Maintenance on the Historical Acequia – La Sierra Ditch

In early September, a group of volunteers from the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club and other community members had the opportunity to partner with the Mayordomo Jimmy Sanchez of the La Sierra Ditch to work hand in hand with his son (Daryl) and grand son (Damian) to do some maintenance on the acequia banks of the historic ditch.

According to Mayodomo Sanchez, the history of the acequia dates back to the early 1700’s. 1717 was the earliest date we were given when ancestral families of the Mora Valley came together to begin working on the creation of the La Sierra ditch and for the past three centuries has brought water from the Pecos Wilderness down to the Holman Valley to provide water to agricultural crops and family gardens. On this day, volunteers had the opportunity to work with three generations to help maintain the historical acequia in honor of the many generation that preceded them.

The La Sierra Ditch falls within the Protect the Pecos campaign proposal and is one of the traditional uses the coalition members of the Pecos Campaign are striving to protect. According to Mayodomo Sanchez, “This campaign is an example of an effort that would protect these historical lands for future generations including that of my grand son Damian! Thanks you for your help with today’s work!”

la-sierra-ditch1 la-sierra-ditch2

Poll Finds Overwhelming Support for Recreation Access and Expanded Protections for New Mexico’s Public Lands

A new poll shows that 95 percent of Taos County voters think public lands are important. Additional findings show that the majority of residents polled have used their public lands in some way in the past three years, oppose state take-overs of federally managed lands, and want to protect nearby areas from development.

In the last three years:

  • 74% of those polled have camped or hiked on public lands and 43% have fished.
  • Taos County voter households also used public lands for hunting (21%), and horseback riding (21%).
  • nearly four-fifths of those surveyed (79%) have utilized public lands in some way.

In addition to showing heavy use and value of New Mexico’s public lands, the Pecos Wilderness and the future of this area, including legislation to keep forest lands free from extractive industry and commercial development ranked high among those polled. After hearing some background information, 78% — favor and support legislation to protect the roadless areas surrounding the existing Pecos Wilderness. This includes Hispanics and Anglos, and those who identify as democratic, republican, or independent.

The poll highlights the growing need for elected officials and county leaders to work with local communities, recreationists, conservationists and others who care about the viability of these areas.

Read the poll results and analysis below:



Great editorial in the Taos News on our Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and how it is boosting the local economy. It shows that protected ‪public lands‬ are good for business. (March 12, 2016)

A Legacy of Conservation in the Pecos

The history of protection for the Pecos dates as far back as 1892, when President Harrison proclaimed the upper Pecos a Timberland Reserve for watershed protection. Then, in 1933, the Chief of the Forest Service established the Pecos Primitive Area; and on September 3, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, creating the Pecos Wilderness.  In 1980, the New Mexico Wilderness Act added 55,000 acres to the Wilderness. Read More

Protecting the Pecos

While part of the Pecos is protected, there are surrounding forest lands without roads (known as Roadless Areas) that are threatened by unchecked development. Incorporating these Roadless Areas into the Pecos Wilderness and designating some areas as Special Management Areas will protect 120,000 acres of lands and waters that five counties (Santa Fe, San Miguel, Taos, Mora and Rio Arriba) depend upon for clean air, fresh water, and a way to experience the great outdoors. Read More

Op-Ed by John MacArthur
Taos News (February 12, 2016)

Ever since moving to Taos 45 years ago, I have been drawn to the high places. For many years my wife Pam and I have ridden our horses on the trails of the Carson and Santa Fe National Forests, and particularly in the Pecos Wilderness. We are always affected by the quietness, solitude, stunning grandeur, and wildness of our public lands. If we have any spiritual connections, they are here in the high mountain forests and ridgelines.

Pam and I spend a lot of time just knocking about on our horses, exploring new places and vistas. Other people like hiking, hunting and fishing. We all gather firewood, pinon, herbs, vigas, etc. One of my particular attractions is for the old trails, many of which are pre-historic trails or just game trails from time out of mind. I am fascinated by how first animals, and then man have found the most efficient ways through the rugged and forbidding topography. We, and the horses, also really enjoy and appreciate all the little streams that run out of the high cirque valleys and almost every canyon, all contributing to the watersheds that become the Canadian, Pecos, and Rio Grande rivers. These streams are the foundations of all life in the mountains, as well as the communities in the valleys below. There is something incredibly special here for all of us.

