“Today, the President has acknowledged the importance of the Rio Grande del Norte area to our nation’s biodiversity.--- Permanently protecting this Important Bird Area will ensure that critical migratory paths for iconic species like falcons and eagles will remain intact,” Audubon New Mexico Executive Director Karyn Stockdale says in a statement about President Barack Obama’s decision to declare Rio Grande del Norte a National Monument. The Rio Grande del Norte, located just west of Taos, is an area cherished for the fish and game it supports, its beauty, recreation, the 1,000-plus archeological sites contained within it and the economic benefits it provides.
Like National Parks, National Monuments are areas protected because of their cultural, natural and ecological values. While National Parks need the approval of both the president and Congress, National Monuments can be declared by a US president without Congress’ approval.
In 1968, the RGDN area was protected under the National Wild and Scenic River System. The designation as a National Monument further protects the land and “safeguards hunting, fishing, grazing, wood gathering and herb/piñon gathering,” according to a New Mexico Wilderness Alliance—which has collected over 3,000 letters of support for the monument—press release. Among others, Taos County Commission, Taos Chamber of Commerce, Taos Village Council, Taos Pueblo, more than 500 local businesses and the Taos community support the designation. “A recent report by BBC Research & Consulting said the estimated $17.2 million pumped into the area economy yearly from tourism and spending related to Rio Grande del Norte is expected to nearly double to $32.2 million because of the new designation,” the press release states.
In 2007, the office of former Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, along with Taos and Rio Arriba County residents, began identifying ways to preserve the RGDN land. Bingaman, Sens. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, and Tom Udall, D-NM, and Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-Santa Fe, “have worked to advance legislation through Congress to protect the area and asked the White House to consider a monument designation.”
On Monday, March 25, Obama will hold a National Monument Proclamations Signing Ceremony at the White House.
In her statement, Stockdale writes, “The Rio Grande Gorge is the lifeblood of a vibrant ecosystem and recreation economy that is absolutely critical to New Mexico’s way of life. Monday’s designation by President Obama will protect the interests of both wildlife and people, while ensuring a rich legacy for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.”