By Rock Ulibarri, San Miguel County Commissioner and HECHO Advisory Board Chair.
I recently had the honor to speak at an event celebrating the recent opening and expansion of the Sabinoso Wilderness Area to the public. This was the result of years of hard work among Latino public lands advocates, sportsmen and other northern New Mexico stakeholders.
In a time when we are seeing pressure from DC to shrink national monuments and other protected lands, it’s great to be a part of an effort to actually expand protected public lands.
I have been an advocate and active user of our public lands my entire life. My family’s connection to the land of Northern New Mexico goes back generations and we have been stewards of this land for well over 100 years. I firmly believe that public lands are key to our heritage and increasing public access will only help strengthen that bond between the people and the land.
We were able to succeed in creating public access and expanding the Sabinoso Wilderness area through the hard work of New Mexicans from all political stripes and generous donations to secure the property to provide access. Normally we would look at using the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to help us secure the access but unfortunately we weren’t able to use LWCF this time around, even though this project would have been a perfect candidate. There is still a chance that we could use LWCF to continue to expand access to the Sabinoso Wilderness Area and I hope all the stakeholders continue to work together to make that happen.
For half a century now, the LWCF has played a key role in protecting not just land and water, but our country’s dynamic, multicultural past. Through the fund we have been able to protect places that help tell the story of Hispanic Americans. With it we have been able to protect national parks, Latino Heritage sites and recreation areas from California to New York that celebrate the history of Mexican and Spanish settlers. Now we have been able to use the LWCF to not only provide access to the Sabinoso Wilderness Area, but also expand it.
The LWCF is up for renewal this year and it’s not clear whether this administration places the proper value on this important program. Public lands are so important to me and my family and I believe that it’s very important to be strong stewards of the lands so that we can hand down the land, the traditions and the history to our children and grandchildren. Which is why I hope that the LWCF is renewed this year and for many years to come.