U.S. House passes bill to create Columbine Hondo Wilderness

Sangre de Cristo Chronicle
Saturday, December 13, 2014

TAOS  – The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act (S. 776/H.R. 1683), as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 3879) Thursday (Dec. 4).  The defense bill now moves to the Senate for consideration. The Columbine Hondo provision in the legislation will protect 45,000 acres of incredible wildlife habitat, an important source of clean water, and a prized hunting and fishing destination.

The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act was introduced by Senator Tom Udall and co-sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich.  A House companion was introduced by Rep. Ben Ray Luján (NM-3) and is co-sponsored by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-1).  

The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act passed along with several other wilderness bills that would protect almost 250,000 acres of wilderness in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, and Washington.

“The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act will forever protect our land and water that the people of Red River and other communities depend upon” said Mayor of Red River, Linda Calhoun.  “It is a true bipartisan measure supported by people from all walks of life.”

Community support for safeguarding the Columbine Hondo has been broad and deep. 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.

“Northern New Mexico’s newest wilderness area will safeguard critical wildlife habitat loved by those who come hunt, fish, and view,” said Max Trujillo of New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “Thanks to the steadfast leadership from Senators Udall and Heinrich and Representatives Luján and Lujan Grisham, Columbine Hondo will be forever protected for future generations to enjoy.”  

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.

 “My family has depended on the Columbine Hondo for years,” said Erminio Martinez, a livestock permittee in Columbine Hondo. “It is our responsibility to preserve our land and water, and I want to thank our Senators and Representatives for working so hard to pass the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Act this year.”

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.

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and I cannot think of a wilderness more deserving of protection than Columbine Hondo,” said Roberta Salazar, Executive Director of Rivers & Birds.  “I am thankful that Congress listened to our community and safeguarded this amazing area.”

–Staff report

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