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The Rio Grande National Forest Plan Fails to Provide Adequate Protections for Wildlife

DENVER, CO — The National Wildlife Federation, along with its Colorado and New Mexico affiliates, Conejos Clean Water and nearly 5,000 concerned citizens, filed a formal objection to the final Rio Grande National Forest plan yesterday. The plan, which will guide land management decisions for the next two decades, fails to protect important wildlife corridors from oil and gas development and new road construction.

“Protecting the ability for wildlife to roam in the Upper Rio Grande watershed is critical to ensure that our elk, pronghorn, mule deer and Rio Grande cutthroat trout populations continue to survive and thrive,” said Jeremy Romero, regional connectivity coordinator at the National Wildlife Federation. “The Rio Grande’s draft plan included important protections for two special interest areas that are key for wildlife migration corridors and high quality habitat. Unfortunately, the final plan excluded these protections. We are seeking to fix that.”

Stretching from southern Colorado into northern New Mexico, the Upper Rio Grande is considered one of the best connected wildlife landscapes in the country, but in recent years, development has put pressure on these areas. The initial Rio Grande plan recognized the Spruce Hole area as the lynchpin to preserving migration pathways, because it connects with special management areas in New Mexico. The Chama Basin special interest area is equally important. Not only does it encompass the headwaters of the Río Chama --which is the drinking water source for the town of Chama—this area is rich in biological diversity. The Rio Grande’s final plan failed to endorse these protections. Elk, pronghorn and mule deer rely on these areas for migration, breeding and food sources as they travel across the landscape into New Mexico.

“Living with wildlife is part of who we are as Coloradans. Protecting these two areas not only supports wildlife but is key to preserving the economic health of nearby communities which depend on outdoor recreation,” said Anna Lee Vargas, director of project management and community outreach at Conejos Clean Water in Antonito, CO.

“Big game rely on the migration pathways in these two areas to survive. If the Rio Grande National Forest added back the protections that were in the draft plan, it would help this region become a model for the nation in how to balance the needs of wildlife, along with the needs of growing population and expanding development,” said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “Since the plan will be in effect for the next two decades, it’s essential to get these protections in place now."

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