By Garrett VeneKlasen
As you head north out of Santa Fe on US-285 there is a prominent overpass spanning the highway. Stamped deep in its massive upper concrete support beam, in big, bold letters that cover the entire length of the four lane interchange, are the words, “Tierra Sagrada,” -- “Sacred Land.”
The notion of honoring our land and treating it as something sacred is truly an age old New Mexican tradition, sprung from tribal roots and then perpetuated by the explorers and Old World immigrants who settled the valley in the 16th century.
What all these cultures shared in common was connectivity to and utter dependence upon the land. On a fundamental level they understood and fully appreciated that without the land’s bounty, they simply could not survive. When you depend on something for your very survival, the relevance of its sanctity manifests itself utterly and absolutely.
Today, that honor carries on with the designation of the Rio Grande del Norte as a national monument.
For conservationists, for sportsmen and women - for anyone who loves these lands - these days don’t come often. And they don’t come easily. So when they do, we must celebrate that connection and that respect and value we have for the land, for the culture and the ties that bind us to it.
New Mexico’s sportsmen feel that tie in their bones.
Many of us are the direct descedents of those traditional land users and still view hunting and fishing as core cultural values. We do not take this day lightly. This designation is the result of two decades of work.
Those of us within the New Mexican sportsman’s community that are relative newcomers to this landscape (“newcomers” are also often multigenerational settlers) also recognize that our connection to this place and its traditions is the stuff that defines our very center. It is our soul food.
This is a place that can’t be made up, a precious sportsmen’s heirloom. Sixty-six contiguous miles of New Mexico’s largest and most iconic wild trout fishery, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, waterfowl, raptors, antelope - all of it through some of the most breathtaking and rugged country in the entire southwest.
There are non-resident naysayers out there that argue that this was not the right course. We lend them no creedence. This campaign came straight from the people, all people - so many people of so many shapes and sizes and backgrounds one can’t even keep them straight. It came from the people who loved this place most. To degradate that with politics only illuminates the problem with politics - not the problem with designation.
Indeed, the public process behind the protection of Rio Grande del Norte was so utterly inclusive and democratic that by the time Secretary Salazar came to Taos New Mexico to announce the Administration’s consideration of a National Monument designation this past December, not a single individual in a diverse room full of citizens objected to his proposition. Not one.
And so, today, with a stroke of his pen, President Obama used his executive power - with full and thoroughly vetted support of the people - to designate Rio Grande del Norte as a National Monument. In signing this designation, President Obama has put a period at the end of a classic democratic story and has thus once again affirmed the notion of the sacred.
Thank you Secretary Salazar and President Obama, for upholding the democratic process and honoring the will of New Mexico’s citizens.
Today is a day for sportsmen, a day where a promise or protection means the bond to the land will not break.