Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today joined community, tribal, and federal leaders to celebrate the establishment of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico, protecting the natural and historic treasures of the area while supporting local economies.
"Río Grande del Norte is one of our nation's treasured landscapes and it's fitting that the community called for recognition of its important scientific, historic and natural resources," Salazar said. "The designation as a national monument will conserve this area for future generations and strengthen New Mexico's economy through tourism and outdoor recreation."
Designated earlier this week by President Obama as one of five new national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act, the Río Grande del Norte covers over 240,000 acres and contains stretches of the Río Grande Gorge and extinct volcanoes that rise from the Taos Plateau located northwest of the city of Taos.
The monument is known for its spectacular landscapes and recreational opportunities; every year, thousands of visitors hunt, hike, bike, boat, and fish within Río Grande del Norte. The Río Grande Wild and Scenic River winds its way through the monument and the Río Grande Gorge contains outstanding whitewater rafting and kayaking opportunities, including the world-famous Upper Box and Taos Box segments of the Río Grande.
"We are honored that the President has entrusted the Bureau of Land Management with managing Río Grande del Norte National Monument as part of our multiple-use mission," said BLM Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze. "Río Grande del Norte provides for exceptional outdoor opportunities that make it a valuable addition to the BLM's National Conservation Lands."
Recreation on BLM public lands in New Mexico generated more than $140 million in economic impacts in fiscal year 2011, with about 1.9 million visitors using public lands for recreation. Nationally, recreation on BLM public lands supported approximately 59,000 jobs and resulted in about $7 billion in economic activity. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that outdoor recreation generates $646 billion in consumer spending and 6.1 million direct jobs in the nation every year.
"Northern New Mexico's landscape is worthy of this important distinction. The protection of the Río Grande del Norte is the result of many years of hard work on the part of the community to preserve their way of life and promote economic growth opportunities for local businesses," U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman said. "I'm glad to have been part of this effort."
"Secretary Salazar's unwavering commitment to preserving and protecting our nation's most treasured landscapes was underscored today as our community came together to celebrate this historic moment for New Mexico," said U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich. "The designation of our state's newest national monument will have a positive impact on our economy and improve the quality of life for the people of northern New Mexico. I express my sincere gratitude to Secretary Salazar for helping to make this day a reality and to President Obama for recognizing just how special the Río Grande del Norte is."
"I am pleased to have the opportunity to welcome Secretary Salazar back to New Mexico to celebrate the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument," said U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján, whose district includes the new monument. "Secretary Salazar has been a strong advocate for protecting our public lands, especially this treasure of northern New Mexico. In his visit to Taos in December, we had the opportunity to show Secretary Salazar the public outreach that took place and the strong community support for preserving both the majestic beauty and traditional uses of the Rio Grande del Norte. In his visit today, the community reaffirmed its strong support for the President's action and shared how important this land is to our heritage, our economy, and our way of life."
The monument is home to a dense collection of petroglyphs and extraordinary archaeological and cultural resources dating from the Archaic Period to the more recent arrival and settlement of Hispanic settlers. The images carved into the gorge's dark basalt cliffs and the artifacts scattered across the forested slopes of the volcanic cones bear ample testimony to the human imprint on the area. The monument includes traditional lands of the nearby Taos and Picuris Pueblos, as well as the Jicarilla Apache and Ute Tribes.
The monument's ecosystems and vegetation exhibit significant diversity. A large expanse of the monument encompasses a big-game corridor that stretches between the San Juan Mountains in the west and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the east. The Río Grande provides habitat for fish such as the flathead chub and the Río Grande Cutthroat Trout, as well as for waterfowl, including ducks, geese, and coots.
The local community and congressional delegation have been working for years to achieve recognition for the Río Grande del Norte region of Taos and Rio Arriba counties. Following public meetings, New Mexico's delegation, led by Sen. Bingaman and with the support of Sen. Tom Udall, Sen. Heinrich and Rep. Luján, introduced legislation in the 111th,112th, and 113th Congresses to protect the stunning landscape. Most recently, Salazar held a public meeting in Taos in December to explore the proposal.
The lands that comprise the new national monument previously have been managed by the BLM. The proclamation only affects federal lands and does not apply to state-owned or private lands.
The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument is the BLM's 19th National Monument, joining 887 other federally recognized areas that make up the National Landscape Conservation System, also known as National Conservation Lands. It is the third National Monument in New Mexico, joining the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks and the Prehistoric Trackways National Monuments.