Environment

Congress passes sweeping wilderness bill, touching Taos County

By Cody Hooks
chooks@taosnews.com
Posted 2/28/19

Two remote corners of Taos County could officially become wilderness thanks to a sweeping public lands bill that has passed both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

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Environment

Congress passes sweeping wilderness bill, touching Taos County

Posted

Correction appended

Two remote corners of Taos County could officially become wilderness thanks to a sweeping public lands bill that has passed both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

The areas around Ute Mountain, near Costilla, and below San Antonio Mountain, north of Tres Piedras, have essentially been managed by the Bureau of Land Management  as wilderness for years. But the Natural Resources Management Act would make those areas permanent wilderness -- considered by many environmentalists to be the gold standard of land protection.

"Wilderness helps us unplug and unwind. As a local, independent business in Taos, we are dependent on our wild areas for the health of our community," said Chris and Elena Pieper, owners of Mudd N Flood Mountain Shop in Taos, in a press release.

The bill passed the Senate on Feb. 12 in a 92 to 8 vote, and passed the House of Representatives Tuesday (Feb. 26). All of New Mexico's senators and congresspeople voted in favor of the package. The bill still requires President Donald Trump's signature before it can become law.

The Cerro del Yuta Wilderness would comprise most of Ute Mountain, the volcanic dome lying west of State Road 522 near the New Mexico-Colorado border. Along with the Río San Antonio Wilderness, the two areas would create about 21,500 acres of new wilderness within the quarter-million acre Río Grande del Norte National Monument.

New Mexico's senators introduced mostly identical wilderness legislation for Taos County in 2013 and 2015. The Cerros del Norte Conservation Act (comprising both areas) passed the Senate in 2017.

The Natural Resources Management Act would also permanently reauthorize the Land Water Conservation Fund.

For more than 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been pumping money into communities across the country to boost outdoor recreation, an industry that's vital to rural outposts like Taos where skiing, fishing and hiking are key links in the economy.

The fund has been especially important to the Taos area recently. When the Río Grande del Norte National Monument was created in 2013, most of it was made up of land already under the care of the local Bureau of Land Management office.

But in the last several years, the monument has picked up thousands of acres with money from the conservation fund, including over 70 acres at the end of County Road 110, where the Rock Slide Trail leads down into the popular Orilla Verde recreation area, and the Taos Valley Overlook trails, which is the most popular spot for BLM recreation in this part of New Mexico.

Correction: The first version of this story incorrectly stated some land in this bill was managed by the Carson National Forest.

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