The Pew Environment Group's Campaign for America's Wilderness announced today that Roberta Salazar of Taos, New Mexico, is being honored as this month's "Wilderness Hero" for working to connect young people with nature. Ten years ago, Salazar made a personal commitment to ensure that Northern New Mexico kids grow up recognizing the importance of protecting the land and the healthy ecosystems on which they depend.
"For her work to protect special wild places and to instill a love of the land in New Mexico's children, we salute Roberta Salazar as a ‘Wilderness Hero'," said Mike Matz, who directs the Campaign for America's Wilderness at the Pew Environment Group. "Our Wilderness Hero program highlights the work of everyday Americans making a difference in the effort to protect some of the nation's last wild places for future generations to use and enjoy."
After more than a decade and a half of conservation work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management, Salazar left in 1999 to found Rivers & Birds, which she currently directs. She also created the Watershed Learning Project, a nature immersion program that takes fifth-graders out of the classrooms and into the outdoors to develop conservation values in a positive, memorable way that will influence kids and their families in the future.
Rivers & Birds has collaborated with the New Mexico Wildlife Federation and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance to help build community awareness about a proposal to protect special wild places in the Rio Grande area. Together they have been instrumental in building local support for the Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act, introduced last April by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). This legislation, if enacted, would establish a conservation area for 235,000 acres northwest of Taos, including 21,000 acres of designated wilderness.
Senator Bingaman's legislation cleared the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on December 16, 2009. That day, in addition to meeting with local stakeholders about wilderness, Salazar spoke persuasively as part of a panel on a local radio program. The bill is now before the full U.S Senate.
"Roberta Salazar is a key player in northern New Mexico conservation efforts around wilderness. As executive director for Rivers and Birds, Roberta teaches the next generation how to be Earth stewards through her many youth educational activities," said John Olivas, Northern director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. "The Wild Rivers Recreation Area, in the heart of the proposed Rio Grande Del Norte National Conservation Area, is her classroom for many of these youth activities. With Roberta on our team, I am confident we will see this important bill become a reality."
Salazar's family has deep roots in Northern New Mexico. "Our traditional communities here realize that our wealth is not in dollars, but rather in our close relationship with the land. For hundreds of years, local Native Americans and Hispanic agricultural communities have lived conservatively on the land-honoring, not wasting the Earth. It is important to ensure that we continue to honor this tradition of conservation of our natural landscape so that it can continue to nourish the spirit and well being of future generations of all species in this area," Salazar said.
When she learned of receiving this honor, Salazar noted that her love of this special place is what drives her work to see it protected. "Just as water is a magnet for any creature in a desert, the Rio Grande within the gorge is a special draw for me. Approximately 50 miles of it lies within the proposed Conservation Area. It would make me proud to be a part of preserving one of the most breathtakingly beautiful geologic features on Earth."