New Mexico sportsmen praise passage of Valles Caldera, Columbine-Hondo

Date: 
Sat, 12/13/2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Dec. 12, 2014

Contact:

Toner Mitchell, 505 231-8860, tmitchell@tu.org

Garrett VeneKlasen, 505-670-2925, garrett@nmwildlife.org

Oscar Simpson, (505) 345-0117, oscarsimpson3@yahoo.com

 

New Mexico sportsmen praise passage of Valles Caldera, Columbine-Hondo bills

Congress permanently protects outstanding New Mexico backcountry hunting and fishing lands

(Santa Fe)– Trout Unlimited, the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, and New Mexico Backcountry Hunters and Anglers today praised Senate passage of two historic public lands bills that will both maintain a high standard of science-driven management and markedly improve public access to the Valles Caldera National Preserve and permanently protect the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness north of Taos. Both areas in northern New Mexico are prized by sportsmen for their pristine wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities. The bills now go to President Obama for his signature.

Under the Valles Caldera bill, management of the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Jemez Mountains— which features prime trout fishing and some of the best elk hunting in North America—would shift from a politically appointed board of trustees to the National Park Service. The legislation, which was first introduced by then-Sen. Jeff Bingaman and today was sponsored by Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, requires the Park Service to maintain the Preserve’s hunting and fishing program. Valles Caldera will become the nation’s 18th national preserve where hunting and fishing are allowed.

“The Valles Caldera is unique in so many ways—as a cultural, recreational, aesthetic, and perhaps most important, as an economic resource,” said Toner Mitchell, New Mexico public lands coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “Congress’ decision to transfer the management of Valles Caldera to the National Park Service will be judged kindly by history, and as a fisherman and father, I will always savor this occasion.”

Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, called the shift in management long overdue. “Valles Caldera is a national treasure, and it deserves the special protection that the National Park Service can provide. This bill will ensure that Valles Caldera National Preserve remains the crown jewel among all of New Mexico’s public lands.”

Oscar Simpson, state chair of the New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, applauded Congress’ action to transfer the management of this majestic area to the National Park Service – a 16 year campaign that has finally come to fruition. “The National Park Service’s management expertise is critical for managing the preserve’s wildlife habitat, watershed, cultural resources, hunting and fishing activities, and public access.”

The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Protection Act will redesignate the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area, located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains north of Taos, as a wilderness area. The bill, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan in the House, protects 46,000 acres of backcountry in the Carson National Forest, including prime elk, deer and bear habitat as well as pristine headwater streams that host important populations of native Rio Grande cutthroat trout and provide clean drinking and irrigation water for downstream communities.  The Columbine-Hondo area offers an array of recreation and economic benefits, including hunting and angling, livestock grazing, mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, wood-gathering, and tourism.

“In spite of being surrounded by two ski areas and a strip mine, the Columbine Hondo possesses ecological integrity of the highest order,” said Mitchell. “The cold, clean water originating there is immeasurably valuable to downstream water users, as well as to New Mexico's state fish, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout. This is a victory for hunters and anglers—really all Americans—because Columbine-Hondo belongs to all of us.”

“Once again, our congressional delegation acknowledged the strong, unanimous community appreciation of this area and responded by giving the Columbine-Hondo the highest protection available – wilderness,” said VeneKlasen. “It means our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy this amazing place and pass it on to future generations just as we have.”

“The Columbine Hondo wilderness study area deserves wilderness designation to preserve its iconic vistas of a high alpine forest laced with lush green wet meadows and streams that are a sportsmen’s backcountry paradise for hunting and fishing in a tranquil wild landscape,” said Simpson. 

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