This piece originally appeared as an op-ed in The Albuquerque Journal on September 1, 2019.
By HECHO National Advisory Board Member Rock Ulibarri — 09/01/2019 12:02 AM MDT
For the past seven generations, my family has lived and cultivated the land on our property in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, with ancestors that were among the first to settle Las Vegas, New Mexico. With our back fence bordering a national forest, we are rarely indoors. Like many New Mexicans, my family enjoys the nature that surrounds us. We are avid anglers, campers, hikers and hunters.
From the get-go, my grandparents, great grandparents and beyond have been self-sustaining. They grew vegetables and fruit seasonally, and then canned it for the winter, as well as hunting for meat during the cold season. We have relied on wildlife steadily since we settled, it has been integral to our lifestyles, and is at the core of our culture and identity.
My deep connection and cultural tie to the land is what strongly impacts my drive to protect it, and the wildlife that migrate to continue to thrive. However, their migration is often impeded by the urbanization of our state, and their routes have become segmented by roadways, or fences that can also jeopardize drivers. As a proud New Mexican, I support Wildlife Connectivity Corridors that allow species to migrate safely in their search for food and that contributes to the preservation of wildlife.
Back in December of 2018, Senator Tom Udall and Representative Don Beyer introduced the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act of 2018 that would serve to protect wildlife that are at risk of species decline, habitat loss and even extinction. In the act, a National Wildlife Corridors Program is designated to allow wildlife to move freely across habitats. To support the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act, we must start at the local level, and safeguard the Wildlife Connectivity Corridors that have been both planned and completed in the Upper Rio Grande Basin.
As a National Advisory Board Member of HECHO (Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors), I have attended and shared public comment in support of the protection of Wildlife Migration Corridors in various counties. In each county, I have witnessed the overwhelming support from members of the community and county commissioners who also believe in the preservation of our cultural traditions and our connection to the land. Resolutions have since been approved by Rio Arriba County, Santa Fe County, San Miguel County, Pecos, Española and Taos. The resolutions support the protection of Wildlife Corridors in the Upper Rio Grande Basin, while also urging Congress to support the pending legislation that would protect corridors nationally.
As an avid outdoorsman myself, I know that corridors serve to protect wildlife that my ancestors have hunted for generations. Corridors mean that species can continue to migrate safely, allowing future generations to be able to practice age-old traditions, as well. For centuries, we have shared the land with wildlife and respected their ancient migration patterns. We must continue to do so in order to remain connected to our ancestors and to be able to continue to practice centuries-old cultural traditions that depend on open spaces.
Rock Ulibarri, of Montezuma, is a former San Miguel County commissioner and former educator.