June 20, 2002



Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 2576, a bill to authorize the establishment of the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area in New Mexico.


The Department recognizes the appropriateness of designating the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area, as it has the characteristics necessary to be established as a national heritage area and the potential to meet the expectations of the National Park Service’s National Heritage Area Program.  We recommend, however, that the committee defer action on S. 2576 during the remainder of the 107th Congress.  The Department has reviewed our progress on the President’s Initiative to eliminate the deferred maintenance backlog, and it is clear that we need to continue to focus our resources on caring for existing areas in the National Park System.  While the designation of the heritage area will not result in additional acquisition or capital costs, the authorization provides for technical and grant assistance costs.  Under this Act, total appropriations of $10 million are authorized through the fiscal year 2017, of which not more than $1,000,000 may be appropriated for any fiscal year.  The Federal share of the costs for any activity funded under this Act shall not exceed 50 percent. 


S. 2576 would establish the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area in Santa Fe County, Rio Arriba County, and Taos County in New Mexico.  The bill designates the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area, Inc. a non-profit corporation chartered in the State of New Mexico, as the management entity for the heritage area.  The management entity would be made up of representatives from Santa Fe County, Rio Arriba County, and Taos County, New Mexico, and Native American Tribes participating in the heritage area.  The bill also authorizes the development of a management plan for the heritage area.  If the plan is not submitted within three years, the heritage area becomes ineligible for federal funding until a plan is submitted to the Secretary.  Additionally, S. 2576 outlines the duties of the management entity and prohibits the use of federal funds to acquire real property or interests in real property. At the request of the management entity, the Secretary would be authorized to provide technical and financial assistance to develop and implement the management plan. 


The creation of the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area would encompass the long history of the cultural mosaic developed by Native American occupation, early Spanish settlement, Mexican Period settlement, mining, ranching, and other pioneer settlements, and the continuing influence of people of Hispanic, Anglo-American, and Native American descent.  The area demonstrates the antiquity of native cultures as well as the genealogical longevity of the descendants of Spanish ancestors who settled in the area in 1598. The combination of cultures, languages, folk arts, customs, and architecture make northern New Mexico unique within our national culture and history. 


The National Park Service has defined a National Heritage Area as a place where natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources combine to form a nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity.  Heritage conservation efforts are grounded in a community's pride and interest in its history and traditions.  Preserving the integrity of the cultural landscape and local stories means that future generations will be able to understand and define who they are, where they come from, and what ties them to their home.  Thus, through the designation of the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area, these peoples will be better able to understand their rich and complex heritage as well as share it with the many visitors to northern New Mexico.


On a natural scale, the heritage area would provide a new partnership for management and protection of long natural vistas, isolated high desert valleys, mountain ranges and among the best air, water and night sky qualities found in the United States.  Few roadways interrupt the ridges and range topography. A variety of flora and fauna are often present. Aside from its spectacular natural and scenic vistas, the area includes outstanding recreational resources. 


As we have previously testified, there are several steps the National Park Service believes should be taken prior to Congress designating a national heritage area to help ensure that the heritage area is successful.


 The steps are:

1. completion of a suitability/feasibility study;

2. public involvement in the suitability/feasibility study;

3. demonstration of widespread public support among heritage area residents for the proposed designation; and

4. commitment to the proposal from the appropriate players which may include governments, industry, and private, non-profit organizations, in addition to the local citizenry.


We believe that studies that have been completed or are underway meet the intent of these criterions.  The proposed establishment is based on many years of work conducted by various local community organizations in New Mexico.  One such study by the National Park Service, Alternative Concepts for Commemorating Spanish Colonization (1991), identified several alternatives consistent with the establishment of a National Heritage Area, including coordination with supporting historical research programs, such as the NPS Intermountain Spanish Colonial Research Center in Albuquerque, and NPS archeological research programs in Santa Fe. This report and other related reports such as, The Camino Real de Tierra Adentro Feasibility Study (1997), conducted in New Mexico have included input from organizations, agencies, tribal representatives, a cross-section of citizens in the region, and potential partners who would be involved in the creation and management of a National Heritage Area.  This activity is consistent with Secretary Norton’s  “4-Cs” effort, demonstrating the benefits of consultation, communication and coordination in the service of conservation.


A number of Federal agencies, including prominently the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service are major land managers within the area covered by this legislation.  For example, the BLM manages over a half million acres of Federal land within the proposed Heritage Area including important cultural, prehistoric, and historic sites as well as several
Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs).  We believe that the legislation should allow for the participation of all Federal partners, along with state, tribal and local partners, in the Heritage Area.


Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks.  I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may have.