U.S. ag secretary travels to N.M. to promote Biden food access plan
Tom Vilsack, U.S. agricultural secretary, traveled to New Mexico this week to discuss the Biden Adminstration’s plan to ensure access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities and to make historic investments in the national food production infrastructure.
Secretary Vilsack joined U.S. Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández on Tuesday (July 6) to tour a food distribution center in Rio Rancho. They discussed the Biden Adminstration’s committment to promoting nutrition security and how the American Families Plan can help to achieve that goal.
On Wednesday (July 7), Sec. Vilsack and Congresswoman Fernandez traveled to Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, where they toured a water treatment facility. Vilsack discussed a plan for major new investments in the national water infrastructure as part of the Biden Administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, which is aimed at increasing access to clean drinking water and investing in waste water treatment facilities across the country.
Rincon fire-closure order rescinded
The Santa Fe National Forest rescinded a closure order Friday (July 2) that restricted access to part of the Pecos Wilderness to protect public health and safety during fire operations. The closure order went into effect June 16.
The restricted area under the closure order was roughly defined by Jacks Creek Trail and Beatty’s Trail on the west to Skyline on the north to Peco Wilderness boundary on the east to Lone Pine Mesa Trail, El Porvenir Trail and Skyline Trail on the south, then heading north to Iron Gate Trailhead and Jacks Creek Trailhead.
Members of the public are again allowed to enter the area to take advantage of its outdoor recreation opportunities. While the Rincon Fire appears to now be waning, fire behavior can be unpredictable. Officials with the Santa Fe National Forest are therefore advising people to exercise caution if they visit the wilderness area. They are asked to remain roughly 2 miles east of Hamilton Mesa as a precaution.
While Taos County has avoided major fires so far this season, smoke from regional fires continues to create a haze in the area. While fire restrictions were lifted in Carson National Forest last week as summer rains begin, much of Taos County remains in moderate to exceptional drought conditions.
Hiking now top outdoor activity in New Mexico
The simple activity of heading out to a wilderness area and going for a trek has enjoyed a major boost in popularity since the pandemic began in 2020, becoming the most common outdoor activity here in New Mexico, according to a recent study.
Data gathered from Twitter activity that tracked what outdoors-people were doing with their free time found that hiking was the most popular thing to do outside in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. The study was based on geotagged Twitter data, tracking tweets, hashtags and direct keyword phrases tied to outdoor activities.
Taos County remains a major destination for hiking throughout the United States, drawing thousands of visitors in the wake of the pandemic to areas like Taos Ski Valley, which has doubled down on its summer activity offerings in recent years.
Northern New Mexico conservation bills make it to Senate
A key U.S. Senate subcommittee heard testimony on two pieces of proposed conservation legislation last month that could have major impacts on New Mexico.
The Senate Energy & Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, & Mining heard testimony on more than a dozen bills, including one that would establish a 13,103-acre wilderness area within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. The area would be known as Cerro de la Olla, which translates to “Pot Mountain” in English. That bill is being sponsored by Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján and by Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez in the House of Representatives; a large community of sportsmen, grazing permittees, community members in the Taos area, small businesses, faith leaders, Taos Pueblo and nonprofit organizations, like New Mexico Wild.
“Cerro de la Olla has been visited by humans for thousands of years and locals still come here to camp, hike and engage in the most traditional of uses such as gathering wood and herbs,” said Mark Allison, executive director at New Mexico Wild. “Decades of local advocacy led to the establishment of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Designating the Cerro de la Olla as a wilderness area adds an extra layer of protection that would keep these rich cultural traditions intact. Kudos to Sens. Heinrich and Luján and Rep. Leger Fernandez for recognizing just how deserving Pot Mountain is of permanent protection.”
The subcommittee also heard testimony on the Cerro de la Olla bill, which is also sponsored by Heinrich and would withdraw all federally managed minerals in the Upper Pecos Watershed from future lease sales.