Op-Ed by Rock Ulibarri, Arthur J. Padilla, Gilbert J.B. Serna, and Nicolas T. Leger
Las Vegas Optic (January 23, 2016)
As local elected officials, we love San Miguel County very much. We love our people, our communities, and our great outdoors. In fact, it is our protected lands and waters that make us a star on the map for locals and visitors alike.
Our county has so much to offer when it comes to ways to enjoy our great outdoors. People come to hunt and fish in our amazing back country, mountain bike and ski on our well-known trails, or just take in the quiet of nature in our pristine national forests.
One area that is particularly special to us is the Pecos Wilderness. Protected as one of nation’s first wilderness areas, the Pecos is a shining gem. With streams, waterfalls, and lakes galore, the Pecos is home to the Rio Grande Cutthroat trout, New Mexico’s official state fish. The Pecos is also home to some of the largest big game, including the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. The wilderness area is stunningly beautiful – whether it is the steep canyons, wild flower-filled meadows, or tall trees, this incredible place takes your breath away.
That is why we passed a resolution last May endorsing an effort to add more to the Pecos Wilderness area. Under the locally crafted proposal, our beloved Pecos would be enhanced by the addition of 120,000 acres of wilderness and special management areas. It would protect a key watershed that provides clean water to surrounding communities. As one of the five counties surrounding the proposal, San Miguel County would stand to gain from this.
First, we would be safeguarding the rights of our traditional communities. Just as with the Pecos Wilderness, the additional areas would continue to protect traditional users’ rights and customary uses of the lands and waters. This includes herb and piñon gathering, ceremonies, and perhaps most importantly, water rights for land grants and acequias. This is particularly noteworthy because the word Pecos comes from the Native American word meaning, “place where there is water.” For generations, water has been an important part of our culture, and it is critical our land grant and acequias are able to pass their livelihoods down to future generations.
Second, protecting the Pecos would boost our local economy. Many of our constituents choose to live here because of our beautiful backdrop and the proximity to nature. People also make their homes here because our lands and access to water provide an ideal environment for ranchers and grazing permittees. Grazing would continue in the proposal, as authorized in the 1964 Wilderness Act.
Our local coffers depend on visitors coming to hike, camp, hunt, fish, and more. Study after study has shown that outdoor recreation is a critical part of New Mexico’s economy, and as county commissioners, is important that we keep this economic engine running. For example, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish found that sportsmen spend more than $613 million a year, contributing more than $51 million in state and local taxes annually.
Finally, protecting the Pecos will preserve our way of life. Whether it is our time-tested traditions of hunting and fishing with our elders and children, ensuring our traditional communities are intact for generations to come, or boosting our local economy, the Pecos Wilderness is what makes San Miguel County so special.
We are proud to join the diverse and growing coalition of small business owners, Native American Tribes, elected officials, mountain bikers, sportsmen, and neighbors in supporting the effort to protect the Pecos. We hope you will add your voice and help us safeguard this very special area so future generations can always benefit from the Pecos Wilderness and surrounding areas.
San Miguel County Commissioners endorsing the Pecos Wilderness campaign are Rock Ulibarri – District 1, Arthur J. Padilla – District 3, Gilbert J.B. Serna – District 4, and Nicolas T. Leger – District 5.