Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act Summary

The purpose of this bill is to establish the approximately 45,000-acre ColumbineHondo Wilderness, modify the boundary of the Wheeler Peak Wilderness, and to convey certain National Forest System land to the Town of Red River and Village of Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico. Background The bill would designate approximately 45,000 acres (45,001.7 acres) of federal land managed by the Forest Service in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico as the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness. The Columbine-Hondo area was designated as a Wilderness Study Area by the New Mexico Wilderness Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-550). The Columbine-Hondo region of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains contains ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests, alpine meadows, and some of the highest peaks in the State, including Gold Hill, which rises to an elevation of 12,711 feet. The lush forests and alpine meadows of the Columbine-Hondo are home to abundant Rocky Mountain wildlife, such as mule deer, elk, black bear, and mountain lion. Above tree line, New Mexico’s prized herd of bighorn sheep, along with marmots and pica, can be seen in a fragile alpine tundra habitat. The Columbine-Hondo contains the headwaters of the Rio Hondo and Red River, both major tributaries of the upper Río Grande in northern Mexico. The pristine creeks and streams of the Columbine-Hondo provide surface water for the downstream agricultural communities of Valdez, Arroyo Hondo, Arroyo Seco, San Cristobal and Questa. The permanent protection of this area will ensure quality habitat for hunters and anglers, the protection of the primary watershed for numerous nearby communities and downstream water users, and the preservation of historic ways of life for northern New Mexicans. Nearby communities are also interested in attracting additional tourism to recreate in this wilderness area. The designation is supported by the Taos County Commission, Taos Pueblo, the towns of Taos and Red River, villages of Questa and Taos Ski Valley, Taos County Chamber of Commerce, sportsmen, ranchers, conservation organizations, farmers and irrigation districts (acequias), the Taos Cycling Coalition,

International Mountain Bicycling Association, land grant heirs, and hundreds of small businesses. In addition, the bill amends the boundary of the Wheeler Peak Wilderness in order to encompass additional sensitive lands including an alpine lake (Middle Fork Lake) while establishing a more easily identifiable boundary adjacent to existing roads and trails. The modifications increase the overall size of the Wheeler Peak Wilderness by approximately 650 acres for a total of approximately 19,550 acres. Title II of the bill directs the conveyance of certain National Forest System land without consideration to the Town of Red River and Village of Taos Ski Valley. The parcels of land subject to conveyance under this title contain two wastewater treatment plants, a cemetery, a local park, and a segment of a town road. The purpose of these conveyances is to streamline the management of these sites by the local governments and to reduce the Forest Service’s responsibility to manage non-forestry related lands. In addition, title II authorizes the Forest Service to sell for full fair market value two parcels of developed land within and adjacent to the Town of Red River. The purpose of these sales is to correct a trespass on National Forest System land that was discovered during an updated survey and to reduce the Forest Service’s responsibility to manage non-forestry related lands. Legislative History The Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act, S. 2468, was introduced by Senators Bingaman and Tom Udall in the 112th Congress on April 26, 2012. In February of 2013 Senator Udall, Senator Heinrich, and Representative Luján again met with stakeholders in Taos who reiterated their support for reintroduction of the legislation. On April 22, 2013 Udall and Heinrich reintroduced the legislation in the Senate. The reintroduced bill did not have any changes from last congress, and Representative Luján will introduce a House companion bill the following day. The Columbine-Hondo was designated a wilderness study area in 1980.