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MISSOULA, Mont. — Nearly 1,200 acres of vital elk winter range in northern New Mexico is now permanently protected and opened to public access. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation worked with the Bureau of Land Management and three families to make it happen. 

"This is a crucial swath of land and a key migration corridor for approximately 10,000 elk that move back and forth between New Mexico and Colorado," said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. "We recognize and greatly appreciate the Ortega, Santistevan and Thorne families for working with us to conserve this important landscape." 

The combined 1,188 acres from the four separate parcels were all in-holdings within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in the San Luis Valley, known as Mi Tierra Encantada (My Enchanted Lands). Locals refer to the area as the Taos Plateau that also falls within the Upper Rio Grande watershed. 

RMEF conveyed the lands to the BLM that now manages it. 

"The acquisition of these parcels will enhance the BLM's ability to protect fragile cultural, biological and scenic resources within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument," said Steve Wells, acting BLM New Mexico state director. "We are thrilled that through this effort and partnership with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the BLM is able to increase access to public lands for traditional and recreational activities such as fuelwood gathering, hunting, grazing and camping." 

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish’s 2020 State Action Plan highlighted the Taos Plateau as one of four critical areas statewide to conserve key big game migrations. In addition to elk, it is also home to mule deer, pronghorn antelope, black bear, mountain lion and a myriad of smaller mammal and bird species. 

The cultural significance of the area dates back 14,000 years, representing early Native American and Hispanic cultures. 

BLM utilized funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to complete the project. 

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