2014

  • By Mónica Ortiz Uribe for Fronteras
    January 10, 2014

    Southern New Mexicans are caught in a debate over preserving a stretch of borderland as a national monument. The state’s two Senators and a Representative are pushing separate bills that set different boundaries for the monument. One of the issues at stake is border security.

    The land that stretches south from Interstate 10 outside the city of Las Cruces is a desolate expanse of desert that from a distance looks unremarkable. But those who know the land also know its hidden treasures.

    “It seems every time we come we find either a new petroglyph or a new ceramic tide or a cool new arrowhead,” said Angel Peña, a graduate student at New Mexico State University. 

    On a recent afternoon Peña prances across a mini rock mountain known as Providence Cone. He comes here often to do research for his master’s thesis, a study of the ancient pottery typical of this region.

    Providence Cone is littered with chiseled images of lizards, snakes and four-legged fish. It was the site of a settlement dating back some 1,400 years. 

    “In the morning right when the sun isn’t directly over here, these petroglyphs shine like they’re brand new, like they were carved yesterday,” Peña said.

    This site is within the boundaries of a proposed national monument that would be called Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. It would include four separate chunks of land within Doña Ana County that together total 500,000 acres. Part of the land reaches down to the Mexican border. The details are outlined in a bill co-sponsored by Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich.

    “You have these incredible landscapes and mountains…that have some really important wildlife habitat for southern New Mexico as well as a cultural tapestry, a story of who we are as a country,” said Heinrich.

    The most identifiable landmark is the craggy Organ Mountain range, which towers above the city of Las Cruces like the pipes of its namesake instrument. West of those mountains, across the Rio Grande River, are sections of land that travel across time. There are volcanic craters and ancient animal tracks. There are battle scars from Apache raids and World War II aerial target sites.

    “One of the great things about New Mexico is we have this incredible history of conservation,” Heinrich said. “We have 68,000 New Mexico jobs that are directly tied to public lands, from outfitter guides to jobs in tourism and many other facets.”

    But those jobs mean little to local rancher Dudley Williams. He lives within the proposed monument boundaries north of the border where he leases federal land for his cattle. When he first moved to New Mexico, he was blunt with his real estate agent. 

    “I said, ‘I don’t want any rivers, I don’t want any trees and I don’t want any scenic boulders. I want cattle grazing land,'” Williams said.

    Over the years Williams said he’s seen evidence of illegal smuggling on his land, including bundles of drugs. He fears a national monument designation would attract more illicit traffic.

    “I don’t go out of the house without a pistol, even to go over to feed the horses or walk the dog,” he said.

    Even so, U.S. Border Patrol statistics show that in recent years New Mexico has among the lowest apprehension rates in the southern border.

    But that’s of no comfort to local law enforcement. They fear national monument status may reduce their access to the area.

    “The types of crimes that we’ve see were homicide victims to stolen vehicles, narcotics smuggling, human smuggling, weapons smuggling,” said Capt. Manion Long of the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Department. “Our concern is if we’re not allowed to provide that basic type of patrol then these instances will become more frequent.”

    As written, the Senate bill specifically states law enforcement will have access inside the monument, even within designated wilderness areas. But Long remains wary of those promises. The sheriff’s department supports an alternative bill filed by New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce which excludes borderlands from the proposed monument.

    Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, in neighboring Arizona, is an existing park located along the Mexican border. Parts of it are closed due to the amount of illegal traffic that comes through. Visitors can still request to tour the closed sections, but must be accompanied by law enforcement.

    Sue Walter, public information officer at the park, said both Border Patrol and local law enforcement have full access to the monument land.

    “There have been no negative encounters between visitors and the illegal traffic,” she said. “We are slowly opening the closed sections back up again.”

    Back in Las Cruces, at a local coffee shop, engineer David Soules sat sipping his favorite brew. He’s been a lifelong hiker and hunter in Southern New Mexico and supports including the borderlands in a national monument proposal. He said it’s area rich with wildlife and history.

    “When I joined the Boy Scouts, the first camping that I did was in these areas,” Soules said. “Now I’ll do some star gazing and take a telescope and maybe see the moons of Jupiter the rings of Saturn.”

    Soules said the beauty and character of the Southwest is inextricably tied to these wide open spaces.

  • By Mónica Ortiz Uribe for Fronteras
    January 10, 2014

    Southern New Mexicans are caught in a debate over preserving a stretch of borderland as a national monument. The state’s two Senators and a Representative are pushing separate bills that set different boundaries for the monument. One of the issues at stake is border security.

    The land that stretches south from Interstate 10 outside the city of Las Cruces is a desolate expanse of desert that from a distance looks unremarkable. But those who know the land also know its hidden treasures.

    “It seems every time we come we find either a new petroglyph or a new ceramic tide or a cool new arrowhead,” said Angel Peña, a graduate student at New Mexico State University. 

    On a recent afternoon Peña prances across a mini rock mountain known as Providence Cone. He comes here often to do research for his master’s thesis, a study of the ancient pottery typical of this region.

    Providence Cone is littered with chiseled images of lizards, snakes and four-legged fish. It was the site of a settlement dating back some 1,400 years. 

    “In the morning right when the sun isn’t directly over here, these petroglyphs shine like they’re brand new, like they were carved yesterday,” Peña said.

    This site is within the boundaries of a proposed national monument that would be called Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. It would include four separate chunks of land within Doña Ana County that together total 500,000 acres. Part of the land reaches down to the Mexican border. The details are outlined in a bill co-sponsored by Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich.

    “You have these incredible landscapes and mountains…that have some really important wildlife habitat for southern New Mexico as well as a cultural tapestry, a story of who we are as a country,” said Heinrich.

    The most identifiable landmark is the craggy Organ Mountain range, which towers above the city of Las Cruces like the pipes of its namesake instrument. West of those mountains, across the Rio Grande River, are sections of land that travel across time. There are volcanic craters and ancient animal tracks. There are battle scars from Apache raids and World War II aerial target sites.

    “One of the great things about New Mexico is we have this incredible history of conservation,” Heinrich said. “We have 68,000 New Mexico jobs that are directly tied to public lands, from outfitter guides to jobs in tourism and many other facets.”

    But those jobs mean little to local rancher Dudley Williams. He lives within the proposed monument boundaries north of the border where he leases federal land for his cattle. When he first moved to New Mexico, he was blunt with his real estate agent. 

    “I said, ‘I don’t want any rivers, I don’t want any trees and I don’t want any scenic boulders. I want cattle grazing land,'” Williams said.

    Over the years Williams said he’s seen evidence of illegal smuggling on his land, including bundles of drugs. He fears a national monument designation would attract more illicit traffic.

    “I don’t go out of the house without a pistol, even to go over to feed the horses or walk the dog,” he said.

    Even so, U.S. Border Patrol statistics show that in recent years New Mexico has among the lowest apprehension rates in the southern border.

    But that’s of no comfort to local law enforcement. They fear national monument status may reduce their access to the area.

