Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument. Image: Nick Streit

Straight From A New Mexico Sportsman: Politicians Wrong on National Monuments

By Nick Streit

When I was 7 years old my Dad drove me to the top of Pot Mountain. Cerro de la Olla as it’s referenced in maps, and still by some locals. The road is closed now, and should have been closed then. We climbed from the sagebrush flats of the Taos Plateau, up about 2000 feet through Pinon and Juniper, over countless Basalt rocks, to finally reach our destination in the open meadows of the summit of this old volcano. We slept in the back of the Chevy Blazer that night. In the pitch black, I remember waking up to the sounds of Owl talons on the roof. The next morning we scouted for Elk. My dad taught me how to step on the flat rocks and not the crunchy grass. And to keep the wind in our face as we approached a herd of about 40 cows. I remember getting within 50 yards before they busted us. I could not believe the racket that a herd of spooked elk make as they run through thick timber.

A few years ago, I had an archery tag in Unit 50. Unit 50 is now almost completely within the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument. The road my dad took me up has been closed for some time now, so I figured there must be a deer under every tree up top for those willing to make the hike. So I camped at the base of Pot Mountain and took off uphill the next day. At the summit, where I had been awakened by that owl so many years ago, I surveyed a water tank for deer tracks. After a 3 hour hike I was disheartened to see no deer tracks, but a big lion track instead. I walked a ways further and found another watering hole. I setup a small ground blind and waited. That evening, 4 separate bull elk walked into that waterhole. I spent 2 hours silently watching them play, bark, and fight at no more than 30 yards. I didn’t take a shot, not because I was caught in the moment, or the beauty of the Elk as they locked horns at 18 yards, but because the tag in back pocket said “deer” instead of “elk.” It’s a cruel world.

But alas, I would have my vengeance! 3 weeks later I was headed back to the Rio Grande Del Nortre with a tag that said “elk” and a .270. I’ll bet you can guess the first place I hiked to…

I’d like to say filling my tag that year was that easy. But this is a public land Elk tag we are talking about. The “wild Kingdom” watering hole was now well covered by multiple “Bubbas” and there was not an elk in sight. So I hunted my butt off for the next three days and finally caught up to one of the bulls I had seen. I shot him around 9 am. Of course, I immediately sent some pics of the 6x6 to my dad and other hunting buddies. Shortly after I received one of the coolest phone calls of my life… but first, a little backstory.

National monuments provide world-class hunting and fishing in New Mexico, and across the country. Image: Nick Streit
“When talk of National Monument designation was first brought up, we were somewhat nervous. Forget the hunting, I need to make a living taking people fishing down there! Of course we wanted to see it protected, but we couldn’t imagine not being able to hunt and fish…
As we fished that day, the Senator explained that by designating the area a National Monument, the goal was not only to protect the land from future development, but also to ensure the safety of traditional uses like hunting and fishing.”

I had the pleasure of meeting the Senator Martin Hienrich on multiple occasions. Most memorably on a fishing trip into the Rio Grande Gorge. My family owns and operates a fly fishing guide service and fly shop in Taos. Our prized honey hole is the Rio Grande. When talk of National Monument designation was first brought up, we were somewhat nervous. Forget the hunting, I need to make a living taking people fishing down there! Of course we wanted to see it protected, but we couldn’t imagine not being able to hunt and fish. As we fished that day, the Senator explained that by designating the area a National Monument, the goal was not only to protect the land from future development, but also to ensure the safety of traditional uses like hunting and fishing.

Many New Mexicans rely on the Rio Grande del Norte. Whether is fishing guides like me, rafting guides or kayak instructors, the river provides jobs for a small local economy. In addition local folks use this area to hunt and fish, providing sustenance for the dinner table and cut firewood, to heat their adobe home.

Fast forward.

You can take action to make sure habitat protections remain for lands and waters at risk. mage: Nick Streit

I’m standing on a ridge inside the newly designated National Monument with the biggest bull elk of my life at my feet. My phone rings. It’s Senator Heinrich. He had seen the picture of the elk I had sent to a mutual friend and he called to congratulate me. After I hung up, I took a moment to look around at the scene below me.

The Rio Grande cuts a gorge deep through the middle of the Taos Valley. In the distance, to the east, the Sangre De Christo Mountains shoot straight up into the sky. They barricade us from the Great Plains, from dust bowls and feed lots. Big cities and oil fields. From Washington D.C. Unfortunately, the mighty hand of the federal government can reach right over those majestic peaks and into my back yard. And while some politicians like Martin Heinrich have worked hard to protect our public land heritage, others have worked just as hard to destroy it.

Politicians from other states who have never laid a foot in the Rio Grande del Norte will say it shouldn’t be a National Monument. They will say its better off in state control, under which it can be sold or traded. They will even try to say that your rights as a sportsman will be compromised in National Monuments like Rio Grande del Norte.

They are wrong.

It’s #MadeInAmerica Week Remind the Administration that our Public Lands and National Monuments Were also Made In America and Can’t be Outsourced.

Nick Streit runs Taos Fly Shop, and was on the U.S. Junior Fly fishing team that placed second in the world competition of 1998.

From the NWF Sportsmen Team: Stay up to date on the issues most important to sportsmen and women. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and sign up for our National Wildlife Federation Sportsmen Newsletter