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Tensions high for Rio Grande del Norte Monument plan

ALAMOSA, Colo. (AP) – Plans to expand the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument northward from New Mexico into the San Luis Valley are getting more support and more opposition.

Rio Grande Water Conservation District Board Member Dwight Martin said residents don’t need the monument in Conejos County because it serves no purpose.

“I am adamantly opposed to this monument designation,” Martin said.

Anna Vargas, project coordinator for Conejos Clean Water, the organization promoting the expansion, said it would have little effect on work that has already been done on the monument. It also would recognize the existing Rio Grande Natural Area, which lies in the proposed monument expansion rea.

“We are not trying to trump any of the work that’s been done on the natural area,” Vargas said. “We don’t want national monument designation to have any implied water rights.”

The goal of the monument expansion is to preserve the land for traditional uses, she said.

The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument covers nearly 250,000 acres. The expansion would run north of the New Mexico state line into the southern part of the San Luis Valley and would add about 64,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management land, the Alamosa Valley Courier reported.

Supporters said the goal is to preserve hunting, fishing and other recreational uses. It would also prevent the land from being sold or leased for mining in the future, and protect the land from oil and gas development.

The district sent a letter to the Department of the Interior and Colorado’s congressional delegation seeking conditions that would ensure water resources and the Rio Grande Natural Area are not adversely affected.