In celebration of Earth Day, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich today reintroduced legislation to designate the 45,000-acre Columbine-Hondo area in Taos County as wilderness -- a proposal with strong support from the local community. A companion bill will be introduced in the House tomorrow by Representative Ben Ray Luján.
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.
"For more than 30 years we have considered the Columbine Hondo's economic, recreational and scenic values for protection," said Udall. "And Taos County locals resoundingly agree that this area is deserving of permanent wilderness status. Designating the Columbine Hondo as wilderness will only increase profitable tourism opportunities and provide for continued traditional land uses, such as hunting and grazing."
"The Columbine-Hondo is treasured by the community of northern New Mexico and many years of hard work have been dedicated to ensuring its protection," said Heinrich. Designating this landscape as wilderness will help guarantee that it remains a treasure and a destination for New Mexicans and visitors to enjoy for generations to come."
"The people of Taos and the surrounding communities have made it clear that protecting the Columbine Hondo is a top priority," Luján said. "Permanent wilderness status will ensure that this precious land will be preserved and continue to attract visitors from far and wide to enjoy all that it has to offer. Ensuring that recreation and existing uses continue will benefit all those whose livelihoods depend on the land while creating additional economic opportunities for local businesses."
The Columbine-Hondo includes lush forests and alpine meadows populated by a variety of Rocky Mountain wildlife, including elk, mule deer, mountain lions, black bears, and bighorn sheep. The area's watershed serves as the headwaters for the Rio Hondo and Red River, which flow into the Rio Grande and to downstream agricultural communities.
The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act will expand the majestic Wheeler Peak Wilderness by approximately 650 acres. Also, the Act would modify 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.
The legislation is supported by the Taos County Commission, Taos Pueblo, the towns of Taos and Red River, villages of Questa and Taos Ski Valley, Taos County Chamber of Commerce, sportsmen, ranchers, conservation organizations, farmers and irrigation districts (acequias), the Taos Cycling Coalition, International Mountain Bicycling Association, land grant heirs, and hundreds of small businesses.