By Toner Mitchell
On October 25, Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall of New Mexico wrote a letter to President Obama requesting that he exercise his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate the approximately 235,000 acre Rio Grande del Norte area in north central New Mexico as a National Monument. The senators are original cosponsors of S. 667, a bill to establish the area as a National Conservation Area, but that effort has come to a standstill in Congress.
In its current state, the Rio Grande del Norte represents the broadest and best use of the land. Its extant resources support all manner of flora and fauna, fueling a diverse, sustainable economy that ripples throughout New Mexico and southern Colorado. I have fished all over the world, and I can say with certainty that the Rio Grande gorge is one of the most unforgettable wild brown and cuttbow fisheries anywhere. You may catch bigger fish on other rivers, or more of them. As with any world-class stream, however, there are days on the Rio when you could not catch more trout elsewhere, nor fish nearly as big. But as with other perfect trout streams, the fishing plays second fiddle to the place.
I am native to the Rio Grande del Norte region, but I am also a terminal skeptic. In other words, as much as I might love the gorge and its environs, I am often inclined to view actions such as the senators’ request as a force-feed of some D.C. agenda. Would that such were true. In fact, the effort to protect the Rio Grande del Norte region originated in the 1990s as a ground-up effort driven by the residents of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, many of whom have been rooted in the region for hundreds and even thousands of years. There has been no dissent on the issue of protection. Sportsmen, grazers, business owners of every category, hikers, boaters, tourists, as well as gatherers of herbs, pinon nuts and firewood want to preserve their land use traditions and have raised a unified voice.
President Obama would do well to hear this voice and honor it. He must act, and if he doesn’t, then we must. No matter where you live in the TU community, the Rio Grande del Norte means something to you. You are sportsmen, a distinction that becomes more relevant and noble every time a narrow interest sets its sights on our public domain with selfish intent. In the case of the Rio Grande del Norte, no such interest has yet identified itself. We must make sure one never does.