By Teresa Seamster, Chair, Northern New Mexico Group
More than 100 free-flowing rivers in northern New Mexico’s Carson National Forest are listed as Wild and Scenic. Criteria announced in a recently released Carson draft on river eligibility now threatens these vital waters with delisting to recreational or no protected status.
The Carson’s draft evaluation includes 61 river segments that were previously found eligible for designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, but that the Carson now considers non-eligible.
Carson National Forest Coalition members, including our group and chapter, are concerned that the Carson has improperly removed many of these rivers from the eligibility list. Specifically, the Carson used an impermissibly narrow criteria, “Outstandingly Remarkable Value,” for at least one value (recreation), and used an inappropriately large region, the entire Four Corners region, for comparison for several key values.
In a simple example: the former wild-river segments of Yerba, Gavilan and Long Canyons have all been deemed ineligible because the outstanding hiking, camping and opportunities for solitude, formerly included as eligible criteria, have been removed from the Carson’s current list of outstanding values.
After hiking these streams that flow into the Rio Hondo, commenters from Amigos Bravos, New Mexico Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club all agreed:
“The hikes along Yerba, Gavilan and Long Canyons provide some of the most spectacular scenic views in the area, and many hikers choose these hikes specifically because they occur along the river. People all over Taos County hike along these canyons in the fall for the views of golden aspen and peaks tinged with the first dusting of autumn snows. These three rivers provide outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, and riparian values. Ironically, while these rivers fall within Wilderness, which by definition is an area recognized by Congress for its solitude, all of these rivers fail to meet the “recreational value” as defined by the Carson to include “exceptional solitude.”
The traditional recreational uses of hiking, camping and hunting, which have been omitted by the Carson as recreational values, are not only the predominate recreational uses in northern New Mexico, but are also considered a way of life within local communities and are critical to attracting visitors and boosting the local and state economy.
The Carson’s new eligibility requirements places ultimate value on outstanding fishing, seasonal kayaking or rafting, and exceptional wildlife viewing and/or solitude. By comparison, the original designation handbook includes a much more open-ended list of recreational opportunities: “River-related recreational opportunities include, but are not limited to, sightseeing, interpretation, wildlife observation, camping, photography, hiking, fishing, hunting, and boating.”
Featured image: The Columbine River is beautiful and free-flowing but is now designated a “recreational” river due to its popular stream side campground and trailhead areas. Photo by Teresa Seamster.