For Immediate Release
November 13, 2014

TAOS, NM (November 13, 2014) – The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild) today applauded the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for passing the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act (S. 776) out of Committee. The Act now awaits passage on the Senate floor. The legislation would protect 45,000 acres of incredible wildlife habitat, an important source of clean water, and a prized hunting and fishing destination.
The clock is ticking for wilderness bills across the country. More than two dozen wilderness bills are pending in Congress, including the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act. NM Wild is hopeful Congress moves to protect Columbine Hondo during the Lame Duck session of Congress.

The Act was introduced by Sen. Tom Udall and co-sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (NM-3) introduced a House companion (H.R. 1683) that is co-sponsored by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-1).

“I want to thank senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and representatives Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham for their leadership in moving the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act,” said Linda Calhoun, mayor of Red River. “Now it is time for Congress to follow our delegation’s lead and pass this bill into law this year.”

Community support for safeguarding the Columbine Hondo is broad and deep. The Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition includes business owners, ranchers, sportsmen, Acequia parciantes, mountain bikers, elected officials, conservationists, and others who have worked together for years to preserve this natural treasure.

“Protecting Columbine Hondo as wilderness will safeguard critical wildlife habitat loved by those who come hunt, fish, and view,” said Max Trujillo of New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “The sportsman’s way of life is a time-tested tradition in northern New Mexico, and I want to thank Senators Udall and Heinrich and Representatives Luján and Lujan Grisham for working to maintain our way of life.”

Just north of Taos, the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area (WSA) is the last remaining portion of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to be designated as wilderness. It is crowned by 13 miles of high alpine ridges and peaks that tower above 11,000 feet, including its high point, Gold Hill at 12,711 feet elevation.

“The Columbine Hondo has sustained my family for eight generations,” said Erminio Martinez, a livestock permittee in Columbine Hondo. “It is our responsibility to the ninth, tenth, and all future generations to preserve our land and water. I want to thank our Senators and Representatives for working so hard to pass the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Act this year.”

Columbine Hondo is home to elk, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mountain lions, black bear, pine marten, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout. This area is a significant clean water source for the central Rio Grande Corridor of New Mexico, supplying water to two of the larger Rio Grande tributaries – the Red River and the Rio Hondo. The water safeguarded in the Columbine Hondo area supplies many Acequias used by the local agricultural community.

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and I cannot think of a better time to preserve Columbine Hondo,” said Roberta Salazar, Executive Director of Rivers & Birds. “Wilderness protection in New Mexico has always been a steadfast American value and has bipartisan support on-the-ground. It is time for Congress to act.”

The Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition urges Congress to protect the Columbine Hondo as wilderness this year.