Columbine Hondo Wilderness Protection Project - Your Support is Needed!

The Columbine Hondo Wilderness Area is the last unprotected area of public lands in the high Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range.  It steep pristine peaks are important water catchers for New Mexico and these mountains receive some of the highest precipitation in New Mexico.  These wilderness mountains are also home to an abundance of beautiful, native wildlife.  For centuries, local Native Americans and Hispanics hunted, fished, gathered herbs and watered their food crops from these mountains.  Today the Columbine Hondo area attracts many outdoor visitors to Taos County from around the globe. 

Citizens and governments throughout Taos County have united to request permanent protection of the Columbine Hondo Wilderness.  Since 2009, Rivers & Birds has worked with many organizations and our Senators and Congressman for a wilderness designation of this area.  When Congress does approve this wilderness designation it will increase the wilderness acreage in Taos County by 60%.  This will ensure a continued clean source of water for Taos County and will ensure that future generations may enjoy and benefit from this area in years to come as we have.

All New Mexicans have a stake in preserving this wild area in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains for the benefit of future generations. This area, currently designated as the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area, supplies surrounding communities with clean water, recreation and tourism jobs. It is the only public section of the high alpine Sangre de Cristo Mountains lacking permanent wilderness protection. 

The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Coalition came together in 2009 as a diverse coalition of organizations and individuals that have been working diligently for the permanent protection of this wild area and we are making tremendous progress.

The Mission of the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition is to establish 45,000 acres of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area as designated Wilderness to protect the ecological, cultural, and recreational values of this magnificent and life-giving watershed for present and future generations.

Take a look at the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition's website: www.columbinehondo.org  to learn more about this wilderness and our  legislative campaign to protect it.  Sign a letter or petition to express citizen support for this bill.

Please contact New Mexico’s Congressional Delegation and urge them to introduce legislation to designate the Columbine Hondo as a protected Wilderness Area. You can sign an online petition here. A template and information to help you write letters of support for Wilderness legislation are here.

More Information:
The Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Area (CHWSA) comprises 45,000 acres of the Sangre de Cristo Range and lies between the highway to Taos Ski Valley and the highway to Red River. This is by far the largest wilderness area in Taos County. The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area (CHWSA) located in Taos County, NM was designated as part of the 1980 New Mexico Wilderness Act. Since that time, it has been managed as wilderness and its wild character, and appropriateness for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System has grown dramatically. The entire area, which was legally designated as a Wilderness Study Area (WSA), should be included in a new wilderness designation.

The CHWSA is a major piece of the natural resource tourism economy that is so important to Taos County. The area is already widely used for a broad array of wilderness recreation including hiking, camping, hunting, fishing and equestrian use. So much of Taos County’s economy is based on tourism, with the draw being the beauty of its mountains and the opportunity to explore them. Designating the CHWSA as wilderness would permanently protect these values while giving the area increased name recognition.

The CHWSA is also incredibly important ecologically. It is an important watershed for Taos County, as well as for the entire state of New Mexico.  Snowmelt from the high mountains of the Columbine Hondo WSA feed two of the larger Rio Grande tribuaries in New Mexico - the Red River and the Rio Hondo as well as numerous acequias important to the communities of Questa, Lama, San Cristobal, Valdez and Arroyo Hondo.   Historically this portion of the range was a common land for Hispanic and Native American communities, including the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant. The wilderness provided  a place for herb gathering, grazing, and hunting for these traditional subsistence communities. These uses are still and important part of the cultural heritage of these local traditional communities.

The steep and rugged forested mountains of the Columbine Hondo wilderness area are also a haven for a great diversity of wildlife such as elk, deer, bighorn sheep, mountain lion, bobcat, marmot, Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout, pika, rare pine marten, raccoon, snowshoe hare, ptarmigan, blue grouse, many species of migratory songbirds and raptors such as eagles, owls and hawks.Columbine-Hondo is home to many blue-ribbon trout streams that provide critical habitat for species such as westslope, greenback, and Colorado River cutthroat. wilderness designation would prevent logging and road building that fill streams with silt and destroy fish habitat. Numerous other species depend on this area for habitat, as well as for the connectivity it provides between other protected areas like Wheeler Peak and the Latirs. Perhaps the most important ecological value protecting the CHWSA can provide is a source of clean water. The area contains important headwaters of the Rio Grande and contributes to the protection of clean water for much of the population of New Mexico for drinking and for agriculture.

In 2009, Rivers & Birds became a founding member of the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Coalition along with The Wilderness Society, NM Wilderness Alliance, Amigos Bravos,  the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, the National Wildlife Federation, Rancher Erminio Martinez, and Esther Garcia, President of the Rio San Antonio de Colorado Land Grant and current Mayor of Questa.  Today the Columbine Hondo Wilderness includes many more supporters including Taos Pueblo, the Town of Taos, the Taos County Commission,  the Town of Red River, and  the Village of Taos Ski Valley.  PLEASE JOIN US!  Contact Rivers & Birds for more information at:  riversandbirds@gmail.com.