Ute Mountain Protection Completed (NM)

TAOS COUNTY, NM, 4/25/05–The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit conservation organization, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced today the successful completion of a multi-year effort to protect the breathtaking 14,344-acre Ute Mountain property on the New Mexico-Colorado border. TPL conveyed the final 6,420 acres, valued at $2.7 million, to the BLM, bringing one of New Mexico’s most notable landscapes into permanent protection. TPL had purchased and conveyed 7,924 acres of the mountain to the BLM in 2003. Located within the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River corridor in northern Taos County, the BLM will manage the land to protect its open space, recreational and wildlife habitat values.

“This is a wonderful addition to our public lands,” says 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 national treasure.” BLM plans call for a series of public hearings, perhaps beginning later this year, to develop a management plan for the property and open up Ute Mountain to the public.

Funds for the purchase of the property came from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) through the vision and leadership of New Mexico’s Congressional Delegation, including Senator Pete Domenici, who sits on the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and is Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; Senator Jeff Bingaman, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a longtime champion of the LWCF, and Congressman Tom Udall, a member of the House Resources Committee and consistent supporter of the LWCF.

“This culminates years of hard work and cooperation to make sure this beautiful property is protected as public land. New Mexicans now have additional land to enjoy, and some of our endangered species like the bald eagle and willow flycatcher will have protected habitats,” Senator Pete Domenici said. “This is a great way to celebrate New Mexico’s scenic heritage.”?

“The Ute Mountain property is an outstanding example of the beauty our state has to offer. Like many New Mexicans, I am pleased to see that it is being protected for future generations to enjoy,” said Senator Bingaman, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“We are now protecting even more of New Mexico’s extraordinary landscape with the acquisition of Ute Mountain in northern Taos County,” Representative Udall said. “This property was never subdivided, and we are now guaranteeing that it will be preserved in perpetuity. Just as important, preservation of this landmark will help protect water quality along the Rio Grande and a critical wildlife corridor in northern New Mexico.”

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 two years. TPL conveyed the first half of the property to BLM in March 2003. TPL stepped in and bought the property in March 2004 and held it off the market until funding through the LWCF was available for the public purchase.

“We are very proud to have led the effort to preserve this spectacular property and we want to thank the public and the New Mexico congressional delegation for their continued support, which made this project possible,” says Deb Love, Director, TPL-New Mexico. “We’re looking forward to the public being able to enjoy some of the most remote and spectacular wildlands along the entire stretch of the Rio Grande.”

The soon-to-be public property covers 14,344 acres with the extinct volcano, Ute Mountain, at its center and the Rio Grande on its western edge. Ute Mountain rises from the plains west of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range to an elevation of over 10,000 feet. The ancient volcano provides critical foraging and nesting habitat for many wildlife species including a variety of raptors like Peregrine Falcon, Golden Eagle, Bald Eagle, Prairie Falcon, and Great Horned Owl. To the west of Ute Mountain, the Rio Grande cuts a spectacular gorge and provides an excellent whitewater experience for both private and commercial river runners.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization dedicated to preserving land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since it’s founding in 1972, TPL has protected nearly 2 million acres of land in 46 states. The Trust for Public Land depends on the support and generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve our land for people mission. For information, please visit us on the web at www.tpl.org.

Posted 4/2005