Outdoors Enthusiasts Honor New Mexico’s Senators as ChampionsCourtesy: The Wilderness Society.
Monday, July 8, 2013
WASHINGTON - Great Outdoors America Week, held recently in Washington, D.C., brought outdoor enthusiasts together to celebrate America's public lands and to lobby Congress on behalf of the country's natural heritage. The New Mexico regional director for the Wilderness Society, Michael Casaus, was there. He said New Mexico was the only state to have both of its U.S. Senators recognized as America's Great Outdoors Congressional Champions for their work to preserve and protect public lands.
"Our two U.S. Senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, have done a tremendous job over the years to protect iconic places like the Ojito Wilderness, the Valle Vidal, the Sabinoso Wilderness," Casaus said. "And most recently, they successfully advocated that President Obama designate the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument."
Casaus noted that conservation advocates supporting public lands are diverse, including Native American leaders, Hispanic leaders, small business owners, mountain bikers, hunters, anglers and military members and veterans. He said this broad support gives him renewed enthusiasm in his efforts to get a national monument designation for the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks region in Doña Ana County.
Max Trujillo, who also attended the event, is a hunter and sportsmen's coordinator for Northern New Mexico for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. Even though the last Congress was the first since World War II that did not act to protect a single new acre of public land, he said he is optimistic that will change.
"I believe there's a growing trend in bipartisanship when it comes to public lands," Trujillo said. "We just had a public lands bill with regard to Valles Caldera National Preserve changing management to the National Park Service, and it was passed by a bipartisan vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee."
Trujillo is particularly interested in seeing protection for the Columbine Hondo Wilderness between Questa and Red River. He said it will protect a vital Rio Grande watershed. Ultimately, he added, public lands are a safeguard against ever-expanding growth.
"As we have urban sprawl and development and a new mandate for drilling for oil and mining and coal, these pieces of land that we're able to preserve, these are the places where everybody will come to recreate and get their dose of fresh air and clean water," he predicted.
Great Outdoors America Week attracted nearly 200 activists this year.
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