The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument: Leave it be

There are borders to be crossed as well as lines to leave alone. The Rio Grande forms a 1,225 mile boundary between Mexico and the United State for its final stretch to the Gulf of Mexico. But long before it attracts attention as an international border, the Rio Grande drops out of Colorado’s high country, […]

The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument: Leave it be

There are borders to be crossed as well as lines to leave alone. The Rio Grande forms a 1,225 mile boundary between Mexico and the United State for its final stretch to the Gulf of Mexico. But long before it attracts attention as an international border, the Rio Grande drops out of Colorado’s high country, wanders across a broad plain and quietly enters New Mexico and a basalt lined canyon. It is a lonesome river stretch as it pours into the recently created Rio Grande del Norte National Monument; a landscape worthy of its protected status.

Therefore, seeking solitude, on an October morning my wife and I plopped our canoe into the Rio Grande 18 miles north of New Mexico. We headed downstream towards the national monument President Obama created in a March 2013. We battled headwinds, just as the monument’s supporters are doing now with the Trump administration as it seeks to remove conservation protections from the monument.

Passing through range land, four border collies swam out into the river barking at us for having the audacity to paddle past their charges of a goat herd and a handful of cattle. Creeping downstream a large mule deer buck stood a few steps from our canoe and stared at us before moving into a willow thicket. Surrendering to the wind we made camp eight miles north of New Mexico.

The monument was not created in a day and it was fine with us if it took several for us to get to it. In fact it took several decades to receive its full protection. The Rio Grande itself and a quarter mile on either side of it, through what is now the monument, gained federal legal standing as one of the inaugural eight rivers protected under the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Broader land protection for the river where it enters New Mexico and extending up onto the rim of the canyon and out across the mesa, volcanic cones, and other landscape elements all came when the Rio Grande del Norte Monument was created in 2013.

The monument’s designation followed a process that included multiple years of Department of Interior planning and opinion gathering. Broad support for national monument designation came from area people including Taos Pueblo, the Taos County government, area chambers of commerce, as well as hunting and fishing organizations. Almost without exception the region’s elected representatives supported the initiative

The area’s rugged beauty is treasured by locals and visitors alike. On our second day of canoeing our challenge shifted from wind to the wild river itself. Low river flow exposed an almost continuous string of barely submerged canoe-ripping rocks and straight-path blocking boulders.

By mid-day we went through a small rapid and an easterly turn to find ourselves in the presence of a river otter and within the boundaries of both New Mexico and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. The otter stuck its head well out of the river. It gave us a good looking at and started chirping.

Though river otters continued to be found elsewhere across the continent, a combination of over-trapping, water pollution, and habitat alteration eliminated them from New Mexico by the 1950s. Starting in 2008, their reintroduction was a conservation victory made possible by a cooperative effort of Taos Pueblo, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and conservation groups, such as Amigos Bravos. The monument itself now provides important habitat for the otter success story.

Paddling deeper into the monument we saw peregrine falcon, golden eagle, mule deer, bighorn sheep, elk, and several dozen other species of mammals, reptiles, fish, and birds. On our trip’s third day we came upon a pair of river otters bounding along the bank before they dove into the water. They swam next to us for a quarter mile. We dodged rocks.

To leave the river required climbing several hundred vertical feet on a trail that was more suited to goats than canoe carrying. Once above the river our view shifted to include more of the monument including the volcanic cinder cone, Ute Mountain, for which the section of the river we just ran is named.

The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument’s is managed by the Bureau of Land Management rather than the usual, more protective, managing agency of national monuments, the National Park Service. President Obama’s enabling proclamation explicitly protected Native American access and use of the property, maintained existing grazing rights, protected hunting and fishing opportunities on the land, and preserved traditional community activities such as firewood and pinyon pine nut gathering.

In March of 2017 President Trump issued an executive proclamation directing his Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, to review 21 large National Monument declarations made by his three immediate predecessors for possible alteration or revocation. The enabling legislation of the 1906 Antiquities Act permits the President to provide National Monument designation to protect “…features of historic landmarks … and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States.” The Trump administration asserts that his predecessors failed to properly consult local neighbors of the designated properties before making their declarations. Even a cursory read of the record shows otherwise. But a farcical review commenced.

Pertaining to the Rio Grande del Norte review, Secretary Zinke carried out a “fact finding and public input” process that was but a fraction of the time and effort spent in the original consideration that preceded President Obama’s proclamation. Better than 96% of the thousands of comments submitted, advocated leaving the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument as it is. In September 2017 a leaked version of Secretary Zincke’s report to the White House published in the “Washington Post” and elsewhere proposed significant changes to some monuments and the opening of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument to mining and commercial logging. It also called for hunting and fishing opportunities and protection of Native American access, activities at Rio Grande del Norte National Monument that are already protected in the original presidential proclamation.

For over 35 years I have hiked, canoed, and explored the lands of what is now Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Decades before it was a monument, it is where I learned to ride a motorcycle. My New Mexico driver’s license photo from that era showed bugs on my face I got riding across those mesas the morning I went to get my motorcycle endorsement. On the recent trip, going in a canoe down the Rio Grande, my face did not pick up splattered bugs. Instead, I gathered live wildlife sightings by the dozens and reaffirmed for myself that President Obama’s National Monument designation properly captured and protected, “…features of historic landmarks…and other objects of historic or scientific interest.”

