In the heat of an ephemeral political season with its ever-present vitriolic ads, we must give thought to more lasting needs: New Mexico’s sacred and beautiful landscapes, natural gifts that deserve protection both here and now and for generations to come.
What better day for us to do that than this Saturday, National Public Lands Day, the nation’s largest single-day volunteer event to honor public lands.
In 2011 on Public Lands Day, more than 170,000 volunteers worked at over 2,000 sites to improve public lands in every state: planting trees, building trails, removing invasive plants and hauling away trash. This year there are 18 events scheduled for New Mexico alone.
Amid the partisan posturing of the election season, National Public Lands Day is an opportunity for us to remember what pulls us together. Surely we all agree that past measures to set aside outstanding public lands in New Mexico for present and future generations have been worthwhile.
Treasured icons such as Chaco Canyon, Gila Cliff Dwellings, Bandelier National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands help us identify with our natural and cultural heritage. These marvelous landscapes are part of our definition; they are living reflections of what it means to be New Mexicans and Americans.
From the families who hunt and fish together, to the hikers, equestrians and campers, our state’s love of the outdoors crosses party lines.
What’s more, according to data from the Outdoor Industry Association, our public lands in New Mexico contribute mightily to our tourist economy, generating $3.7 billion annually and supporting 47,000 jobs. That our state’s beauty should be protected is undeniable; the economic benefit of that protection is undeniable as well.
There is more, much more, to do for our public lands.
Take, for instance, efforts to protect the Rio Grande del Norte region. Located in northern New Mexico west of Taos, this rugged region has long been a source of joy not only for the tourists who are charmed by it (and who spend money in the local economy), but also for the countless generations of New Mexicans who have hunted, fished, gathered wood and grazed livestock there.
From the peak of Ute Mountain to the waters flowing through the Rio Grande Gorge, the region is unique, diverse, and rich in tradition, culture and natural beauty. No wonder there is a movement afoot among all factions of our congressional delegation and in communities across northern New Mexico to seek permanent protection for Rio Grande del Norte.
This unfinished business must remain nonpartisan in nature. All too often conservation is needlessly turned into a hotly contested political battle, but protecting our public lands should be an issue on which we can all agree.
Let’s be inspired by this year’s National Public Lands Day to put aside our individual politics and acknowledge that not every policy issue facing our state and country needs to be divisive.
It is crucial to take part in efforts to conserve our natural landmarks – to demonstrate just how much the land on which we live means to us. We all – future generations included – benefit from the dazzling, diverse beauty surrounding us.
For a full list of National Public Lands Day activities, please visit www.publiclandsday.org and click on “Find a Site” to find an event near you.