Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today officially unveiled the results of a six-month study by local community stakeholders on conservation efforts and the future of the Rio Grande that will help achieve increased river access and opportunities for outdoor recreation as part of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative. Secretary Salazar also announced that, with the support of the New Mexico congressional delegation, $1.7 million has been made available from the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 2012 to enable the first phase of the purchase of Price's Dairy, a critical component of the of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's proposed Middle Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge.
"The Rio Grande is a treasure for New Mexico, serving as an economic engine for local communities and an important connection to our nation's heritage," said Salazar. "This report is a blueprint from the community for how best to protect, preserve and promote the Rio Grande for future generations. I am particularly proud of the progress we are making toward establishing the Middle Rio Grand National Wildlife Refuge which -- with Price's Dairy at its heart -- will be the first and biggest urban wildlife refuge in the Southwest."
The acquisition of the 570 acre Price's Dairy as part of a national wildlife refuge will occur in two phases, with the first phase to be completed in September. The acquisition is being made possible through the support of the landowner and with funding from many sources, including Bernalillo County, the Albuquerque Metro Arroyo Flood Control Authority, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
"This is welcome news," said Will Rogers, President of The Trust for Public, a national land conservation organization. "We have been working for years to protect Price's Dairy and today's announcement is a major step forward. Located just five miles from downtown, the land is one of the largest undeveloped agricultural properties in the metropolitan Albuquerque region. This will be a wonderful place to everyone who lives there to enjoy."
While in Albuquerque in January 2012, Secretary Salazar emphasized the importance of coupling near-term conservation actions -- such as the protection of Price's Dairy -- with the development of an inclusive, long-term vision for the Middle Rio Grande. To help develop this vision, he established the Secretary's Committee for the Middle Rio Grande Conservation Initiative and charged it with developing recommendations to achieve the objectives of the President's America's Great Outdoors initiative by enhancing conservation, recreation and education in the Middle Rio Grande. As part of the effort, the Committee conducted numerous public meetings and consulted with public and private organizations, as well as sought input from the general public.
The Committee's report, A Citizen's Report: Strengthening Our Heritage in the Middle Rio Grande, was presented today to Salazar at a town hall meeting with community members at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. Today's announcement concluded the first day of Secretary Salazar's two-day tour of New Mexico.
"The report documents the strong partnerships that already exist in this area and highlights additional opportunities for conservation, recreation and education to further strengthen the Rio Grande. This is exactly the kind of locally-driven, landscape level conservation effort that is the cornerstone of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative," said Salazar. "It will take a strong commitment from the community to make this work, but we have a great foundation from which to ensure the Rio Grande continues to be the lifeblood of local economies."
On Monday, Secretary Salazar released a new report that found the economic activities of the Department contributed $385 billion to the U.S. economy and supported more than 2 million jobs in 2011. DOI activities contributed $18.45 billion to New Mexico's economy in 2011 and supported 113,402 jobs in fields ranging from energy and mineral development to tourism and outdoor recreation. Salazar also discussed the economic importance of increasing outdoor recreational opportunities on the Rio Grande.
"Albuquerque and the surrounding communities are off to a great start by recognizing one of the basic principles of the America's Great Outdoors initiative -- that river restoration and recreation opportunities create jobs and help our economies grow," said Salazar. "I look forward to more progress on the recreation front and encourage the communities outside the city to think about how to get more people hiking, fishing, camping and boating."
Enhancing local recreational access is critical to providing ways to connect with the outdoors. The Children's Bosque (or Children's Forest) is a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the National Hispanic Cultural Center and Coronado Elementary School and is one of eight USFS Children's Forest grant recipients across the country. The Albuquerque Bosque project was developed by local parents and community leaders committed to community revitalization and creating culturally-relevant, meaningful, healthy, outdoor experiences for urban kids and families.
"The children of Albuquerque will soon be able to descend on 20 acres of forestland along the Rio Grande River, where they will have the freedom to climb onto an elevated fort, hike on a trail through the cottonwood forest to learn about the different plants and animals and do what all children are supposed to do: play outside," said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. "This project is the embodiment of America's Great Outdoors and the designation is a springboard to involve other federal agencies and local partners in its successful and sustained implementation."
Salazar also stressed the need to focus on the education recommendations included in the report.
"The Children's Bosque project right here at the Hispanic Cultural Center is a perfect example of what we need to be doing all over the country," said Salazar. "We need to be building opportunities for the next generation to learn first-hand the value of conserving our rivers and surrounding habitat for generations to come. The partnership among the Cultural Center, Coronado Elementary School and the Forest Service is a step in the right direction."
Earlier in the day, Salazar visited the historic Taos Pueblo to announce the recent name change of the World Heritage Site from "Pueblo de Taos" to "Taos Pueblo" in order to reflect the traditional and official name of the Pueblo. Salazar also executed three water contracts among the Bureau of Reclamation and Taos Pueblo, the town of Taos and El Prado Water and Sanitation District as part of the historic Taos Indian Water Settlement Agreement of 2010 that resolves long-standing water rights issues. Following the signing ceremony, Salazar toured the Pueblo and the Buffalo Pasture, an important wetlands area that is a major component of the Settlement Agreement.