Victory! Senate Sends Bill to Create Columbine Hondo Wilderness to the President’s Desk

The Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition today celebrated the Senate passage of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act (S. 776/H.R. 1683) as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.  The defense bill is now sent to President Obama, where he is expected to sign it into law. Once that happens, 45,000 acres of incredible wildlife habitat, an important source of clean water, and a prized hunting and fishing destination will be forever protected for future generations. 

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.

The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Coalition has made hi-res photographs and b-roll available for media use. You can download them at http://www.columbinehondo.org/media.  

For years, 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. Here is what some community members have to say: 

Veterans
“Designation of the Columbine Hondo Wilderness will truly benefit all veterans in Northern New Mexico, and all who come to visit. The beauty and serenity of wilderness provides a natural setting offering a sense of wellbeing and connectedness to veterans.  Ask any veteran who has returned from a military experience and the first place they want to go to is the wilderness to relax and ‘get away from it all.’ I want to thank our community and elected officials for standing with veterans by safeguarding the Columbine Hondo.”
- Chuck Howe, President National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center  
 
“My name is commissioner Larry Sanchez from Questa NM.  I'm a Vietnam era veteran.  I thank the Senators and Congressman for your support for the protection of Columbine Hondo Wilderness on behalf of our military personnel, who without their sacrifice we could not enjoy this beautiful landscape for livestock grazing, firewood gathering, hiking, mountain biking, fishing and camping, horseback riding and horseback packing for our hunters.  This watershed is so important to our farmers who utilize the resource for agriculture purposes.  Ranching, farming and the use of our traditional Acequias in Taos County are used to teach our children and grandchildren the importance of keeping our culture alive."
- Larry Sanchez, Taos County Commissioner and Vietnam Veteran
 
Traditional Voices
“For hundreds of years, people have interacted with the Columbine Hondo through hunting, fishing, grazing, gathering medicinal herbs, and through the irrigation of our gardens and pasturelands with the clean waters provided by these mountains.  Our new Columbine Hondo Wilderness will protect the continuation of our Acequia and grazing traditions which have been an intimate part of our culture and history for hundreds of years.  I wish to thank Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and Congressman Ben Ray Luján and Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham for your support and leadership.” 
- Esther Garcia, President of the San Antonio de Rio Colorado Land Grant
 
“My family has lived in the Taos area for over four hundred years, and we have a long history in the Columbine Hondo.  My grandfather grazed this area before New Mexico even became a state, my father grazed here, and for the past ten years, I have been a livestock permittee within the Columbine Hondo.  I am grateful to our elected officials for championing this bill through Congress to ensure that the Columbine Hondo Wilderness will be here for future generations to enjoy and benefit from.” 
- Erminio Martinez, Livestock Permittee in the Columbine Hondo 
 
Sportsmen
“I cherish getting out and pursuing my recreational passions in a wild and natural environment - where nature prevails and solitude and tranquility refresh our souls. By protecting Columbine Hondo as Wilderness we have ensured that our traditions of hunting, fishing, equestrian trail riding, and the use of pack animals is preserved for present and future generations.” 
- Oscar Simpson, State Chair of the New Mexico Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Public Lands and Legislative Chair of the Back Country Horsemen of New Mexico. 
 
“The Columbine Hondo contains the headwaters for a number of coldwater streams, including the Rio Hondo, Columbine Creek, Goose Creek, and other small streams that comprise prime habitat for the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout.  New Mexico’s new 45,000-acre wilderness embodies values that all citizens hold regarding clean water, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation in the tradition of great conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, and our elected officials: Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham.” 
- Toner Mitchell, President of Truchas Chapter of Trout Unlimited
 
“The new Columbine Hondo Wilderness will enable Hispanics, sportsmen, and other constituencies to enjoy centuries-old traditions in Northern New Mexico. We all depend on clean water, healthy wildlife habitats, and access to our great outdoors. Our newest wilderness area will ensure that this excellent habitat will exist for future generations to enjoy.”
- Max Trujillo, Northern NM Sportsman's Coordinator or the NM Wildlife Federation, Deputy Director of HECHO (Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and Outdoors) 
 