    “The types of crimes that we’ve see were homicide victims to stolen vehicles, narcotics smuggling, human smuggling, weapons smuggling,” said Capt. Manion Long of the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Department. “Our concern is if we’re not allowed to provide that basic type of patrol then these instances will become more frequent.”

    As written, the Senate bill specifically states law enforcement will have access inside the monument, even within designated wilderness areas. But Long remains wary of those promises. The sheriff’s department supports an alternative bill filed by New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce which excludes borderlands from the proposed monument.

    Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, in neighboring Arizona, is an existing park located along the Mexican border. Parts of it are closed due to the amount of illegal traffic that comes through. Visitors can still request to tour the closed sections, but must be accompanied by law enforcement.

    Sue Walter, public information officer at the park, said both Border Patrol and local law enforcement have full access to the monument land.

    “There have been no negative encounters between visitors and the illegal traffic,” she said. “We are slowly opening the closed sections back up again.”

    Back in Las Cruces, at a local coffee shop, engineer David Soules sat sipping his favorite brew. He’s been a lifelong hiker and hunter in Southern New Mexico and supports including the borderlands in a national monument proposal. He said it’s area rich with wildlife and history.

    “When I joined the Boy Scouts, the first camping that I did was in these areas,” Soules said. “Now I’ll do some star gazing and take a telescope and maybe see the moons of Jupiter the rings of Saturn.”

    Soules said the beauty and character of the Southwest is inextricably tied to these wide open spaces.

  • By Laura Parker, National Geographic

    President Barack Obama created a new national monument on Wednesday, setting aside a half-million acres of federal land in southern New Mexico where Geronimo once roamed.

    The Organ Mountain-Desert Peak region, which lies between El Paso, Texas, and Las Cruces, New Mexico, is the second national monument the president has designated this year. At 500,000 acres, it is the 11th of his presidency and the largest.

    In March, Obama added 1,600 acres to the California Coastal National Monument to include the Point Arena-Stornetta region 129 miles north of San Francisco.

    “Anyone who has ever seen the Organ Mountains that overlook Las Cruces will tell you they are a spectacular site,” Obama said at a White House ceremony.

    Half of the new monument is designated as wilderness, closing it to cars and development such as mining. As the new monument occupies land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, the agency will continue to oversee it.
    Map of the 11 national monuments Obama has proclaimed.

    Roosevelt’s Legacy

    Obama has created his new national monuments using the 1906 Antiquities Act, authored by President Theodore Roosevelt, which protects cultural and scientific resources on federal land. All presidents except Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush have used the act to set aside sites such as the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, and the Grand Tetons, according to an Interior Department spokesperson.

    The establishment of newly protected federal land was hailed by environmentalists such as the Wilderness Society, but opposed by western Republican lawmakers who have long characterized such designations as “seizures” to lock up federal land, placing it out of reach of development.

    Last month, for example, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted along party lines to limit the president’s power to establish national monuments. The bill is not expected to come to a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

    Obama chided his congressional opponents by noting that he has preserved more than three million acres of public lands. “And I’m not finished,” he said. “I’m searching for more opportunities to preserve federal lands where communities are speaking up. Because wherever I get an opening to get things done for the American people, I’m going to take it.”

    Mountain Hideout

    The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks monument encompasses five mountain ranges with spire-like peaks that resemble the pipes of an organ. The region has some 243 known archeological sites, including some of the earliest known Native American villages, as well as ancient petroglyphs drawn by three Native American tribes.

    Apache warrior Geronimo and Billy the Kid, the 19th-century frontier outlaw, both used the mountains as hideouts, and Apollo astronauts trained on its rugged terrain. Pronghorn, mule deer, golden eagles, great-horned owls, and many other species make their homes in the mountains.

    The monument was supported by New Mexico’s U.S. senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both Democrats. But U.S. Representative Steve Pearce, a New Mexico Republican whose district includes part of the monument, introduced legislation last year to limit the size of the monument to 54,800 acres instead of 500,000 acres.

    Dona Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison told the Las Cruces Sun-News last month that the new status would prevent his deputies from having access to the land and inhibit their ability to patrol the area.

    In an effort to neutralize opposition to the park, the website for the new Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument includes statements of support from local business leaders and a 2013 report prepared by the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce that concludes the nation monument would contribute more than $7.4 million to the local economy, produce $560,000 in new taxes, and double the number of tourism and outdoor recreation jobs in the region.

    U.S. Representative Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah, has long campaigned against the creation of new national monuments and opposes several under consideration for Utah. In a letter to Obama, Bishop suggested that national monuments near the border provide cover for drug smugglers and human traffickers and “hamper the U.S. Border Patrol’s ability to conduct routine patrols and apprehensions.”

    The U.S. Customs and Border Protection disputed that claim, saying the monument would “in no way limit” the agency’s ability to patrol the border.

  • By Laura Parker, National Geographic

    President Barack Obama created a new national monument on Wednesday, setting aside a half-million acres of federal land in southern New Mexico where Geronimo once roamed.

    The Organ Mountain-Desert Peak region, which lies between El Paso, Texas, and Las Cruces, New Mexico, is the second national monument the president has designated this year. At 500,000 acres, it is the 11th of his presidency and the largest.

    In March, Obama added 1,600 acres to the California Coastal National Monument to include the Point Arena-Stornetta region 129 miles north of San Francisco.

    “Anyone who has ever seen the Organ Mountains that overlook Las Cruces will tell you they are a spectacular site,” Obama said at a White House ceremony.

    Half of the new monument is designated as wilderness, closing it to cars and development such as mining. As the new monument occupies land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, the agency will continue to oversee it.
    Map of the 11 national monuments Obama has proclaimed.

    Roosevelt’s Legacy

    Obama has created his new national monuments using the 1906 Antiquities Act, authored by President Theodore Roosevelt, which protects cultural and scientific resources on federal land. All presidents except Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush have used the act to set aside sites such as the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, and the Grand Tetons, according to an Interior Department spokesperson.

    The establishment of newly protected federal land was hailed by environmentalists such as the Wilderness Society, but opposed by western Republican lawmakers who have long characterized such designations as “seizures” to lock up federal land, placing it out of reach of development.

    Last month, for example, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted along party lines to limit the president’s power to establish national monuments. The bill is not expected to come to a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

    Obama chided his congressional opponents by noting that he has preserved more than three million acres of public lands. “And I’m not finished,” he said. “I’m searching for more opportunities to preserve federal lands where communities are speaking up. Because wherever I get an opening to get things done for the American people, I’m going to take it.”

    Mountain Hideout

    The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks monument encompasses five mountain ranges with spire-like peaks that resemble the pipes of an organ. The region has some 243 known archeological sites, including some of the earliest known Native American villages, as well as ancient petroglyphs drawn by three Native American tribes.

    Apache warrior Geronimo and Billy the Kid, the 19th-century frontier outlaw, both used the mountains as hideouts, and Apollo astronauts trained on its rugged terrain. Pronghorn, mule deer, golden eagles, great-horned owls, and many other species make their homes in the mountains.

