Over 7,900 Acres on Ute Mt. Protected (NM)

TAOS, N.M., 9/23/03 -The Trust for Public Land (TPL), the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Taos Land Trust (TLT) announced today the successful first phase of a multi-year effort to preserve the breathtaking 14,344-acre Ute Mountain property on the New Mexico-Colorado border. TPL, a national non-profit land conservation organization, conveyed to the BLM 7,924 acres of the Ute Mountain property, bringing one of New Mexico’s most notable landscapes into permanent protection. When completed, the Ute Mountain property will be forever protected from development, leaving open a critical migratory wildlife corridor and adding approximately seven miles of the Rio Grande to the recreation area system. The BLM will manage the land, located within the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River corridor, to protect its open space, recreational, and wildlife habitat values.

“This is a wonderful addition to our public lands, said Linda S.C. Rundell, State Director of the BLM in Santa Fe. “Protecting this special landscape and opening it to the public will allow present and future generations to enjoy this natural treasure.”

For almost 30 years, local and national land conservation groups have been trying to protect the Ute Mountain property, formerly known as the Top o’ the World Farm. With assistance from the Taos Land Trust, TPL negotiated the original purchase agreement in 2002 with the landowner, Robert Starks, enabling the BLM to acquire the property over several phases. Today’s successful protection of this property would not have been possible without the willing, conservation-minded landowner, the dedicated staff at the BLM, the support of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation public support, and the $3.3 million funding for this first phase through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Complete acquisition of the entire 14,344-acre Ute Mountain property, valued at $6 million, will depend on congressional approval and additional funding through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund in future years.

“This project could not have been completed without the support of the New Mexico delegation, in particular Senator Pete Domenici, whose position on the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee was critical to this effort,” said Deb Love, TPL’s New Mexico State Director.

The Ute Mountain property is situated within and adjacent to the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River corridor north of Taos, New Mexico, on the New Mexico-Colorado border. This property offers spectacular views of the Rio Grande Gorge and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains while encompassing the extinct volcano called Ute Mountain. The land includes the mountainous and forested former volcano, high mesa desert with sagebrush-grasslands, cliffs of the gorge, and riparian areas along the Rio Grande.

Rising to 10,093 feet from an elevation of about 7,600 feet at its base, Ute Mountain has been a private sanctuary for elk, deer, antelope, and other game. The property also provides critical riparian and breeding habitat for peregrine falcon, golden eagle, brown trout, and the federally-listed endangered southwestern willow flycatcher and threatened bald eagle. The property is bordered by BLM-managed public lands and private lands. The western edge of the property, the Rio Grande Gorge, provides river sports and associated camping, hunting, picnicking, and wilderness recreation. The wild river adjoining the property is a class II, very wild, intermediate run. BLM will open the property to the public once the full acquisition is complete in 2004.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 1.5 million acres of land in 46 states. TPL depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve land for people mission.