Outdoor Initiative Increases Opportunities

Youth with Senator Udall

This spring President Obama created the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. This weekend leaders from the Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency met with New Mexicans in Albuquerque to learn about our views of this program. This is my viewpoint on this issue.

We should all increase our use of the world-class outdoors opportunities that exist here in New Mexico and the Santa Fe area. Many of these activities are free (or nearly so), provide great exercise, lets one experience natural beauty, and allows one to spend quality time with friends and family. Hiking in the Sangres in the summer is a great way to escape the summer heat. Visiting the many beautiful mountain meadows in spring and summer provide the opportunity to identify some of the more than 180 types of wildflowers in the upper Pecos region. Autumn hiking highlights include the colorful Aspen groves. Winter time brings snowshoeing opportunities in the higher regions. Local organizations can facilitate your outdoor interests. The local Sierra Club offers more than 150 free hikes each year in northern New Mexico. The Audubon Society can help you convert those little brown birds into real names. The Santa Fe Community College offers a wide variety of classes about the outdoors. They do everything from touring 500 year old rock art sites to cross country skiing.

The Federal government should provide new, expanded, and better protected public lands. First, pass legislation introduced by Senators Bingaman and Udall to move the Valles Caldera National Preserve to management by the National Park Service to insure long term protection of this unique area. Second, protect the Otero Mesa by making it a National Monument. This Chihuahuan Desert grassland is the largest grassland in the state. Third, permanently protect the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area by making it a Wilderness Area. This mountainous area just north of Taos, that includes Lobo Peak and Gold Hill, has some of the best view points in the state. Fourth, create a protected wilderness area in the San Juan Basin Badlands. You don’t need to go to Arizona or the Dakotas to find great badlands. Keep those tourist dollars here.

Increase opportunities for youth in the Great Outdoors. New Mexicans are facing a new kind of crisis: Nature Deficit Disorder. Many New Mexican youth have health problems like childhood obesity or diabetes. Diabetes rates in youth increased by 40% from 1990 to 2000. Recent studies indicate that youth spend more than 7 hours per day “plugged in”. We should define programs to productively engage youth in the outdoors, including investing in youth job corps programs that would provide much needed jobs and training. We should increase the number of safe and accessible green spaces.

Support local economies by investing in public lands. Outdoor recreation contributes $3.8 billion to the New Mexico economy every year. There are 47,000 jobs in this sector. Yet it could be a lot more. New Mexico has an incredible set of natural landscapes that could yield huge economic growth if managed properly and sustainably.

Manage all public lands to comprehend climate change. Climate change is the largest threat that we have to our state and to our natural lands and wildlife. Utilize sound science to make decisions to proactively protect these lands and wildlife. We will need good protected watersheds to avoid water supply disruption in the warming, dry west.

So, by utilizing our natural resources in a more proactive manner, we can enjoy the great outdoors ourselves, enhance our children’s future, improve the economy, and address climate change. - David Van Winkle