In Congress: A Spring Blossoming on Wilderness

Your Wilderness - June 2012

April showers did not come to Washington, DC, until early May this year.  As a result, even after the mild winter, some spring flowers were a little late in arriving.  The same cannot be said about efforts to protect wilderness, with the introduction of one more bill to protect special wild lands.

This seed of wilderness protection bore fruit on April 26, when Sen. Bingaman introduced S. 2468, the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act. The legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Udall, would designate as wilderness about 45,000 acres of the existing Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area (WSA) within the Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico. It has the broad and strong support of local elected officials, conservationists, sportsmen, and businesses.  The Columbine Hondo WSA is located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Taos County and has long been treasured for its outstanding beauty, unique and varied habitats, and importance as a source of clean water for surrounding communities.

Thompson CreekIn introducing the bill, Bingaman said, “The Columbine Hondo is one of the last remaining segments of this high alpine ecosystem to receive permanent wilderness protection.  The time has come to permanently protect the Columbine Hondo.  After many years of hard work by local community leaders, a nearly unanimous consensus has formed in support of protecting this landscape as wilderness…. Sportsmen benefit from the protection of quality habitat that will ensure the elk, deer, and antelope found in the mountains and the fish in the mountain streams will continue to thrive.  Communities like the towns of Taos and Red River and the villages of Questa and Taos Ski Valley can find economic benefits by attracting visitors seeking opportunities for solitude and quiet recreation and help create job opportunities in the area.”  Udall added: “The Columbine Hondo Study Area is a home to diverse wildlife, a destination for outdoor enthusiasts and an important watershed.  It's a New Mexico treasure, and this wilderness designation will preserve its pristine meadows and towering peaks for future generations.”

Although a hearing has not yet been scheduled on S. 2468 by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which Bingaman chairs, it is hoped that the committee will consider this measure in the near future.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, wilderness legislation has advanced with the earlier introduction of a number of bills, and we are awaiting hearings by the Committee on Natural Resources that could include H.R. 4109, the Los Padres Conservation and Recreation Act, sponsored by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA).  Most recently, on March 29, the Committee on Natural Resources considered several measures, including H.R. 1241, the Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act, and H.R. 2984, the Maine Coastal Islands Wilderness Act.

As spring turns into summer, we will continue to tend the fields to weed out bad bills and encourage the growth of wilderness legislation in the House and Senate.