As President Trump considers Secretary Zinke’s recommendations for the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument my advice is simple. Fully protect its boundaries and contents. Leave it be.

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Politics Newsletter: Special legislative session for gun bills?

Politics Newsletter: Special legislative session for gun bills?

Hello fellow political junkies! The 2024 legislative session is over with the possibility for a special session for firearm-related legislation. In English: Gov. Michelle…
Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

The proposed strategic water supply had a rocky road this legislative session that ultimately resulted in it not making it through even one chamber.…
Bill to end detention of immigrants in New Mexico fails soon after new report on poor conditions

Bill to end detention of immigrants in New Mexico fails soon after new report on poor conditions

A bill to prohibit immigration detention in New Mexico failed a few weeks after an organization issued a report regarding the conditions for a…
Arizona regulators reject proposal to assist Navajo communities impacted by coal-fired power generation

Arizona regulators reject proposal to assist Navajo communities impacted by coal-fired power generation

Utility regulators in Arizona rejected proposals from an Arizona utility to provide assistance to coal-impacted communities, including in Navajo communities in northwest New Mexico.…
Utility regulators approves PNM’s transportation electrification program

Utility regulators approves PNM’s transportation electrification program

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission unanimously approved a plan from the state’s largest utilities for increasing adoption of electric vehicles this week. The…
Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

The proposed strategic water supply had a rocky road this legislative session that ultimately resulted in it not making it through even one chamber.…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican A challenging task awaits New Mexico lawmakers in the next 30 days: Reconciling three very different…
Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee discussed a potential constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the governor’s executive powers. The committee approved…
Supreme Court censures attorney over conduct in anti-COVID policy suits

Supreme Court censures attorney over conduct in anti-COVID policy suits

The New Mexico State Supreme Court censured a New Mexico attorney because of her “misconduct” in two unsuccessful cases pushing back on COVID-19 regulations…
Guv outlines some health priorities on state spending

Guv outlines some health priorities on state spending

During her state of the state address on Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told legislators that one of her legislative priorities is a request…
Referendum on Edgewood’s anti-abortion ordinance moves forward

Referendum on Edgewood’s anti-abortion ordinance moves forward

The town of Edgewood is moving forward with its ballot referendum on its anti-abortion ordinance at a cost of more than $35,000. The town…
2023 Top Stories #1: Anti-abortion efforts go local

2023 Top Stories #1: Anti-abortion efforts go local

Note: Every year, we count down the top ten stories of the year, as voted on by NM Political Report staffers. Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court heard oral…
NM Supreme Court to decide if local anti-abortion ordinances are legal

NM Supreme Court to decide if local anti-abortion ordinances are legal

The New Mexico Supreme Court will decide whether anti-abortion ordinances passed by local governments in eastern New Mexico over the last 13 months can…
HSD taps former Arizona Medicaid official to lead New Mexico’s Medicaid program

HSD taps former Arizona Medicaid official to lead New Mexico’s Medicaid program

A former Arizona Medicaid senior policy advisor and assistant director will head the New Mexico Medicaid program under the state’s Human Services Department. HSD…
AGs want FDA guidance on heavy metals for the baby food industry

AGs want FDA guidance on heavy metals for the baby food industry

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez and a coalition of 19 other attorneys general called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue…
Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

House Speaker Javier Martinez said that the Paid Family and Medical Leave will return to next year’s legislative session. SB 3, sponsored by state…

Bill to require disclosure of use of AI in campaign materials goes to governor

The Senate approved a bill aiming to require the disclosure of the use of artificial intelligence or other changes made by computers to campaign…
House amends, passes bill banning firearms near polling places

House amends, passes bill banning firearms near polling places

The House narrowly approved a bill that would ban firearms near polling places. The House voted 35-34 to pass the bill following an extensive…
Manny Gonzales doesn’t qualify for Senate GOP primary ballot

Manny Gonzales doesn’t qualify for Senate GOP primary ballot

Nella Domenici is the lone Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, after Manny Gonzales III failed to qualify for the ballot. Gonzales did not file…
Another New Mexico legislative session ends, and again — no new oil and gas reforms

Another New Mexico legislative session ends, and again — no new oil and gas reforms

By Jerry Redfern, Capital & Main “It was a very good year!” The message from the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association landed in inboxes the…
Politics Newsletter: Special legislative session for gun bills?

Politics Newsletter: Special legislative session for gun bills?

Hello fellow political junkies! The 2024 legislative session is over with the possibility for a special session for firearm-related legislation. In English: Gov. Michelle…
Arizona regulators reject proposal to assist Navajo communities impacted by coal-fired power generation

Arizona regulators reject proposal to assist Navajo communities impacted by coal-fired power generation

Utility regulators in Arizona rejected proposals from an Arizona utility to provide assistance to coal-impacted communities, including in Navajo communities in northwest New Mexico.…

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report