    The monument was supported by New Mexico’s U.S. senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both Democrats. But U.S. Representative Steve Pearce, a New Mexico Republican whose district includes part of the monument, introduced legislation last year to limit the size of the monument to 54,800 acres instead of 500,000 acres.

    Dona Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison told the Las Cruces Sun-News last month that the new status would prevent his deputies from having access to the land and inhibit their ability to patrol the area.

    In an effort to neutralize opposition to the park, the website for the new Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument includes statements of support from local business leaders and a 2013 report prepared by the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce that concludes the nation monument would contribute more than $7.4 million to the local economy, produce $560,000 in new taxes, and double the number of tourism and outdoor recreation jobs in the region.

    U.S. Representative Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah, has long campaigned against the creation of new national monuments and opposes several under consideration for Utah. In a letter to Obama, Bishop suggested that national monuments near the border provide cover for drug smugglers and human traffickers and “hamper the U.S. Border Patrol’s ability to conduct routine patrols and apprehensions.”

    The U.S. Customs and Border Protection disputed that claim, saying the monument would “in no way limit” the agency’s ability to patrol the border.

  • By Laura Parker, National Geographic

    President Barack Obama created a new national monument on Wednesday, setting aside a half-million acres of federal land in southern New Mexico where Geronimo once roamed.

    The Organ Mountain-Desert Peak region, which lies between El Paso, Texas, and Las Cruces, New Mexico, is the second national monument the president has designated this year. At 500,000 acres, it is the 11th of his presidency and the largest.

    In March, Obama added 1,600 acres to the California Coastal National Monument to include the Point Arena-Stornetta region 129 miles north of San Francisco.

    “Anyone who has ever seen the Organ Mountains that overlook Las Cruces will tell you they are a spectacular site,” Obama said at a White House ceremony.

    Half of the new monument is designated as wilderness, closing it to cars and development such as mining. As the new monument occupies land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, the agency will continue to oversee it.
    Map of the 11 national monuments Obama has proclaimed.

    Roosevelt’s Legacy

    Obama has created his new national monuments using the 1906 Antiquities Act, authored by President Theodore Roosevelt, which protects cultural and scientific resources on federal land. All presidents except Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush have used the act to set aside sites such as the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, and the Grand Tetons, according to an Interior Department spokesperson.

    The establishment of newly protected federal land was hailed by environmentalists such as the Wilderness Society, but opposed by western Republican lawmakers who have long characterized such designations as “seizures” to lock up federal land, placing it out of reach of development.

    Last month, for example, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted along party lines to limit the president’s power to establish national monuments. The bill is not expected to come to a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

    Obama chided his congressional opponents by noting that he has preserved more than three million acres of public lands. “And I’m not finished,” he said. “I’m searching for more opportunities to preserve federal lands where communities are speaking up. Because wherever I get an opening to get things done for the American people, I’m going to take it.”

    Mountain Hideout

    The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks monument encompasses five mountain ranges with spire-like peaks that resemble the pipes of an organ. The region has some 243 known archeological sites, including some of the earliest known Native American villages, as well as ancient petroglyphs drawn by three Native American tribes.

    Apache warrior Geronimo and Billy the Kid, the 19th-century frontier outlaw, both used the mountains as hideouts, and Apollo astronauts trained on its rugged terrain. Pronghorn, mule deer, golden eagles, great-horned owls, and many other species make their homes in the mountains.

    The monument was supported by New Mexico’s U.S. senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both Democrats. But U.S. Representative Steve Pearce, a New Mexico Republican whose district includes part of the monument, introduced legislation last year to limit the size of the monument to 54,800 acres instead of 500,000 acres.

    Dona Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison told the Las Cruces Sun-News last month that the new status would prevent his deputies from having access to the land and inhibit their ability to patrol the area.

    In an effort to neutralize opposition to the park, the website for the new Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument includes statements of support from local business leaders and a 2013 report prepared by the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce that concludes the nation monument would contribute more than $7.4 million to the local economy, produce $560,000 in new taxes, and double the number of tourism and outdoor recreation jobs in the region.

    U.S. Representative Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah, has long campaigned against the creation of new national monuments and opposes several under consideration for Utah. In a letter to Obama, Bishop suggested that national monuments near the border provide cover for drug smugglers and human traffickers and “hamper the U.S. Border Patrol’s ability to conduct routine patrols and apprehensions.”

    The U.S. Customs and Border Protection disputed that claim, saying the monument would “in no way limit” the agency’s ability to patrol the border.

  • Research and Polling survey shows NPS designation favored 5-to-1

    (ALBUQUERQUE) – A new poll by the nonpartisan Research and Polling Inc. of New Mexico shows wide public support for transferring management of Valles Caldera National Preserve to the National Park Service, making it the nation’s 19th National Preserve.

    The poll, conducted January 2-12, 2014, shows that New Mexico voters support NPS management by a wide margin, 64 percent to 13 percent. Sportsmen approve this approach by an even wider margin, 69 percent to 9 percent, the poll shows.

    The survey was a statewide random sample of 407 voters with an oversample of 100 sportsmen (for a total sample size of 270 sportsmen). The margin of error was +/- 4.9 percent. The oversample of 100 sportsmen is not included in the statewide random sample results.

    Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have spearheaded legislation in Congress (S. 285) that would establish the Valles Caldera National Preserve as a National Park Service Unit. Their bill is also supported by northern New Mexico U.S. Representative Ben Ray Lujan.

    “Broad-based voter support for the National Park Service initiative cuts across demographic, regional and political lines,” said Brian Sanderoff, President of Research and Polling Inc.

    “Clearly, the people of New Mexico, including hunters and anglers, value what National Park Service management will mean for this special place,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, Executive Director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, one of the sponsors of the poll. “As a National Preserve, this plan will both protect the Valles Caldera while also ensuring that these lands can be accessed by average New Mexicans who want to hunt, fish, camp, hike, or bike here. It really provides the best of both worlds.”

    “This poll shows that sportsmen want a change in the management of Valles Caldera National Preserve,” added Oscar Simpson, chairman of the New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “We can only hope that Congress acts on this long overdue legislation and allows sportsmen to get out and enjoy the Caldera.”

    Anglers and the businesses that depend on them will also benefit from new management at the preserve, said Toner Mitchell, New Mexico Public Lands Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “The Valles Caldera should be better known for its fishing, It’s time that more anglers be allowed to see and experience the beauty of Valles Caldera National Preserve.”

    Overall, poll respondents had a more favorable opinion of the National Park Service than other land management and wildlife agencies/organizations. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of voters statewide have a “favorable” or “very favorable” opinion of the National Park Service, and 70% have a “favorable” or “very favorable” opinion of the US Forest Service. Very few of voters have negative opinion of either the Park Service (4%) or the US Forest Service (6%).

    The poll also asked about an alternative proposal to transfer Valles Caldera to the State Game Commission. Respondents rejected that idea by a margin of 51 percent to 21 percent. Sportsmen rejected that proposal at an even higher rate, with 58 percent opposed and 17 percent supportive.