I have always taken the National Forests and Wilderness’s existence more or less for granted, and appreciate very much the executive and legislative efforts it took to create them over the last 100 years. As such, I have been appalled and angered by the recent attempts to take control of them from the federal government, and hand our public lands over to individual state land offices. That is why I have joined my neighbors to support the efforts to safeguard these areas as Wilderness and Special Management Areas (Nov. 17, 2015 The Taos News article re: the Pecos Wilderness).

The Pecos Wilderness clearly needs to be expanded to include more of the high fragile valleys and stream headwaters that are not currently within its boundaries, as well as to have a protective Special Management Area surrounding it, that would include other traditional and recreational uses.

It is time to come together and agree how best to preserve what we have.

John MacArthur has lived and worked in the Taos area for 45 years. He is involved with the Acequia del Monte del Río Chiquito in Talpa, where he lives.

Op-Ed by John Miles
The Taos News (February 10, 2016)

The Pecos Wilderness is one of Northern New Mexico’s most valuable assets. Everyone who lives here knows how precious water is to the viability of our communities and to the welfare of all. We need to be as certain as we can be that the source of this lifeblood of our communities is protected for the long term.

Wilderness designation provides this highest level of protection, and if for no other reason this is why Taos County officials should support adding acreage to the Pecos Wilderness.

A resolution to support expanded wilderness acreage in the Pecos was recently brought before the Taos County Commission upon which the Commission has yet to act.This resolution would endorse a locally crafted proposal to enhance the Pecos Wilderness by adding 120,000 acres of wilderness and special management areas to the current wilderness. Enlightened self-interest requires that we join with other counties surrounding the proposal to support it.

Potential threats in the proposed additions include mining, drilling, fracking, road construction and timber harvest. The proposal is responsive to local concerns by exclusion of some areas and special management designation for others. Fire may be fought within the additions, as allowed by the Wilderness Act and governed by the discretion of the Forest Service. With the addition of proposed land, 18 percent of the 3 million acres of the Carson and Santa Fe National Forests will be designated wilderness.

Protection of our precious water supply is only one of the reasons to support this proposal.

Many of us live here because of the exceptional natural world that surrounds us, many others visit to experience these values that we enjoy daily. This is a mecca for hikers, hunters, fishermen, mountain bikers and skiers, for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. The Pecos is a truly special part of all of this with its streams, waterfalls, lakes, elk, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, and Rio Grande cutthroat, our state fish. Silence and solitude can be found on its mountain ridges, in its steep canyons, and in its expansive flower-filled meadows.

There is no doubt that the Pecos Wilderness boosts our local economy. It draws recreationists and residents. As one of the earliest parts of the National Wilderness Preservation System, the Pecos attracts visitors from all over the nation. Outdoor recreation is one of the core sustainable economic engines running in our communities, and expansion of the Pecos Wilderness will contribute to this. The New Mexico Department of Fish and Game, for instance, found that sportsmen spend more than $613 million a year, contributing to local economies and generating more than $51 million in state and local taxes annually.

Some concerns have been expressed that more wilderness will interfere with the rights of our traditional communities. The opposite is true. The current Pecos Wilderness has protected traditional user rights and customary uses like herb and pinongathering, ceremonies, and most importantly water rights for land grants and acequias. Grazing would continue in the proposal, as authorized in the 1964 Wilderness Act.

Expansion of the Pecos Wilderness will serve all Americans, and especially all who live here. Taos writer John Nichols once wrote, “If these mountains die, where will our imaginations wander? … And if the long-time people of this wonderful country are carelessly squandered by Progress, who will guide us to a better world?”

For the sakes of our mountains and our people, the Taos County Commission should approve a resolution in support of Pecos Wilderness expansion.

John Miles lives in El Prado

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.

Letter to the Editor by Todd Leahy
Las Vegas Optic (September 12, 2015)

A diverse grassroots coalition of conservation minded forest professionals, business owners, non- profit organizations, State and Tribal elected officials and New Mexicans from all walks of life, are hard at work to advocate for the designation of 120,000 acres of The Pecos Wilderness as Federal Wilderness or Special Management Area. This designation will protect the clean air, fresh water and recreational area that the counties Santa Fe, San Miguel, Taos, Mora and Rio Arriba counties have come to enjoy.

A landmark of New Mexican culture and tradition, the Pecos is of tremendous value to surrounding towns, neighboring tribal groups, acequia organizations, land grant communities, sportsmen, ranchers and outdoor enthusiasts. Its 150 miles of streams and more than 15 lakes are part of a watershed that is essential to surrounding communities and the acequia systems that irrigate the lands. Opponents believe that a designation prohibits all public enjoyment of the area. The opponents are wrong. A wilderness designation simply means that access to the area must be non-mechanized and create minimal impact on the landscape. A designation of wilderness or Special Management Area is not something to fear.

