WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) secured final Senate passage of their bill to establish two new wilderness areas, the Cerro del Yuta Wilderness and Rio San Antonio Wilderness, within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument northwest of Taos, New Mexico. The legislation was included as an amendment to the Energy Policy Modernization Act, which passed the senate by a vote of 85 to 12.
"For many years now, a broad coalition of northern New Mexicans, including elected officials, tribal leaders, business owners, sportsmen, land grant heirs, acequia parciantes, ranchers, veterans, and conservationists have worked incredibly hard to protect these two very special areas within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. I have no doubt that future generations will be grateful for their efforts," said Sen. Heinrich. "Designating these wilderness areas will complete a national example of community-driven, landscape-scale conservation that will preserve the culture and natural resources and boost the economy of this stunning corner of New Mexico."
"The Río Grande del Norte National Monument is rich with history and culture. It's a special place for locals and has been driving visitors to Northern New Mexico since its creation three years ago," said Sen. Udall. "Creating these wilderness areas is a final step toward ensuring the monument's many treasures will remain protected for generations to come -- so our children and grandchildren can enjoy hiking, fishing and the many traditional uses of the land."
The two proposed wilderness areas will comprise 21,420 acres within the 242,500-acre Río Grande del Norte National Monument. In 2013, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a previous version of the legislation.
Río Grande del Norte boasts incredible wildlands and waters that sustain the surrounding communities, and is home to elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, golden eagles, black bears, American pronghorn, and other wildlife. The area is one of the most stunning and ecologically significant in the state and a destination for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts.
In March 2013, President Barack Obama designated the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, which is widely supported by Taos and Rio Arriba county residents. A year after the national monument was designated, it was reported that the town of Taos lodgers' tax revenue increased by 21 percent in the second half of 2013, compared with the same time period in 2012. In addition, gross-receipts revenue to businesses in Taos County in the accommodations and food service sector rose 8.3 percent in the second half of 2013 compared with the same period in 2012, representing an increase of $3.7 million.
A new economic report released by the Small Business Majority demonstrates the strong link between the protection of public lands and economic growth. The report shows that the 11 national monuments designated by President Obama, including Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico, have created a total of $156 million of new economic activity and helped create 1,820 new jobs.
After passing the Senate, the Energy Policy Modernization Act will need to be reconciled with a House-passed energy bill into a final product before going to the president's desk for signature and enactment into law.