    For more information, please contact:

    Garrett VeneKlasen, Executive Director, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, (505) 670-2925
    Oscar Simpson, Chairman, New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, (505) 917-2134
    Toner Mitchell, New Mexico Public Lands Coordinator, Trout Unlimited, (505) 231-8860

  • Research and Polling survey shows NPS designation favored 5-to-1

    (ALBUQUERQUE) – A new poll by the nonpartisan Research and Polling Inc. of New Mexico shows wide public support for transferring management of Valles Caldera National Preserve to the National Park Service, making it the nation’s 19th National Preserve.

    The poll, conducted January 2-12, 2014, shows that New Mexico voters support NPS management by a wide margin, 64 percent to 13 percent. Sportsmen approve this approach by an even wider margin, 69 percent to 9 percent, the poll shows.

    The survey was a statewide random sample of 407 voters with an oversample of 100 sportsmen (for a total sample size of 270 sportsmen). The margin of error was +/- 4.9 percent. The oversample of 100 sportsmen is not included in the statewide random sample results.

    Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have spearheaded legislation in Congress (S. 285) that would establish the Valles Caldera National Preserve as a National Park Service Unit. Their bill is also supported by northern New Mexico U.S. Representative Ben Ray Lujan.

    “Broad-based voter support for the National Park Service initiative cuts across demographic, regional and political lines,” said Brian Sanderoff, President of Research and Polling Inc.

    “Clearly, the people of New Mexico, including hunters and anglers, value what National Park Service management will mean for this special place,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, Executive Director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, one of the sponsors of the poll. “As a National Preserve, this plan will both protect the Valles Caldera while also ensuring that these lands can be accessed by average New Mexicans who want to hunt, fish, camp, hike, or bike here. It really provides the best of both worlds.”

    “This poll shows that sportsmen want a change in the management of Valles Caldera National Preserve,” added Oscar Simpson, chairman of the New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “We can only hope that Congress acts on this long overdue legislation and allows sportsmen to get out and enjoy the Caldera.”

    Anglers and the businesses that depend on them will also benefit from new management at the preserve, said Toner Mitchell, New Mexico Public Lands Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “The Valles Caldera should be better known for its fishing, It’s time that more anglers be allowed to see and experience the beauty of Valles Caldera National Preserve.”

    Overall, poll respondents had a more favorable opinion of the National Park Service than other land management and wildlife agencies/organizations. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of voters statewide have a “favorable” or “very favorable” opinion of the National Park Service, and 70% have a “favorable” or “very favorable” opinion of the US Forest Service. Very few of voters have negative opinion of either the Park Service (4%) or the US Forest Service (6%).

    The poll also asked about an alternative proposal to transfer Valles Caldera to the State Game Commission. Respondents rejected that idea by a margin of 51 percent to 21 percent. Sportsmen rejected that proposal at an even higher rate, with 58 percent opposed and 17 percent supportive.

    For more information, please contact:

    Garrett VeneKlasen, Executive Director, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, (505) 670-2925
    Oscar Simpson, Chairman, New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, (505) 917-2134
    Toner Mitchell, New Mexico Public Lands Coordinator, Trout Unlimited, (505) 231-8860

  • Public News Service-NM: November 19, 2014
    Rita Daniels, KUNM

    The state Game Commission approved a controversial proposal Thursday that critics fear will harm efforts to reintroduce the Mexican grey wolf. The reintroduction program depends on bringing wolves into New Mexico from other states.

    On a bitterly cold day in Española, about 50 people watched as the New Mexico Game Commission considered a proposal to change how permits are issued for private land owners who want to import non-domesticated wildlife, specifically carnivores.

    Donald Jaramillo explained no longer would the Game and Fish Department Director be the sole person to review applications – instead the entire commission would  be required to hear public comment before approving them.

    “The big thing to remember,” Jaramillo said, “is that the State Game Commission must review any permit application for the importation of any carnivore.”

    More than a dozen advocates like Rita Gentry, who has been working on reintroducing the endangered Mexican gray wolf here in New Mexico, spoke up saying, if adopted the amendments not only meddle in private property rights but they would really stymie the project.

    “We need to foster genetic diversity in our wolf population,” Gentry said. “Private facilities give us the necessary space for wolf breeding.”

    Kerrie Romero was representing the New Mexico Council of Outfitters and Guides. She  was one of three people in the room who spoke up in support of the changes. She said she wants other species – like elk and deer – to be safe from the wolves.

    “We don’t think that it’s unrealistic to add an additional layer of protection to the ungulate herds from overwhelming predator herds,” Romero said. “Therefore, we support you in this process.”

    The most recent numbers show that there are just 37 Mexican gray wolves in the state and even though the commission received almost 400 emails in opposition of the changes, after everyone who wanted to speak spoke, Commission Chair Paul Kienzle called for a vote with no additional discussion. The vote was unanimous to make the changes.

    As wolf advocates flooded out of the room they said things like “unbelievable” and “so much for public comment.”

    Judy Calman is a staff attorney for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. She said she’s concerned that now an appointed commission has the authority to deny permits to people who are working to recover the endangered Mexican grey wolf. She thinks that could lead to litigation down the road.

    “This has been a commission that historically has been pretty opposed to the wolf,” Calman said. “So I’m guessing that the next time one of the wolf recovery people wants to import a wolf, say from Colorado to New Mexico to breed at a private facility, if that gets denied the in-state facility could probably legally appeal that.”

    Cattle rancher Carlos Chacón applauded the vote saying even though the wolves are indigenous, they’ve killed livestock. He said, for him, if one of his neighbors  wanted to bring in a wild predator he would want a say in the matter.

    “The way I see it is that the amendment is going to provide opportunity for the public, particularly those that might be impacted most by it, to provide some input prior to the permitting,” Chacón said. “I was very supportive of that and happy that it passed.”

    The changes go into effect on December 15th and will not affect the two privately owned Mexican gray wolf facilities in New Mexico that are already in operation.  At least, not until it is time for them to reapply for their permits.

    Listen to the streaming audio:


  • Public News Service-NM: November 19, 2014
    Rita Daniels, KUNM

    The state Game Commission approved a controversial proposal Thursday that critics fear will harm efforts to reintroduce the Mexican grey wolf. The reintroduction program depends on bringing wolves into New Mexico from other states.

    On a bitterly cold day in Española, about 50 people watched as the New Mexico Game Commission considered a proposal to change how permits are issued for private land owners who want to import non-domesticated wildlife, specifically carnivores.

    Donald Jaramillo explained no longer would the Game and Fish Department Director be the sole person to review applications – instead the entire commission would  be required to hear public comment before approving them.

    “The big thing to remember,” Jaramillo said, “is that the State Game Commission must review any permit application for the importation of any carnivore.”

    More than a dozen advocates like Rita Gentry, who has been working on reintroducing the endangered Mexican gray wolf here in New Mexico, spoke up saying, if adopted the amendments not only meddle in private property rights but they would really stymie the project.

    “We need to foster genetic diversity in our wolf population,” Gentry said. “Private facilities give us the necessary space for wolf breeding.”

