U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman today introduced legislation to designate the 45,000-acre Columbine-Hondo area in Taos County as wilderness. The bill is cosponsored by Senator Tom Udall and has strong support from the local community.
Located in the Carson National Forest, the Columbine-Hondo has been managed as a "Wilderness Study Area" since 1980. A map of the proposal can be found here.
"The Columbine-Hondo is one of the last remaining segments of this high alpine ecosystem to receive permanent wilderness protection," Bingaman said. "The time has come to permanently protect the Columbine-Hondo. After many years of hard work by local community leaders, a nearly unanimous consensus has formed in support of protecting this landscape as wilderness."
"The Columbine-Hondo Study Area is a home to diverse wildlife, a destination for outdoor enthusiasts and an important watershed," Udall said. "It's a New Mexico treasure and this wilderness designation will preserve its pristine meadows and towering peaks for future generations."
The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act will also expand the Wheeler Peak Wilderness by approximately 1,000 acres while modifying a boundary that will create a loop trail accessible by mountain bikes along the Lost Lake trail from Taos Ski Valley to the East Fork trail to Red River.
"Sportsmen benefit from the protection of quality habitat that will ensure the elk, deer, and antelope found in the mountains and the fish in the mountain streams will continue to thrive. Communities like the Towns of Taos and Red River and the Villages of Questa and Taos Ski Valley can find economic benefits by attracting visitors seeking opportunities for solitude and quiet recreation and help create job opportunities in the area," Bingaman said.
The legislation also proposes to transfer to the Town of Red River title to the National Forest land beneath the Town's existing waste water treatment plant, cemetery, and public park, along with a public road within the Town limits. The Village of Taos Ski Valley will receive title to the National Forest land beneath the Village's waste water treatment plant.
The bill has been sent to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; Bingaman chairs that panel.