Columbine Hondo is Key Step Closer to Protection

Coalition Applauds U.S. Senate Committee for Taking up Locally Supported Bill
Upper Gavilan Meadows, in the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area

The Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition today applauded the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining for holding a hearing on the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act (S. 776). The legislation would protect 45,000 acres of incredible wildlife habitat, an important source of clean water, and a prized hunting and fishing destination. 

The Act was introduced by Senator Tom Udall and co-sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich.  Rep. Ben Ray Luján (NM-3) introduced a House companion (H.R. 1683) that is co-sponsored by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-1).  

The Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition includes business owners, ranchers, sportsmen, Acequia parciantes, mountain bikers, elected officials, conservationists and others who have worked together for years to preserve this natural treasure. Community support for safeguarding the Columbine Hondo is broad and deep. 

“Protecting Columbine Hondo as wilderness will protect critical wildlife habitat,” said Toner Mitchell from Trout Unlimited. “Hunting and fishing is a time-tested tradition in northern New Mexico, and I want to thank Senators Udall and Heinrich for working to maintain our way of life.” 

Just north of Taos, the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area (WSA) is the last remaining portion of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to be designated as wilderness.  It is crowned by 13 miles of high alpine ridges and peaks that tower above 11,000 feet, including its high point, Gold Hill at 12,711 feet elevation. 

“I commend Senators Udall and Heinrich for working so hard to protect Columbine Hondo,” said Erminio Martinez, a livestock permittee in Columbine Hondo.  “The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act is of great significance to me because it has sustained our families and local communities for centuries. It is our responsibility to preserve our land and water for future generations.” 

Columbine Hondo is home to elk, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mountain lions, black bear, pine marten, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout. This area is a significant clean water source for the central Rio Grande Corridor of New Mexico, supplying water to two of the larger Rio Grande tributaries – the Red River and the Rio Hondo. The water safeguarded in the Columbine Hondo area supplies many Acequias used by the local agricultural community. 

“Water is life here in New Mexico, and Columbine Hondo protects two of the Rio Grande largest tributaries,” said Esther Garcia, President of San Antonio Del Rio Colorado Land Grant and Mayor of the Village of Questa. “We are grateful that Senators Udall and Heinrich recognize the importance of this area for our traditional agricultural communities, and have acted to safeguard our culture and well-being.” 

Congress formally recognized the wilderness values and character of the Columbine Hondo area in 1980 and gave it interim protection as a WSA. Designation as wilderness is the highest form of protection, and bars any development.  Former Senator Jeff Bingaman introduced legislation to protect Columbine Hondo in the 112th Congress, but it stalled, along with dozens of other conservation bills. 

The Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition is hopeful that Congress follows Sen. Udall and Heinrich’s lead and protects New Mexico’s wilderness. 


The mission of the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition is to protect the land, water, values, heritage, culture, and traditions embodied in the lands and communities surrounding the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area by elevating its status to full wilderness designation.  




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