« Return to this article

for people who care about the West

Token protection?


It's wonderful that people from many cultures in northern New Mexico recognized the economic benefits from heightened federal recognition of the Río Grande Gorge near Taos. National monuments are powerful economic drivers, and we welcome President Obama's action. Yet the language of the Río Grande del Norte proclamation offers little additional environmental protection beyond status quo BLM management. No wonder local consensus for a new monument was so easy to achieve.

Before his retirement, Sen. Jeff Bingaman worked for years to establish a national conservation area in this spot, and his efforts to actually improve wildlife habitat and reduce erosion led to difficult negotiations with area ranchers.

Since desert grasses are the base of the ecosystem here, grazing damages a wide range of natural functions and native species, which are either rare or absent because of constant cattle pressure. Excessive cattle grazing in the desert damages watersheds and wildlife no matter what culture runs the cows. Cows are ecologically expensive, but they are politically untouchable in all areas of the West. In this respect, New Mexico is no different from Idaho. With serious and honest research on the condition of the land and adjustments to cattle management in response, we could see improvements that would benefit everyone. But that will have to wait for another day.

Tom Ribe
Santa Fe, New Mexico