Public Lands Protections and Advocacy

Rivers & Birds has successfully advocated for the largest land and watershed protections in the history of Taos County. In 2009, after recognizing that one section of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains had been neglected for permanent protection, Rivers & Birds organized culturally diverse community support around this roadless jewel, helping local Native American and Hispanic leaders persuade the U.S. Congress to designate the 45,000-acre Columbine Hondo Wilderness in 2014. This Wilderness is a very important watershed for the Rio Grande corridor and is a source of clean air for New Mexico.


Rivers & Birds was also the local organizer who united citizens and governments to support the designation of our 242,000-acre Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in 2013 which protects a quarter-million acres of stunning landscape along the Rio Grande gorge.

Photo of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument © Geraint Smith.

Photo of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument © Geraint Smith.

In 2019, we joined our conservation partners in celebrating Northern New Mexico’s most recent collaborative land protection success with the passage of the 13,420-acre Cerro del Yuta and 8,120-acre Rio San Antonio Wilderness Areas.

Photo of Ute Mountain Wilderness. “Ute Mountain Sunset” © Chris Dahl-Bredine.

Photo of Ute Mountain Wilderness. “Ute Mountain Sunset” © Chris Dahl-Bredine.

Thank you to everyone who helped make these a reality!

Despite public land protections being an essential part of preserving Northern New Mexico’s unique geology, wildlife, natural history, cultural heritage, and threatened watersheds, organizing efforts toward these goals are intensive and time-consuming. When it comes to Congressional land protections, community action that involves national, state and local supporters is key. Grassroots organizations like Rivers & Birds are invaluable for these efforts to be successful.

Congressman Luján as well as Senators Udall and Heinrich have all remarked that the coalition Rivers & Birds organized is unprecedented because it empowers Hispanics, Native Americans, and ranchers as leaders in these environmental land campaigns. The true heroes of Northern New Mexico’s land protections are Former Questa Mayor Esther Garcia, Taos Pueblo WarChief’s Office, David Arguello—president of the Arroyo Hondo Arriba Hispanic Land Grant Association—as well as Hispanic ranchers like Marty Torres, Herman Medina, Floyd Archuleta, Erminio Martinez, Epifanio Martinez, and Larry Martinez.

It has been an honor to work with this wonderful group and they are part of the Rivers & Birds family!


Rivers & Birds continues to identify and monitor public lands that have potential for the higher protections.

Also be sure to explore this interactive map that inventories all of the other wilderness areas in the United States: U.S. Wilderness Areas.