For Immediate Release
December 4, 2014

The legislation now moves on to Senate

The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NM Wild), part of the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition, today celebrated the passage of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act (S. 776/H.R. 1683), as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 3879). The defense bill now moves to the Senate for consideration. The Columbine Hondo provision in the legislation will protect 45,000 acres of incredible wildlife habitat, an important source of clean water, and a prized hunting and fishing destination.

The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act was introduced by Senator Tom Udall and co-sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich. A House companion was introduced by Rep. Ben Ray Luján (NM-3) and is co-sponsored by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-1).

The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act passed along with several other wilderness bills that would protect almost 250,000 acres of wilderness in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, and Washington.

“Thank you to Senators Udall and Heinrich and Representatives Luján and Lujan Grisham for your hard work and dedication and for making Wilderness a priority,” said Mark Allison, executive director of NM Wild.

Community support for safeguarding the Columbine Hondo has been broad and deep. The Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition includes business owners, ranchers, sportsmen, Acequia parciantes, mountain bikers, elected officials, conservationists, and others who have worked together for years to preserve this natural treasure.

“NM Wild is proud to be part of a diverse coalition in Taos County that includes elected officials, Acequia partners, land-grant members and livestock grazing permittees,” said John Olivas, traditional community organizer for NM Wild. “We have worked for many years on the Columbine Hondo campaign, and it is wonderful to see each of us reach this historic milestone that will protect 45,000 additional acres in Taos County for future generations.”

“The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act will forever protect our land and water that the people of Red River and other communities depend upon” said Mayor of Red River, Linda Calhoun. “It is a true bipartisan measure supported by people from all walks of life.”

Just north of Taos, the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area (WSA) is the last remaining portion of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to be designated as wilderness. It is crowned by 13 miles of high alpine ridges and peaks that tower above 11,000 feet, including its high point, Gold Hill at 12,711 feet elevation.

“My family has depended on the Columbine Hondo for years,” said Erminio Martinez, a livestock permittee in Columbine Hondo. “It is our responsibility to preserve our land and water, and I want to thank our Senators and Representatives for working so hard to pass the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Act this year.”

Columbine Hondo is home to elk, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mountain lions, black bear, pine marten, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout. This area is a significant clean water source for the central Rio Grande Corridor of New Mexico, supplying water to two of the larger Rio Grande tributaries – the Red River and the Rio Hondo. The water safeguarded in the Columbine Hondo area supplies many Acequias used by the local agricultural community.

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and I cannot think of a wilderness more deserving of protection than Columbine Hondo,” said Roberta Salazar, Executive Director of Rivers & Birds. “I am thankful that Congress listened to our community and safeguarded this amazing area.”