and state game and fish agencies putting the right words in their plans to make this planning process work.
It will take engagement with local communities, collaboration with tribes, and cooperation with private landholders to ensure that we can protect whole landscapes here in the Upper Rio Grande watershed for future generations.
When the organizations and communities represented here today work together and break down those overly comfortable silos, we can share knowledge and resources, learn from each other, and have a more effective collective impact.
I look forward to hearing about the initiatives you are all working on together to strengthen connectivity.
And I’m grateful for all that each of you is doing to listen and engage with each other for the future of our wildlife, watersheds and landscapes.
I guarantee that our grandchildren will be grateful for your leadership as well.