Elected Officials
“The Columbine Hondo Wilderness is a win-win for our economy and our traditions. People come to Northern New Mexico to hike, hunt, fish, paddle, bike and ride horseback, and that recreation tourism directly benefits the Village of Questa. I want to thank our community and elected officials for putting our clean water and long-rooted cultural heritage first by designating the Columbine Hondo Wilderness.” 
- Mark Gallegos, Mayor of the Village of Questa
 
“Red River is dependent on tourism and Columbine Hondo is essential to the economic viability of our businesses. Surveys have shown that the beauty of the area is the number one reason people visit, so our community understands the importance of protecting the area and preserving that beauty for future generations.” 
- Linda Calhoun, Mayor of Red River
 
“It took a lot of hard work by a cross-culture of diverse groups of people and organizations, but the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Act is finally going forward.  Without the steadfast dedication and hard work from Senator Udall, Senator Heinrich, Congressman Luján, and Congresswoman Lujan Grisham this never would not have been possible.  People can now come to Taos Ski Valley and have easy, instant access to thousands of pristine acres of wilderness.  The passage of this act is truly an accomplishment and the Village of Taos Ski Valley feels honored to be part of the team that came together to make this significant event happen.”
- Neal King, Mayor of the Village of Taos Ski Valley
 
“Our new Columbine Hondo Wilderness Area is a natural and cultural treasure. The designation will safeguard outdoor recreation activities, traditional uses, and our precious water. Local elected officials are joined by a diverse coalition in applauding Northern New Mexico’s newest wilderness area.”
- Dan Barrone, Mayor of Taos
 
Business and Outdoor Recreation 
“One of the main reasons people visit the Taos area is to marvel at and venture into our magnificent wilderness landscapes.  Protecting public wild lands like the Columbine Hondo promotes tourism and outdoor recreation. When people visit New Mexico to explore and recreate in our pristine wilderness areas, it creates jobs and benefits the local economy, while protecting the land for future generations.” 
- Stuart Wilde, Local Wilderness Guide and Llama Trekking Outfitter
 
“There could not have been a better time than the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act to safeguard Columbine Hondo for future generations.  As a sportsman, I know that Columbine Hondo provides some of the best habitat in northern New Mexico for fish and game. I want to thank former Senator Jeff Bingaman, Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham for protecting critical wildlife habitat, clean water, and our local economy.” 
- John Olivas, Owner of JACO Outfitters
 
“Protecting public lands and waters in the Columbine Hondo Wilderness is important for small businesses in Northern New Mexico. Columbine Hondo is one of the main watersheds of the Rio Grande, and people come here to raft, fish, ride horseback, hike, and bike. The overall experience of visiting Taos is framed by these pristine, wild places. As a small business owner and lover of the outdoors, I believe that it is important to our livelihoods, our spiritual well-being and our lifestyle to permanently protect the Columbine Hondo now, for our children, and future generations.”
- Cisco Guevara, Owner of Los Rios River Runners
 
“Recreation tourism in Northern New Mexico remains an untapped economic resource and the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act provides designation of multi-use trails that includes mountain bike access. The creation of these trails will add to a growing infrastructure which will help make the Enchanted Circle region an even greater recreation destination. I want to thank Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham for making this bill work for our entire community.” 
- Doug Pickett, Owner of Taos Cyclery and Representative of Taos Cycling Coalition
 
Conservation
“The Columbine Hondo Wilderness Campaign began over 30 years ago when this area was designated as a wilderness study area by Congress for consideration of permanent protection. Today, the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition has grown to include our local governmental groups, our adjacent land grant communities, local acequia groups, livestock permittees, outfitters and sportsmen, mountain bikers, conservation groups, and close to 400 businesses. I want to thank our elected officials and community for safeguarding Columbine Hondo for future generations.”
- Roberta Salazar, Rivers & Birds
 
“We all have a shared responsibility to protect our precious water sources and protecting the Columbine Hondo does just that. A truly diverse coalition of local ranchers, small business owners, Hispanic and Pueblo leaders, sportsmen and conservationists have come together to preserve what makes New Mexico special – our culture, our clean water and our ties to the land. There is overwhelming local support and we thank Senators Udall and Heinrich and Representatives Luján and Lujan Grisham for permanently protecting this special place for future generations.”
- Michael Casaus, the New Mexico State Director of The Wilderness Society
 
Background on the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Act 
Legislative History 
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).  It was originally introduced by Senator Jeff Bingaman (ret.).
 
Lands and Wildlife
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.
 
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.