    Kerrie Romero was representing the New Mexico Council of Outfitters and Guides. She  was one of three people in the room who spoke up in support of the changes. She said she wants other species – like elk and deer – to be safe from the wolves.

    “We don’t think that it’s unrealistic to add an additional layer of protection to the ungulate herds from overwhelming predator herds,” Romero said. “Therefore, we support you in this process.”

    The most recent numbers show that there are just 37 Mexican gray wolves in the state and even though the commission received almost 400 emails in opposition of the changes, after everyone who wanted to speak spoke, Commission Chair Paul Kienzle called for a vote with no additional discussion. The vote was unanimous to make the changes.

    As wolf advocates flooded out of the room they said things like “unbelievable” and “so much for public comment.”

    Judy Calman is a staff attorney for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. She said she’s concerned that now an appointed commission has the authority to deny permits to people who are working to recover the endangered Mexican grey wolf. She thinks that could lead to litigation down the road.

    “This has been a commission that historically has been pretty opposed to the wolf,” Calman said. “So I’m guessing that the next time one of the wolf recovery people wants to import a wolf, say from Colorado to New Mexico to breed at a private facility, if that gets denied the in-state facility could probably legally appeal that.”

    Cattle rancher Carlos Chacón applauded the vote saying even though the wolves are indigenous, they’ve killed livestock. He said, for him, if one of his neighbors  wanted to bring in a wild predator he would want a say in the matter.

    “The way I see it is that the amendment is going to provide opportunity for the public, particularly those that might be impacted most by it, to provide some input prior to the permitting,” Chacón said. “I was very supportive of that and happy that it passed.”

    The changes go into effect on December 15th and will not affect the two privately owned Mexican gray wolf facilities in New Mexico that are already in operation.  At least, not until it is time for them to reapply for their permits.

    Listen to the streaming audio:


  • Troy Wilde, Public News Service-NM

    (03/12/14) LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Some southern New Mexico businesses are backing the effort to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument, and seeing it as an opportunity to help market their products.

    Several business owners are attending an event at the Las Cruces Farmers Market today, where conservation groups will announce that they’ve collected more than 14,000 signatures in support of the national monument designation.

    Ariana Parsons, who owns Beck’s Coffee in Las Cruces, said she thinks protecting the area is in the best interest of the local economy as well as the environment.

    “Tourists are coming to the area, and coming to the Farmer’s Market, because we have this unique landscape,” she said. “So, absolutely it’s a huge part of our business.”

    Parsons says her business has developed a specialty coffee called the “Organ Mountain Blend” as a way to support the Organ Mountains while increasing the company’s bottom line. Another local business, the Happy Dog Food Truck, has created a “Desert Peaks Hot Dog” for its menu.

    Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks was among the conservation groups that helped collect the signatures. Lucas Herndon, the group’s executive director, said the petition soon will be on its way to President Obama.

    “They will be sent directly to the White House and are addressed to the president, asking him to use his powers under the Antiquities Act to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument as soon as he can,” Herndon said.

    Obama added the 1,600-acre Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands north of San Francisco to the California Coastal National Monument on Tuesday. Herndon is hopeful that his Golden State action is a positive indicator of things to come in the Land of Enchantment.

  • Troy Wilde, Public News Service-NM

    (03/12/14) LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Some southern New Mexico businesses are backing the effort to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument, and seeing it as an opportunity to help market their products.

    Several business owners are attending an event at the Las Cruces Farmers Market today, where conservation groups will announce that they’ve collected more than 14,000 signatures in support of the national monument designation.

    Ariana Parsons, who owns Beck’s Coffee in Las Cruces, said she thinks protecting the area is in the best interest of the local economy as well as the environment.

    “Tourists are coming to the area, and coming to the Farmer’s Market, because we have this unique landscape,” she said. “So, absolutely it’s a huge part of our business.”

    Parsons says her business has developed a specialty coffee called the “Organ Mountain Blend” as a way to support the Organ Mountains while increasing the company’s bottom line. Another local business, the Happy Dog Food Truck, has created a “Desert Peaks Hot Dog” for its menu.

    Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks was among the conservation groups that helped collect the signatures. Lucas Herndon, the group’s executive director, said the petition soon will be on its way to President Obama.

    “They will be sent directly to the White House and are addressed to the president, asking him to use his powers under the Antiquities Act to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument as soon as he can,” Herndon said.

    Obama added the 1,600-acre Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands north of San Francisco to the California Coastal National Monument on Tuesday. Herndon is hopeful that his Golden State action is a positive indicator of things to come in the Land of Enchantment.

  • Troy Wilde, Public News Service-NM

    (03/12/14) LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Some southern New Mexico businesses are backing the effort to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument, and seeing it as an opportunity to help market their products.

    Several business owners are attending an event at the Las Cruces Farmers Market today, where conservation groups will announce that they’ve collected more than 14,000 signatures in support of the national monument designation.

    Ariana Parsons, who owns Beck’s Coffee in Las Cruces, said she thinks protecting the area is in the best interest of the local economy as well as the environment.

    “Tourists are coming to the area, and coming to the Farmer’s Market, because we have this unique landscape,” she said. “So, absolutely it’s a huge part of our business.”

    Parsons says her business has developed a specialty coffee called the “Organ Mountain Blend” as a way to support the Organ Mountains while increasing the company’s bottom line. Another local business, the Happy Dog Food Truck, has created a “Desert Peaks Hot Dog” for its menu.

    Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks was among the conservation groups that helped collect the signatures. Lucas Herndon, the group’s executive director, said the petition soon will be on its way to President Obama.

    “They will be sent directly to the White House and are addressed to the president, asking him to use his powers under the Antiquities Act to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument as soon as he can,” Herndon said.

    Obama added the 1,600-acre Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands north of San Francisco to the California Coastal National Monument on Tuesday. Herndon is hopeful that his Golden State action is a positive indicator of things to come in the Land of Enchantment.

  • For Immediate Release
    May 27, 2014

    Contact: Tina Deines
    505-843-8696, ext. 104
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    Albuquerque—May 27, 2014—New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness is celebrating its 90th birthday June 3—it was the first protected wilderness in the United States. To commemorate this anniversary, NM Wild Executive Director Mark Allison and Gila Grassroots Organizer Nathan Newcomer are embarking on a historic 50 mile, rugged Gila River trek starting today.

    The purpose of this trek is two-fold. First, NM Wild plans to deliver once again on our Gila Wilderness protection promise through field research—that’s the work of Mark and Nathan.

    Allison and Newcomer will speak aloud, within the heart of the Gila Wilderness, names given to NM Wild by its membership to commemorate friends and family who shared a love of the Gila.

    From Aldo Leopold and the creation of America’s first designated wilderness to Senator Clinton P. Anderson’s role in passing the Wilderness Act of 1964, New Mexico has a rich and proud legacy protecting wild places.

