Over 1,200 Acres Added to Cibola National Forest (NM)

CIBOLA NATIONAL FORST, N.M., 8/11/2009: The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) today announced the permanent protection of 1,280 acres of critical habitat as part of Cibola National Forest. The land, located 17 miles southeast of Gallup, NM, is part of a tributary drainage area to the Rio Nutria, a small river that provides the only habitat for the Zuni bluehead sucker. The fish is listed by the State of New Mexico as an endangered species and is a candidate for Federal listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The USFS had long identified this property as a priority to acquire because of its connectivity to previously isolated national forest lands. TPL worked with the landowner to secure the property and transfer it to the USFS for permanent protection. U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall led the effort to secure federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect the property.

“TPL is extremely pleased to have played a role to acquire the property,” said Greg Hiner, TPL’s Project Manager. “Connecting these lands will provide protection for the Zuni bluehead sucker, enhance recreational opportunities in the forest, and provide better fire and forest management. We are very grateful to the New Mexico congressional delegation who worked to secure the federal funding to protect this important forest property.”

“I am very pleased that the U.S. Forest Service and TPL have joined forces to help protect this critical habitat,” said Sen. Bingaman, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “This move will greatly benefit visitors to Cibola National Forest as well as the environment.”

“A lot of New Mexicans worked very hard to ensure that this land can be protected and passed down to our children,” said Sen. Udall. “I am pleased that these 1,280 acres will continue to be a thriving piece of the area’s ecosystem and a beautiful place for future generations of New Mexicans to enjoy.”

“America’s vast landscapes are a big part of what makes our country beautiful and unique,” said U.S. Congressman Ben Lujan (NM-03). “The Land and Water Conservation Fund is an important tool for protecting the lands that make New Mexico beautiful. It is a dedicated source of federal funding for land acquisition, planning and development of recreation areas and conservation efforts around the country. It is important that we continue to work together to protect and enhance the natural, cultural and historical resources which are integral to the identity of New Mexico and America.”

District Ranger Matthew Reidy is pleased to be acquiring this acreage as a key parcel within the Rio Nutria watershed where riparian and spring habitat is being managed to protect the Zuni bluehead sucker. This fish is considered a sensitive species and the Forest Service has been actively working with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish on its recovery.

Reidy said, “We have worked hard to help in the recovery of the Zuni bluehead sucker and this will provide additional measures for the management of the Zuni bluehead sucker and opportunities for all Americans to use this land within the Zuni Mountains to hike, hunt, and recreate. I look forward to working with The Trust for Public Land in the future to purchase other key parcels of habitat that could be managed in the Zuni Mountains.” Reidy further stated, “He was happy that McKinley County supported the Forest Service proposal to purchase the land.”

The Zuni Mountains are largely protected as part of the Cibola National Forest. The Zuni and Acoma pueblos and Navajo tribe have inhabitated the mountains since ancient times, giving the area a rich history of Native American culture. The Zuni Pueblo is adjacent to the newly protected land and strongly supported its acquisition for protection of both the Zuni bluehead sucker and the lands adjacent to their tribal lands.

In addition to the endangered fish habitat, the area is within habitat supporting the Mexican spotted owl, a federally listed threatened species, and the Northern goshawk. The area is also important habitat for elk, mule deer, black bear, turkey, and several raptor species.

The Cibola National Forest includes 1.6 million acres in the Datil, Gallinas, Magdalena, Bear, Manzano, Sandia, San Mateo, and Zuni Mountains, with elevations ranging from 5,000 to 11,301 feet. Vegetation varies from desert to juniper, pine and spruce-fir forest. Valued for its recreational opportunities, natural beauty, timber, watersheds, wildlife habitat, and wilderness, the forest provides visitors with outstanding outdoor experiences. The mountain scenery and cooler summer temperatures lure vacationers to enjoy camping, horseback riding, pack trips, fishing, and hunting. Winter activities include downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. For further information please contact Matthew Reidy, District Ranger, Mt. Taylor Ranger District at (505) 287-8833.

The Trust for Public Land is a national land conservation organization dedicated to conserving land for people as parks, greenways, wilderness areas, and natural, historic, and cultural resources for future generations. Founded in 1972, TPL has protected more than 2.8 million acres nationwide. TPL depends upon the support of individuals, foundations, and corporations.