By Matthew Reichbach, New Mexico Telegram
President Barack Obama will name the Organ Mountains a national monument.
“By establishing the monument, the president will permanently protect more than 496,000 acres to preserve the prehistoric, historic and scientific values of the area for the benefit of all Americans,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said according to USA Today.
The White House says the designation will result in more than $7 million in economic activity in the area, which includes New Mexico’s second-largest city, Las Cruces.
U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich pushed for the designation, which will set aside nearly 500,000 acres.
The national monument is the largest national monumnet of Obama’s tenure.
“The president’s decision finally puts into motion a plan that began with the people of Southern New Mexico, who wanted to ensure these special places would continue to be available for local families and visitors to hike, hunt, and learn from the hundreds of significant historic sites throughout the area for generations to come,” Udall said in a statement. “I want to thank the thousands of New Mexicans who have worked tirelessly for many years to get us to this point. This monument is a reality because they spoke up and worked hard to get it done.”
“This is a very special moment for New Mexico and a major accomplishment for the community who has worked tirelessly for a decade to make the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument a reality,” Heinrich said. “An Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument will preserve important cultural links to our past and strengthen southern New Mexico’s economy by boosting tourism and recreational opportunities, like hunting, hiking, camping, and horseback riding.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, however, is not on board with the designation. He had introduced legislation that would have protected just under 55,000 acres which would have included the Organ Mountains and other areas.
Pearce called Obama’s decision a “land grab.”
“The President’s decision to section off one-fifth of Doña Ana County is misguided, and shows his contempt for the legislative branch,” Pearce said. “For years, I have worked to find a collaborative solution to permanently protect the Organ Mountains and promote true economic opportunity for my constituents. With this land grab, the President is once again going out of his way to derail any attempt to form a consensus, and do what local people want. Residents of Doña Ana County deserve the assurance that first responders and Border Patrol can protect the public, flood control structures will be maintained, ranchers will have their grazing rights, and hunters can have the access they’ve always enjoyed.”
Republicans have criticized the monument, saying it will harm border security.
The news of the designation was lauded by environmental groups that saw it as a major victory.
“This designation is a long time coming, and we are excited that Doña Ana County is finally going to be able to reap the economic benefits of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument,” Executive Director of the Las Cruces chapter of the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce Carrie Hamblen said. “I applaud President Obama for doing the right thing by making the public lands and the people of southern New Mexico a priority.”
“Protecting public lands like the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area is a win-win for us all,” said Camilla Feibelman, director of the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter. “It’s good for families and getting Americans outdoors, businesses and the benefits of increased tourism, and the simple and wonderful protection of an irreplaceable landscape.”
“This designation is great news for New Mexico,” Conservation Voters New Mexico Executive Director Demis Foster and League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said in a statement. “President Obama and Secretary Jewell’s leadership, together with that of Senators Heinrich and Udall, is a recognition of the broad local support for protecting the area’s spectacular natural beauty and its unique significance at the crossroads of New Mexican and American history.”