    “During this special anniversary year, we want to remind ourselves why wilderness is essential, honor the vision and efforts of those who came before us and renew our commitment to protect additional deserving lands now under threat” stated Allison. “Being entrusted with the names and stories of our members’ loved ones is deeply humbling and causes me to look forward to experiencing this special place again even more with the reminder that it will remain long after we’re gone for future generations to discover and enjoy and fiercely protect.”

    The Gila Wilderness and the adjacent Aldo Leopold Wilderness is one of the largest and wildest areas in the lower 48. The beautiful Gila River is one of the last wild, free flowing rivers in the Southwest (and currently under threat from an ill-conceived diversion plan.) The Gila holds a special place in the hearts of many.

    NM Wild research confirms miles of the Gila River are eligible for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

    On June 4, Allison and Newcomer will talk about the results of this Gila trek with a “virtual hike” experience taking place at the Silver City Museum at 2 p.m. This coincides with the Gila Wild exhibit, which kicked off May 24.

    ###
    The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is a non-profit 501(C)(3), grassroots, environmental organization dedicated to the protection, restoration, and continued enjoyment of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. The primary goal of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is to ensure the protection and restoration of all remaining wild lands in New Mexico through administrative designations, federal Wilderness designation, and on-going advocacy.

  • For Immediate Release

    Contact: Tina Deines
    505-843-8696, ext. 104
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    Albuquerque—May 27, 2014—New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness is celebrating its 90th birthday June 3—it was the first protected wilderness in the United States. To commemorate this anniversary, NM Wild Executive Director Mark Allison and Gila Grassroots Organizer Nathan Newcomer are embarking on a historic 50 mile, rugged Gila River trek starting today.

    The purpose of this trek is two-fold. First, NM Wild plans to deliver once again on our Gila Wilderness protection promise through field research—that’s the work of Mark and Nathan.

    Allison and Newcomer will speak aloud, within the heart of the Gila Wilderness, names given to NM Wild by its membership to commemorate friends and family who shared a love of the Gila.

    From Aldo Leopold and the creation of America’s first designated wilderness to Senator Clinton P. Anderson’s role in passing the Wilderness Act of 1964, New Mexico has a rich and proud legacy protecting wild places.

    “During this special anniversary year, we want to remind ourselves why wilderness is essential, honor the vision and efforts of those who came before us and renew our commitment to protect additional deserving lands now under threat” stated Allison. “Being entrusted with the names and stories of our members’ loved ones is deeply humbling and causes me to look forward to experiencing this special place again even more with the reminder that it will remain long after we’re gone for future generations to discover and enjoy and fiercely protect.”

    The Gila Wilderness and the adjacent Aldo Leopold Wilderness is one of the largest and wildest areas in the lower 48. The beautiful Gila River is one of the last wild, free flowing rivers in the Southwest (and currently under threat from an ill-conceived diversion plan.) The Gila holds a special place in the hearts of many.

    NM Wild research confirms miles of the Gila River are eligible for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

    On June 4, Allison and Newcomer will talk about the results of this Gila trek with a “virtual hike” experience taking place at the Silver City Museum at 2 p.m. This coincides with the Gila Wild exhibit, which kicked off May 24.

    ###
    The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is a non-profit 501(C)(3), grassroots, environmental organization dedicated to the protection, restoration, and continued enjoyment of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. The primary goal of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is to ensure the protection and restoration of all remaining wild lands in New Mexico through administrative designations, federal Wilderness designation, and on-going advocacy.

  • For immediate release
    Contacts: Kevin Bixby 575 522-5552; Mary Katherine Ray 575-772-5655

    Nine conservation organizations with thousands of members in New Mexico are calling upon New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez to remove two individuals from their positions on the New Mexico Game Commission for participating in and organizing coyote-killing contests.

    In a letter dated February 3rd, the groups urged the Governor to remove Chairman Scott Bidegain and Commissioner Robert Espinosa: Bidegain for competing in a major coyote killing contest in Nevada last December, in which he and his partner killed eight coyotes and won $1300 in cash, and Espinosa for his role in organizing coyote killing contests in New Mexico while serving as executive director of the anti-predator group Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife—NM Chapter.

    “By their actions, these two officials have demonstrated a callous disrespect for wildlife and betrayed the public trust placed in them to manage and conserve New Mexico’s wildlife for the benefit of all the state’s residents,” said Kevin Bixby, Executive Director of the Southwest Environmental Center. “The Governor should replace them immediately with individuals who will take their stewardship responsibility seriously.”

    Coyotes help to maintain the balance of natural ecosystems by controlling populations of prey species, including rodents that sometimes carry human diseases, such as Hantavirus and plague. Research shows that indiscriminate control efforts have no effect on overall coyote numbers, but cause suffering to individual animals, disrupt family pack structure and can actually increase coyote conflicts with livestock.

    “Their actions demonstrate ignorance of the important, scientifically-established role predators such as coyotes play in natural ecosystems, and indicate an extreme view of wildlife killing for mere entertainment and to win prizes which has no place on the Game Commission,” said Mary Katherine Ray, Wildlife Chair of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club.

    “That state game commissioners would condone, let alone participate in killing contests demonstrates incredible ignorance of basic wildlife science and should lead to their dismissal from public office,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians.

    The groups included: Southwest Environmental Center, Sierra Club: Rio Grande Chapter, The Rewilding Institute, Project Coyote, WildEarth Guardians, Sandia Mountain BearWatch, Conservation Voters of New Mexico, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

  • May 21, 2014
    Las Cruces Sun-News

    LAS CRUCES >> President Barack Obama signed a proclamation Wednesday formally designating nearly half a million acres of land in Doña Ana County as a national monument — a move that comes after years of heated local debate over the proposal.

    The signing event to officially designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument took place in the nation’s capital, but was attended by some Las Crucens. And two live viewing events happened locally.

    Obama emphasized that conserving notable natural places is important for future generations.

    “Anyone who’s ever seen the Organ Mountains that overlook Las Cruces, New Mexico, will tell you that they are a spectacular sight,” he said in a short speech before the signing. “You got massive rocks that jut up 9,000 feet in the air and stretch for 20 miles, like the organ pipes of a giant. And they’re home to many of God’s smaller creatures, as well. Deer and antelope roam — falcons, mountain lions.”

    Obama also said protection for historical sites, such as those visited by Billy the Kid and possibly Geronimo, within the monument also make the land valuable. He argued the move will boost tourism and the economy locally.

    The national monument, at 496,000 acres, is the largest set aside since Obama took office in 2009.
    Reaction mixed

    While praised by environmentalists, the move is generating criticism from some lawmakers in the West and local law enforcement agents who see Obama’s use of power as a threat to security in a region where the influence of Mexican drug cartels, human smuggling and illegal immigration are all apparent.

    Doña Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison recalls the times his deputies and federal agents were shot at as they pursued suspected drug smugglers through the area that will now be known as the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. He also talked about the dozens of stolen cars that have been used to ferry drugs along pathways that lead through the desert and past border patrol checkpoints.

    “If we have no ability to patrol that area, crime is going to increase. It will be akin to the Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona. I wonder how many years it will be before we have to post signs that say ‘Enter at your own risk.’ That’s my concern,” Garrison said.

    Officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Wednesday the designation will “in no way limit our ability to perform our important border security mission.”

    The campaign by environmentalists, some hunters and tourism officials to gain wilderness protection for the Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks has dragged on for a decade, with numerous versions introduced by members of the state’s congressional delegation over the years. Many ranchers and off-road vehicle users have opposed the large-scale monument.
    In the capital

    Attendees at the Washington, D.C., signing included most of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, as well as local officials such as Doña Ana County Commission Chairman Billy Garrett and Las Cruces City Councilor Gill Sorg, who strongly supported the proposal. U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both D-N.M., were on hand. They had proposed federal legislation to protect the acreage, which includes popular hunting areas and features steep rock outcroppings, petroglyphs, ancient lava flows and sites such as Billy the Kid’s Outlaw Rock, Geronimo’s Cave and the Butterfield Stagecoach Trail.

    “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 Wednesday. “I want to thank the thousands of New Mexicans who have worked tirelessly for many years to get us to this point.”

    Obama designated the land under a 1906 law that allows presidents to declare national monuments. The move is separate from a bill that was introduced by Heinrich and Udall to declare a national monument — part of which, at least under their proposal, also would become federal wilderness.

    Congress, however, has shown little interest in lands protection legislation in recent years.

    Republican Rep. Steve Pearce, whose congressional district covers the region, had proposed the designation for just 55,000 acres under another bill, H.R. 995. He issued a statement taking issue with Obama’s use of the 1906 U.S. Antiquities Act, saying monuments created under it are supposed to cover only the “smallest area compatible” with the designation. He contended the approval “flies in the face of the democratic process.”

    “This single action has erased six years of work undertaken by Doña Ana County ranchers, business owners, conservationist, sportsmen officials and myself to develop a collaborative plan for the Organ Mountains that would have preserved the natural resource and still provided future economic opportunities,” he said.

    Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell referenced a trip she made to monument areas in January.

    “They are beautiful,” she said.

    Jewell is expected to return to Doña Ana County later this week.
    Viewing events

    The Doña Ana County Government Center opened the county commission chambers to residents for a live broadcast Obama signing the monument proclamation, an event announced Wednesday morning. About 25 people attended, cheering at times during Obama’s remarks.

    Attorney Joe Shattuck, a former Las Crucen who now lives in Albuquerque, happened to be in the county building when the broadcast happened. He moved from Doña Ana County about a year ago, but still has strong interest in the national monument proposal.

    “I’d been very worried it wasn’t going to happen,” he said. “I’d thought the special interest groups would be able to stop it.”

    More Las Cruces supporters of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks proposal gathered at Beck’s Coffee House on Mesquite Street.

    Sun-News reporter Diana Alba Soular contributed to this report. She may be reached at 575-541-5443.

  • May 21, 2014
    Las Cruces Sun-News

    LAS CRUCES >> President Barack Obama signed a proclamation Wednesday formally designating nearly half a million acres of land in Doña Ana County as a national monument — a move that comes after years of heated local debate over the proposal.

    The signing event to officially designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument took place in the nation’s capital, but was attended by some Las Crucens. And two live viewing events happened locally.

    Obama emphasized that conserving notable natural places is important for future generations.

    “Anyone who’s ever seen the Organ Mountains that overlook Las Cruces, New Mexico, will tell you that they are a spectacular sight,” he said in a short speech before the signing. “You got massive rocks that jut up 9,000 feet in the air and stretch for 20 miles, like the organ pipes of a giant. And they’re home to many of God’s smaller creatures, as well. Deer and antelope roam — falcons, mountain lions.”

    Obama also said protection for historical sites, such as those visited by Billy the Kid and possibly Geronimo, within the monument also make the land valuable. He argued the move will boost tourism and the economy locally.

    The national monument, at 496,000 acres, is the largest set aside since Obama took office in 2009.
    Reaction mixed

    While praised by environmentalists, the move is generating criticism from some lawmakers in the West and local law enforcement agents who see Obama’s use of power as a threat to security in a region where the influence of Mexican drug cartels, human smuggling and illegal immigration are all apparent.

    Doña Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison recalls the times his deputies and federal agents were shot at as they pursued suspected drug smugglers through the area that will now be known as the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. He also talked about the dozens of stolen cars that have been used to ferry drugs along pathways that lead through the desert and past border patrol checkpoints.

    “If we have no ability to patrol that area, crime is going to increase. It will be akin to the Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona. I wonder how many years it will be before we have to post signs that say ‘Enter at your own risk.’ That’s my concern,” Garrison said.

    Officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Wednesday the designation will “in no way limit our ability to perform our important border security mission.”

    The campaign by environmentalists, some hunters and tourism officials to gain wilderness protection for the Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks has dragged on for a decade, with numerous versions introduced by members of the state’s congressional delegation over the years. Many ranchers and off-road vehicle users have opposed the large-scale monument.
    In the capital

    Attendees at the Washington, D.C., signing included most of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, as well as local officials such as Doña Ana County Commission Chairman Billy Garrett and Las Cruces City Councilor Gill Sorg, who strongly supported the proposal. U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both D-N.M., were on hand. They had proposed federal legislation to protect the acreage, which includes popular hunting areas and features steep rock outcroppings, petroglyphs, ancient lava flows and sites such as Billy the Kid’s Outlaw Rock, Geronimo’s Cave and the Butterfield Stagecoach Trail.

    “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 Wednesday. “I want to thank the thousands of New Mexicans who have worked tirelessly for many years to get us to this point.”

    Obama designated the land under a 1906 law that allows presidents to declare national monuments. The move is separate from a bill that was introduced by Heinrich and Udall to declare a national monument — part of which, at least under their proposal, also would become federal wilderness.

    Congress, however, has shown little interest in lands protection legislation in recent years.

    Republican Rep. Steve Pearce, whose congressional district covers the region, had proposed the designation for just 55,000 acres under another bill, H.R. 995. He issued a statement taking issue with Obama’s use of the 1906 U.S. Antiquities Act, saying monuments created under it are supposed to cover only the “smallest area compatible” with the designation. He contended the approval “flies in the face of the democratic process.”

    “This single action has erased six years of work undertaken by Doña Ana County ranchers, business owners, conservationist, sportsmen officials and myself to develop a collaborative plan for the Organ Mountains that would have preserved the natural resource and still provided future economic opportunities,” he said.

    Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell referenced a trip she made to monument areas in January.

    “They are beautiful,” she said.

    Jewell is expected to return to Doña Ana County later this week.
    Viewing events

    The Doña Ana County Government Center opened the county commission chambers to residents for a live broadcast Obama signing the monument proclamation, an event announced Wednesday morning. About 25 people attended, cheering at times during Obama’s remarks.

    Attorney Joe Shattuck, a former Las Crucen who now lives in Albuquerque, happened to be in the county building when the broadcast happened. He moved from Doña Ana County about a year ago, but still has strong interest in the national monument proposal.