The addition of the land to the Pecos Wilderness would not only protect major watersheds for the state, but would also ensure the conservation of wildlife habitat and therefore, the wildlife that brings thousands of hunters and anglers to the state this time of the year.

Opponents will say “the mismanagement of wilderness areas a threat to safety, such as controlling wildfires?” This is fear mongering. Had opposition taken the time to read The Wilderness Act, they would know that it states “…such measures may be taken as may be necessary in the control of fire, insects, and diseases…” Furthermore, federal fire policy states, “firefighter and public safety is the first priority in every fire management activity.”

Preserving this land for future generation should be the goal of all New Mexicans. But is it enough to sit back now that this essential portion of the state is unspoiled by development? There are over 120,000 additional acres that have not seen the cut of a road. These roadless areas could and should be added to the Pecos Wilderness.

Todd Leahy, JD/Ph.D
Conservation Director,
New Mexico Wildlife Federation

Op-Ed by Harold Garcia
Las Vegas Optic (May 14, 2015)

I was born and raised in northern New Mexico, but it wasn’t until about 30 years ago that I felt like I was really home. That was when my parents moved my brothers and me to San Miguel County to be closer to the wilderness. My mother grew up in southern Colorado and wanted her children to have the same incredible outdoor experiences that she had.

As fate would have it, the Pecos Wilderness and surrounding areas have always given us the big backyard that she wanted for us. On weekends, my parents would bring all of us into the Pecos to camp and hunt. Some of my favorite memories are from there, and that is why I chose to raise my kids here in San Miguel County as well. It’s also why I opened my business here over 16 years ago. And it’s because of the wilderness that we are still here, and my business is still thriving.

The Pecos Wilderness and surrounding areas in the Santa Fe National Forest have something for everyone. With over 150 miles of streams, incredible waterfalls, steep canyons, and abundant wildlife, people come from near and far to hike, camp, swim, hunt, and fish on its lands and in its waters. The area safeguards the headwaters of the Mora, Pecos, and Gallinas rivers, which communities depend upon for clean water. These waters, particularly the Pecos River, provide a key source of irrigation for acequias and farmers who depend on clean, flowing water for their livelihoods. The area is home to rainbow, brown, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout, in addition to deer, elk, bear, turkey, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

While people enjoy the Pecos Wilderness, some may not know that its clean water and wildlife habitat could potentially be in danger.

Currently, there are surrounding forest lands without roads (known as roadless areas) that are still in need of protection.

Incorporating the Roadless Areas into the Pecos Wilderness would protect 120,000 acres of lands and waters that five counties, including San Miguel, depend upon for clean air, fresh water, and outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities.

As a small business owner, I know first-hand what having the Pecos Wilderness and surrounding areas means for our economy. People choose to work and live here because of our beautiful, scenic backdrop. It is what brought my parents to San Miguel County 35 years ago, and it is what continues to bring people here today to live, work, and play.

A study at St. Thomas University in Minnesota found that employment in counties with wilderness grew 65 percent faster than places that are in non-wilderness counties.

With those businesses — which range from hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores to small shops, home stores, and outfitters — come the tourists and locals alike who spend time in the Pecos and elsewhere in the Santa Fe National Forest.

In New Mexico, outdoor recreation generates $6.1 billion in consumer spending and is responsible for 68,000 jobs across the state every year.

Additionally, in 2013 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. Additionally, a study by Southwick Associates found that New Mexico has more than 160,000 anglers who spend $268 million a year on fishing-related activities. And there are roughly 87,600 hunters who spend $345.5 million a year on hunting-related activities. All of these personal experiences and economic studies of public land conservation add up to a good investment.

Today, I am able to take my kids where I played and hunted in my youth. Back in 1980, we had a family reunion right where the Mora comes into the Pecos River. Today, I own a cabin in that area, and I that is where I take my kids to hike, hunt, and camp. My business is surrounded by the wild right near the village of Pecos. Customers can wait to have their car serviced, and people love to come to my place of business because of my good reputation and to see the beautiful surroundings.

As someone who has lived in San Miguel County for most of my life, I want to see the Pecos and surrounding areas protected for future generations. I hope to be able to play there with my children’s children.

Harold Garcia is the owner of Garcia Autoworks in San Miguel County.