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Mayor seeks La Bajada National Monument

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SANTA FE – Santa Fe Mayor David Coss has introduced a resolution seeking to establish a La Bajada Mesa National Monument south of town.

The measure asks President Barack Obama to issue a proclamation establishing and designating the monument.

The area under consideration encompasses 128,000 acres adjacent to the Caja Del Rio Plateau. It runs from La Bajada Mesa south to the Cerrillos Hills State Park, north to the Santa Fe River Basin, and across the Caja del Rio Plateau to the Rio Grande, according to the resolution.

It covers an area including public lands belonging to the Bureau of Land Management and the Santa Fe National Forest. About 10 percent of the land is private. No map of the area was included with the resolution.

The area has cultural, historical, environmental, geographic and geological significance, according to the resolution.

Among other things, it includes historic sites belonging to Cochiti and Kewa pueblos, the Navajo, Hopi and Apache tribes, as well as evidence of European settlement.

“I just cherish that view and I think preserving those open lands and preserving land is something very important for cities to be involved in,” Coss said.

Coss said he decided to introduce the measure after being approached by a group working to establish the area as a national monument. He said it “kind of followed in the footsteps of the Rio Grande del Norte (national monument) designation in March,” of 240,000 acres in Taos and Rio Arriba County that includes the Rio Grande Gorge.

Supporters “are just trying to preserve the views and open lands that we all love around Santa Fe,” Coss said.

Leaders of the Coalition to Protect the Gateway said last week that they have been working quietly in an effort to build broad support for the national monument designation. Dianne Elise Strauss, executive director of the coalition, said Coss is responding to support from many groups in favor of the national monument.

Strauss said the coalition hopes to achieve protections for the mesa area similar to those at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument near Cochiti Pueblo.

“We wouldn’t be moving forward if we didn’t have all our ducks in a row,” said Strauss. “There is a momentum now because of the Rio Grande del Norte monument.”

Spokesmen for the congressional offices of U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall had no comment on the proposal when reached on Friday.

The state’s congressional delegation and a broad and vocal coalition of interest groups – from environmental groups to chambers of commerce in the Taos area – were key to winning Obama’s approval of the Rio Grande del Norte designation.

Strauss said the mesa area has been a “special arrival into Santa Fe for centuries” and is a wildlife corridor which has faced “assaults” from mining plans and proposed developments like one several years ago on the Santa Fe Canyon ranch south of Santa Fe.

Ross Lockridge of the Rural Conservation Alliance and part of the Gateway coalition, said community groups in Cerrillos and along N.M. 14, as well as the Taos-based Amigos Bravos environmental organization, are supporting the national monument effort.

“We feel it’s encouraging that the city is considering this vision for the future, of recognizing this important landscape,” Lockridge said.

“There are all sorts of reasons this area should be protected, and a national monument is the way to go.”

Some of the same people involved in the monument effort are fighting a proposed water rights transfer needed for proposed basalt mining on about 5,000 acres of the mesa area.

The city resolution proposed by Coss notes that the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance in 200 listed La Bajada Mesa and its escarpment as one of the “most endangered” places in New Mexico, because of plans to mine the area.

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