PHOTO: (from left) U.S. Forest Service Questa District Ranger Jerry Mastell, Enchanted Circle Chapter President of Trout Unlimited Bill Adkison, local guide Stuart Wilde, Rivers & Birds Executive Director Roberta Salazar, and Sen. Heinrich at the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area on October 17, 2014.
TAOS, N.M. - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, highlighted conservation and water initiatives and growing the outdoor recreation economy during a hike in the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area with the U.S. Forest Service, regional stakeholders, and local officials.
Senator Heinrich also marked the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act at a campfire celebration and emphasized the impact of the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition, which includes business owners, ranchers, sportsmen, Acequia parciantes, mountain bikers, conservation organizations, and others.
"New Mexicans have a deep connection to the outdoors and benefit from the recreation, wildlife, water, and tourism opportunities that wilderness provide," said Sen. Heinrich. "It's special places like the Columbine-Hondo that inspire us all to continue to work together to ensure our public lands are protected now and for generations to come."
Senator Heinrich, along with Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), introduced the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act, a bill to designate the 45,000-acre Columbine-Hondo area in Taos County as wilderness. The bill would also expand the Wheeler Peak Wilderness by approximately 650 acres while modifying a boundary in order to create a loop trail accessible by mountain bikes along the Lost Lake trail from Taos Ski Valley to the East Fork trail to Red River.
"The Columbine Hondo's steep mountains are significant rain catchers contributing water into the second and third largest Rio Grande tributaries in New Mexico," said Roberta Salazar, Executive Director of Rivers & Birds and Columbine Hondo Coalition Member. "Permanent protection of this wilderness water source is important in our state that has increasing water demands due to growth and drought. We are thankful to Senator Heinrich's effort for a Columbine Hondo Wilderness Bill passage."
"Wilderness offers some of New Mexico's finest crowd-free backcountry hunting and fishing opportunities in places like the Gila and Pecos Wilderness. The Columbine WSA is no exception. This is invaluable big game refuge country and permanently protects the headwaters of many of our most precious watersheds," said Garrett VeneKlasen, Executive Director of New Mexico Wildlife Federation. "Wilderness is a wise investment for our children's future and for our sportsmen and sportswomen's heritage and cultural outdoor values."
"Senator Heinrich is a stalwart champion of America's best wild country. We appreciate him taking the time to see firsthand how important places like Columbine Hondo are to the restoration of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout," said Toner Mitchell, New Mexico Public Lands Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. "Senator Heinrich's wilderness bill is literally a lifeline for these fish."
"Conservation of our public wild lands promotes tourism and outdoor recreation," said Stuart Wilde, a local guide who leads low impact hiking trips in the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area. "Wilderness is good for business. When people visit New Mexico to marvel at and recreate in our pristine wilderness areas, it creates jobs and benefits the local economy, while protecting the land for future generations."
Protected wild places contribute to the New Mexico's outdoor recreation economy, which generates $6.1 billion in consumer spending in the state, 68,000 New Mexico jobs, and $1.7 billion in wages and salaries, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
The new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico has already yielded economic benefits since its designation. After less than one year since it was designated a national monument, the local community saw a 40 percent increase in visitors.