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Proposed city development would threaten river park

Aldo Leopold served as the first secretary of the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce from 1918-1919. Leopold understood that healthy human communities require healthy natural ecosystems for their well-being. He recognized the economic and ecological importance of the Rio Grande bosque as a natural amenity within Albuquerque.

One of his pet projects was to create a park along the Rio Grande that would be one of Albuquerque’s “greatest assets.”

In 1983 our State Legislature wisely acted on Leopold’s vision by creating the Rio Grande Valley State Park, a 22-mile-long continuous swath of riverside habitat through the heart of Albuquerque.

The legislation’s purpose is “the preservation, protection, and maintenance of the natural and scenic beauty of a designated portion of the Rio Grande and its immediate corridor” – forever.

In 1993 Albuquerque’s City Council strengthened the state’s legislation by adopting the Bosque Action Plan, which established policies to ensure the conservation of the bosque in its natural state. Key policies of the Plan include:

• Land use decisions shall be ecologically compatible, and their ecological impacts shall be evaluated prior to any surface disturbing action.

• The Rio Grande Valley State Park shall be managed to preserve and enhance its ecological diversity.

• Development proposals on properties located on or adjacent to the state park shall be submitted to the Open Space Advisory Board for review to ensure compliance with the Bosque Action Plan and other mandates.

Few American cities can boast such a magnificent natural amenity. Many cities have invested millions of dollars to recreate “green belts.” In Albuquerque, all we have to do is protect what we already have.

However, now, following a century of protection, the natural beauty and ecological integrity of the Rio Grande Valley State Park is being threatened by the Rio Grande Vision – a bosque development plan promoted by Mayor Richard Berry.

The Rio Grande Vision is a disturbing departure from the purposes set forth by the state’s legislation and the Bosque Action Plan. It starts us down a path of incrementally destroying the natural and ecological integrity of the bosque through ill-defined development.

The marketing slogan on the Rio Grande Vision website “connect, protect and excite” suggests three co-equal objectives for the state park. However, the vision document throws the “protect” objective under the bus with no specific plans for significant protection.

A leading cause of biodiversity decline is habitat destruction and fragmentation. Re-establishing connectivity among patches of wild nature is a major goal of modern conservation biology theory and practice. The Rio Grande Vision would work against this goal by contributing to further habitat fragmentation.

Today, business leaders understand that a community’s quality of life is one of its chief economic assets. New businesses choose to locate or expand in locales that offer enjoyable places in which to live.

Our magnificent bosque makes Albuquerque distinctly attractive as a place to live and visit. Is it prudent for Albuquerque to degrade those places with natural beauty that make it attractive to tourists and as a place to live? Protecting and restoring its ecological health should be the top priority of any plan for the bosque.

We recommend the creation of a technical advisory group with expertise relating to conservation biology and restoration ecology to ensure that the Rio Grande Vision is compatible with conservation science.

We request that all bosque development be suspended until the Rio Grande Vision receives appropriate scientific oversight to ensure compliance with the Bosque Action Plan.

Leopold’s wisdom can again guide our efforts to protect the Rio Grande Valley State Park. Leopold’s philosophical search for how man could live on the land without spoiling it culminated in his Land Ethic: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

By this standard, the Rio Grande Vision is wrong.

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