U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Deb Haaland, both Democrats, have introduced legislation to protect Cerro de la Olla, also called Pot Mountain, as a wilderness area in Taos County.
The domed caldera, important to wildlife, hunters, herb collectors and wood gatherers for hundreds of years, is located within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, northwest of Taos. "Cerro de la Olla is part of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument but it was inadvertently omitted from the Cerro de la Olla Wilderness bill (introduced earlier), said Roberta Salazar, executive director of Rivers and Birds, and part of a broad coalition that worked together to create the monument.
“This is an effort to amend that,” Salazar said.
Salazar, who used to work for the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the monument, said the views from atop the caldera are "absolutely phenomenal. You have 360 degree views and you can see peaks 175 miles away."
The area has been closed by the BLM to motorized traffic for about 30 years but is accessible on horseback and on foot, she said. The closure in part is to protect cultural resources in the area. Keeping the mountain roadless protects it as a migratory passage for elk, bear, mountain lion and other wildlife.
“I’m proud to have worked with senators Udall and Heinrich and community leaders across Northern New Mexico to introduce legislation to establish the Cerro de la Olla Wilderness and protect these cherished lands for generations to come. In New Mexico, our public lands play a crucial role in our lives for traditional and recreational uses, and the CDLO holds significant importance for many New Mexicans, including Tribal communities,” said Luján in a statement.
Haaland said in the statement: "In my community, we saw mining come in and destroy our water, leaving traces of radiation in the air for years to come. By working to establish the Cerro de la Olla Wilderness, Congressman Ben Ray Luján and I aim to ensure Tribal, acequia, land grant and other communities can continue to practice their traditions and their environmental stewardship that have been passed down through generations."
Taos Pueblo, local ranchers, conservationists and hunters have publicly supported the wilderness designation.
"As the primary inhabitants of the Taos Valley, the Red Willow People commonly known as the Taos Pueblo, have always recognized the sacredness of Cerro de la Olla, whether spiritual in nature or for the life-sustaining resources provided. Our people will continually acknowledge this in perpetuity, therefore it is important that, as an entire broader community, we look to protect the sanctity of Cerro de la Olla," said Taos Pueblo Warchief Gary J. Lujan.
Salazar said in drafting the boundaries for the proposed wilderness, the coalition was careful "to not intrude on any hunting or wood-gathering camps down at the base."
She said its been about a five-year effort to reach this point with the wilderness designation.
“Governments and businesses in Taos County united to support the Cerro de la Olla Wilderness bill," Salazar said in a statement. "Cerro de la Olla provides beauty and solitude for humans here as well as firewood, wildlife game harvests and herbal medicines for many who call the region home. For wildlife, Cerro de la Olla is a roadless haven in the landscape between the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Wilderness ranges. Big game animals depend on this mountain for food and shelter, especially during migrations. Each winter up to 2,000 elk congregate on and around Pot Mountain for forage and for cover. We all want to see this remarkable volcano protected as wilderness for the benefit of present and future generations."