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Wilderness Act will protect important NM lands

I recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify in support of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have worked diligently with northern New Mexicans to protect what makes our state so special: our land, water and heritage.

While I do not enjoy being away from my family, as someone whose livelihood depends on New Mexico’s lands and waters I felt it was important to let lawmakers know how vital Columbine Hondo is to me and my community.

Safeguarding Columbine Hondo from development will protect a critical piece of New Mexico’s pristine, wild country; the last remaining portion of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

For years, people in the northern part of the state have been working to convince Congress to designate this amazing place as wilderness – the gold standard of protection.

The benefits would be far-reaching, from ensuring that backcountry sporting traditions will continue, to preserving other traditional uses such as grazing and irrigating rights that have been in existence for generations. And that’s not to mention the economic benefits that the surrounding communities will experience with this designation.

The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act will ensure that future generations always have a superior place to hunt and fish in northern New Mexico.

As a sportsman, I have a long and deep bond to New Mexico’s lands and waters, having pursued these passions across the state. The trek into these areas will without a doubt be rewarded with experiences that will last for generations.

Columbine Hondo is home to healthy populations of Rocky Mountain big horn sheep, Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, Merriam’s turkey, blue grouse, mountain lion, bob cat, coyotes and many species of raptors and small mammals.

It is also an incredible fish habitat, containing two vital headwaters – the Rio Hondo and the Red River – the second and third largest tributaries to the Rio Grande.

The streams are home to cold water fisheries and Rio Grande cutthroat trout, brook trout, brown trout and in the lower stretches rainbow trout.

They also serve local communities and farm lands from the northern border to the southern border of the state. As the effects of sustained drought are being felt across the Southwest, watershed protection will become a paramount issue and the Columbine Hondo Wilderness will play a vital part in providing clean water for multiple uses to our water-deprived state.

Outdoor recreation plays a key role in the state’s economy, generating $6.1 billion in consumer spending and supporting 68,000 jobs. And Columbine Hondo, with more than 20 established trails and wildlife viewing, hunting and fishing just minutes from paved roads and trails, is a recreational paradise.

The legislation will establish a mountain bike trail that will connect the town of Red River to Taos Ski Valley on the border of the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Area. There is certainly something for everyone in Columbine Hondo.

Udall and Heinrich and Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham deserve our thanks for working with our community to protect our lands, waters, and heritage. I urge Congress to follow in their footsteps and pass the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act.

Few areas in the United States possess such true wilderness qualities. Communities have set the example by coming together to protect this crown jewel of the Southwest.

It’s time for Congress to come together and do the same by passing the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act.