Our children need special places like Río Grande del Norte
It’s good that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke came to New Mexico over the summer to see firsthand some of the spectacular country that could be jeopardized as part of the Trump administration’s national monuments review.
As the point person on that review, Zinke said he’d keep an “open mind” on the decision — released in late August but with few details — about whether to scale back or even overturn some previous national monument designations. The review includes two monuments in New Mexico: Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces and the Río Grande del Norte National Monument in Northern New Mexico.
While here, Secretary Zinke flew a helicopter over the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. He also rode horses with New Mexico Democratic Sens. Heinrich and Udall in the Sabinoso Wilderness — not one of the areas under review but a great example of public lands that need more public access.
I wish that he had come here to experience firsthand the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. In Northern New Mexico, this sweeping landscape feeds our soul and economy. My livelihood depends on healthy public lands, such as those protected by the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. The same is true for thousands of others outdoor business owners in New Mexico, where the outdoor recreation generates 99,000 jobs and $9.9 billion in economic activity.
I want Secretary Zinke to understand a few things about Northern New Mexicans.
We are a culturally diverse community closely tied to the land, both spiritually and economically. For generations, Northern New Mexican families have lived on the land and been nurtured by it. For generations, families have gathered firewood and piñon nuts, hunted and fished, and grazed cattle on these public lands.
These are our traditions — made possible by access to public lands — and we cherish them.
The town of Questa, near the Río Grande del Norte monument, is moving from a mining economy (the local mine’s now shuttered) to a new economy based on outdoor recreation and sustainable use of our wildlife, rivers and forests.
In recent years, we’ve worked with groups like Trout Unlimited, state agencies and other partners to restore a stretch of the Red River impaired by mine activities. Trout Unlimited’s Rio Grande Community Initiative is providing a blueprint for how local groups and businesses can collaborate to nurture new recreation- and outdoor-based business opportunities.
The 242,500 acres of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument are central to that new vision, protecting our traditional ways while providing the foundation of a new, forward-looking economy.
This stunning landscape also is part of our cultural identity. I’ve floated and fished the Rio Grande box many times, and the soaring walls of the canyon and sagebrush tablelands shelter not only amazing wildlife — bighorn sheep and turkey and elk — but also petroglyphs and other cultural artifacts that speak to our ancient human connection to this wild landscape.
The monument formally recognizes and protects our shared heritage. I hope Secretary Zinke has left it alone, that he listened to New Mexicans and to the 2.5 million people who commented in support of all national monuments. Overwhelmingly, we have made it clear that Americans like our monuments just the way they are.
Our children and grandchildren will thank us for keeping these special places intact.
Ron Sedall is a guide at Taos Fly Shop.