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Monument Expansion

Rio Grande Del Norte Monument Expansion





RGDN Monument Op-Ed

By John Stump and Christine Canaly

September 17, 2016



 “Proposed Monument Upgrade Honors Unique Landscapes and Opportunities for Business Support”


The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (SLVEC) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the potential benefits of expanding the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument into Colorado on BLM lands just across the state border in Conejos County.  We acknowledge and have reviewed the research studies that have been conducted by the National Park Service, Headwaters Economics, BBC Research, and others to document the increased business activity and job growth in host communities which accompany an upgrade to higher protection and status of their surrounding public lands, including National Monuments.


In every case, these studies indicate that these prestigious upgrades give greater identity and attraction to the area, leading to increased visitor spending and opportunities for business expansion.


For example, the 2012 study by BBC Research & Consulting, gives a current-and-projected perspective of the monument benefits in neighboring Taos and Rio Arriba counties in New Mexico. The estimated total economic impact was projected to increase from $17.2 million to $32.2 million after designation --- a change of 86 percent --- and would add over 270 jobs to support the monument activities.


Impact studies typically include both direct spending from visitors outside the area, and the secondary or “ripple effect” of additional spending by local businesses and employees as they receive new sources of income.  A portion of this spending could also be captured to increase local government tax revenue.


SLVEC plans on doing additional work to bring these projections down to a county and valley scale, but whatever gains we find that the monument will bring would be an improvement to the present economic base.  Monument protection also keeps the BLM lands out of the hands of fossil fuel developers, and SLVEC does not expect the BLM stewards of the land to make extensive changes to traditional uses and sustainable grazing practices.  It’s fair to expect that existing businesses that currently exist in all aspects of the tourism industry such as the Cumbres & Toltec, resorts, restaurants, services, and real estate will do exceptionally well with the new wave of monument-attracted visitors.


Besides a much-needed boost to the economy and greater opportunity for a wider spectrum of the public to share in the benefits, the monument identity also brings attention to environmental treasures in the valley such as the Rio Grande Natural Area (RGNA).  Hidden from view and neglected from its deserved status as a unique riparian area for decades, the monument designation will give the RGNA its rightful place for funding among the family of San Luis Valley protected lands and the National Conservation Lands system. The addition of the Expansion proposal to America’s newest collection of protected public lands and waterways will stand alongside our national parks and wildlife refuges as guardians of America’s heritage and drivers of the nation’s $646 billion outdoor recreation economy.


Support for the notion that the ecosystems of the proposed monument landscapes may themselves offer extreme value to the county, region, state, and nation was recently brought to SLVEC’s attention, and lends credence to this concept.  Based on research conducted in North Carolina forests, a system was developed to assign monetary values to various ecosystem services such as food, water supply and regulation, carbon sequestration and climate stability, soil retention, recreation, and other life-enhancing services supplied by the land itself.


Researchers in this case discovered that the value of the region’s natural systems ranged from 40-50 percent of total personal income for the region.  The study also mentions work by Costanza in 1997 who estimated that the world’s ecosystems produce about three times as much each year as do the world’s economies.

Anyone interested in discussing any of the studies further that are mentioned in this article in more depth may contact us at 719-589-1518, or email inquiries to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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Conejos Clean Water Launches Efforts to Expand the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument into the San Luis Valley with this new Video (1-07-16)


Click to View the Video



The Río Grande del Norte National Monument

Expansion Project in Southern Colorado:

Protecting the headwaters of the Rio Grande

In March 2013, President Barack Obama, using executive authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act, designated 242,555 acres in Taos, New Mexico, as a National Monument. This area now known as the Río Grande del Norte National Monument (RGDN) in northern New Mexico’s Taos County has seen a steady increase of visitation and lodger’s tax income since the creation of the Monument. As a result, the land, its rich Hispanic and Native American culture, traditional heritage, and wildlife habitat are protected and preserved for all future generations.

The south end of the monument begins in Pilar, New Mexico and extends northward to the Colorado and New Mexico border. Coloradans believe this designation should be expanded to include a portion of the San Luis Valley. The current proposal is part of the homeland of former Department of Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar. 

Community leaders, business owners, Native Americans, ranchers, teachers and archaeologists of Conejos County stand united and believe that 62,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management land in the San Luis Valley should be included as an extension of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. Visit  to support community efforts, learn additional details and find ways to help.

 A broad and diverse group of community members in the San Luis Valley have been pushing for the same type of economic opportunities, protection of heritage, and precious resources that is  offered the State of New Mexico through the RGDN National Monument;

Similar to the efforts in Taos County, many residents want to ensure that the values locals have come to enjoy will continue to be allowed, such as traditional community rights, water rights, livestock grazing, access to piñon and herb gathering, and recreational access to hunting and fishing.  However, this special place would be added to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) National Conservation Lands and managed for multiple use. The National Conservation Lands are America’s newest collection of protected public lands and waterways that stand alongside our national parks and wildlife refuges as guardians of America’s heritage and drivers of the nation’s $646 billion outdoor recreation economy. The RGDN Expansion would contain some of the most ecologically rich and culturally significant lands managed by the BLM.

Among the items that have been identified in the 2013 Presidential Proclamation of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico have been protection of its archeological resources including: cultural, prehistoric and historic legacies; preservation of ecological diversity: including the area as being a major flyway for migratory birds and raptors, as well as the abundance of small and large mammals. Also identified is the protection of the landscape’s objects of value such as the preservation of traditional uses, historical artifacts and its breathtaking view-sheds.

Currently Conejos County faces economic challenges and uncertainty that could threaten the quality of life for so many in the Valley. Oil and gas development has exploded in the Four Corners region in recent decades and communities such as Taos and Conejos County are not immune to this development. Protecting the cultural and geographical landscape that crosses state boundaries ensures our heritage remains preserved for future generations and for all Americans to experience. National Monument designation would protect our river, backyards, and favorite places to play from the continued threat of exploitative and extractive industries.

Four Solar Energy Zones (16,309 acres) have been identified adjacent to the proposed monument with the largest zone (10,000 acres) located on the New Mexico / Colorado border just outside of Antonito, CO.  Currently there has been no development of these areas that threatens the surrounding landscape.  The Solar Zones were identified in 2012 and currently have a 20-year lease.

“I believe it’s important for our legacy and our lands and water in southern Colorado to be protected. I want the land here to remain the same for our future generations. I want my little girl, her kids and my great-grandkids to experience it. I want it pristine. When you go there, you go back in time. Indigenous people were here hundreds of years ago. It pulls at your heartstrings, and is truly a phenomenal place. There are not many places on this earth that make you feel this way,” said Anna Vargas, a coalition member working to expand the Río Grande del Norte National Monument.

Coming Soon

More information coming soon!