Timothy M. Murphy
Acting Assistant Director, National Conservation Lands & Community Partnerships
Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, & Mining
S. 1240, Cerros del Norte Conservation Act
May 21, 2015
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on S. 1240, the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act. On March 25, 2013, President Obama designated the Río Grande del Norte National Monument on 242,555 acres of land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in northern New Mexico. This legislation includes the designation of two wilderness areas within the new Río Grande del Norte National Monument – the proposed 13,420-acre Cerro del Yuta Wilderness and 8,000-acre Río San Antonio Wilderness. The Department supports the designation of these two new wilderness areas.
The Río Grande del Norte National Monument lies north of Taos on the border with Colorado and straddles New Mexico's Taos and Rio Arriba Counties. Rising in stark contrast from the monument's broad expanse, the Cerro de la Olla, Cerro San Antonio, and Cerro del Yuta volcanic cones provide visible reminders of the area's volatile past. Between these mountains, the dramatic gorge of the Río Grande Wild & Scenic River is carved into the landscape, revealing the dark basalt beneath the surface of the Taos plateau.
The proposed Cerro del Yuta Wilderness has at its centerpiece a symmetrical volcanic dome soaring to over 10,000 feet in altitude. Covered by ponderosa, Douglas fir, aspen, and spruce on the north side, and pinyon and juniper on the south side, the mountain provides important habitat for wildlife, including the herds of elk that draw hunters to the area. The volcanic dome provides an outstanding opportunity for peak climbing, and the forested slopes create a strong sense of solitude.
The proposed Río San Antonio Wilderness consists of a flat plain bisected by the Río San Antonio. This grassland plain is dotted with occasional juniper, while the river sits 200 feet below the surface of the plateau at the bottom of a rugged gorge, the depths of which provide a microclimate for riparian vegetation, Douglas fir, and spruce. Visitors can find outstanding opportunities for solitude as they explore the gorge, which abruptly drops out of sight from the rest of the area. Protecting these characteristics will help to ensure that recreationists will continue to visit the area, bringing economic benefits to the local community.
S.1240 designates two wilderness areas on BLM-managed lands within the new National Monument – the proposed 13,420-acre Cerro del Yuta Wilderness and 8,000-acre Río
San Antonio Wilderness. Both of these areas meet the definition of wilderness in the Wilderness Act of 1964: they are largely untouched by humans, have outstanding opportunities for solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation, are over 5,000 acres in size, and contain important geological, biological, and scientific features. We support the designation of these areas as wilderness, and would appreciate the opportunity to work with the sponsor on potential boundary modifications for manageability.
President Obama's designation of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument was a tribute to both the area's extraordinary value and the steadfast support of the surrounding community for protecting this magnificent place. The Department supports S.1240 in its designation of some of the new Río Grande del Norte National Monument's wildest lands as wilderness.