    “I’d been very worried it wasn’t going to happen,” he said. “I’d thought the special interest groups would be able to stop it.”

    More Las Cruces supporters of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks proposal gathered at Beck’s Coffee House on Mesquite Street.

    Sun-News reporter Diana Alba Soular contributed to this report. She may be reached at 575-541-5443.

  • May 21, 2014
    Las Cruces Sun-News

    LAS CRUCES >> President Barack Obama signed a proclamation Wednesday formally designating nearly half a million acres of land in Doña Ana County as a national monument — a move that comes after years of heated local debate over the proposal.

    The signing event to officially designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument took place in the nation’s capital, but was attended by some Las Crucens. And two live viewing events happened locally.

    Obama emphasized that conserving notable natural places is important for future generations.

    “Anyone who’s ever seen the Organ Mountains that overlook Las Cruces, New Mexico, will tell you that they are a spectacular sight,” he said in a short speech before the signing. “You got massive rocks that jut up 9,000 feet in the air and stretch for 20 miles, like the organ pipes of a giant. And they’re home to many of God’s smaller creatures, as well. Deer and antelope roam — falcons, mountain lions.”

    Obama also said protection for historical sites, such as those visited by Billy the Kid and possibly Geronimo, within the monument also make the land valuable. He argued the move will boost tourism and the economy locally.

    The national monument, at 496,000 acres, is the largest set aside since Obama took office in 2009.
    Reaction mixed

    While praised by environmentalists, the move is generating criticism from some lawmakers in the West and local law enforcement agents who see Obama’s use of power as a threat to security in a region where the influence of Mexican drug cartels, human smuggling and illegal immigration are all apparent.

    Doña Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison recalls the times his deputies and federal agents were shot at as they pursued suspected drug smugglers through the area that will now be known as the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. He also talked about the dozens of stolen cars that have been used to ferry drugs along pathways that lead through the desert and past border patrol checkpoints.

    “If we have no ability to patrol that area, crime is going to increase. It will be akin to the Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona. I wonder how many years it will be before we have to post signs that say ‘Enter at your own risk.’ That’s my concern,” Garrison said.

    Officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Wednesday the designation will “in no way limit our ability to perform our important border security mission.”

    The campaign by environmentalists, some hunters and tourism officials to gain wilderness protection for the Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks has dragged on for a decade, with numerous versions introduced by members of the state’s congressional delegation over the years. Many ranchers and off-road vehicle users have opposed the large-scale monument.
    In the capital

    Attendees at the Washington, D.C., signing included most of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, as well as local officials such as Doña Ana County Commission Chairman Billy Garrett and Las Cruces City Councilor Gill Sorg, who strongly supported the proposal. U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both D-N.M., were on hand. They had proposed federal legislation to protect the acreage, which includes popular hunting areas and features steep rock outcroppings, petroglyphs, ancient lava flows and sites such as Billy the Kid’s Outlaw Rock, Geronimo’s Cave and the Butterfield Stagecoach Trail.

    “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 Wednesday. “I want to thank the thousands of New Mexicans who have worked tirelessly for many years to get us to this point.”

    Obama designated the land under a 1906 law that allows presidents to declare national monuments. The move is separate from a bill that was introduced by Heinrich and Udall to declare a national monument — part of which, at least under their proposal, also would become federal wilderness.

    Congress, however, has shown little interest in lands protection legislation in recent years.

    Republican Rep. Steve Pearce, whose congressional district covers the region, had proposed the designation for just 55,000 acres under another bill, H.R. 995. He issued a statement taking issue with Obama’s use of the 1906 U.S. Antiquities Act, saying monuments created under it are supposed to cover only the “smallest area compatible” with the designation. He contended the approval “flies in the face of the democratic process.”

    “This single action has erased six years of work undertaken by Doña Ana County ranchers, business owners, conservationist, sportsmen officials and myself to develop a collaborative plan for the Organ Mountains that would have preserved the natural resource and still provided future economic opportunities,” he said.

    Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell referenced a trip she made to monument areas in January.

    “They are beautiful,” she said.

    Jewell is expected to return to Doña Ana County later this week.
    Viewing events

    The Doña Ana County Government Center opened the county commission chambers to residents for a live broadcast Obama signing the monument proclamation, an event announced Wednesday morning. About 25 people attended, cheering at times during Obama’s remarks.

    Attorney Joe Shattuck, a former Las Crucen who now lives in Albuquerque, happened to be in the county building when the broadcast happened. He moved from Doña Ana County about a year ago, but still has strong interest in the national monument proposal.

    “I’d been very worried it wasn’t going to happen,” he said. “I’d thought the special interest groups would be able to stop it.”

    More Las Cruces supporters of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks proposal gathered at Beck’s Coffee House on Mesquite Street.

    Sun-News reporter Diana Alba Soular contributed to this report. She may be reached at 575-541-5443.

  • By Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post
    May 19, 2014

    President Obama will declare the largest national monument in his tenure Wednesday, setting a nearly 500,000-acre swath of southern New Mexico off-limits to development.

    Many community leaders had pressed the president to protect the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region — which has petroglyphs from three American Indian societies in its canyons, as well as desert grasslands and a petrified forest — under the Antiquities Act rather than waiting for Congress to act. But some in the area near Las Cruces, including cattle ranchers and Rep. Steven Pearce (R-N.M.), opposed a presidential designation on the grounds it was too far-reaching and represented an overreach on the administration’s part.

    White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president was working “to preserve the prehistoric, historic and scientific values of the area for all Americans,” and that it would spur tourism. Carney added that the signing of the designation, which will take place at the Interior Department, was part of a week-long effort aimed at “helping businesses invest here in America” to spur job development.

    Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who had pressed for the presidential designation, said in a phone interview that it reflected the hard work of local and community advocates.

    “Anytime you have a recognition of that work that reaches all the way to the White House, that’s pretty special,” he said, adding it will also spur outside interest in the region. “It will be a huge source of pride for Doña Ana County.”

    “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,” said Carrie Hamblen, executive director of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, in a statement.

    The area is twice as big as the largest national monument previously established by Obama.

  • By Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post
    May 19, 2014

    President Obama will declare the largest national monument in his tenure Wednesday, setting a nearly 500,000-acre swath of southern New Mexico off-limits to development.

    Many community leaders had pressed the president to protect the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region — which has petroglyphs from three American Indian societies in its canyons, as well as desert grasslands and a petrified forest — under the Antiquities Act rather than waiting for Congress to act. But some in the area near Las Cruces, including cattle ranchers and Rep. Steven Pearce (R-N.M.), opposed a presidential designation on the grounds it was too far-reaching and represented an overreach on the administration’s part.

    White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president was working “to preserve the prehistoric, historic and scientific values of the area for all Americans,” and that it would spur tourism. Carney added that the signing of the designation, which will take place at the Interior Department, was part of a week-long effort aimed at “helping businesses invest here in America” to spur job development.

    Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who had pressed for the presidential designation, said in a phone interview that it reflected the hard work of local and community advocates.

    “Anytime you have a recognition of that work that reaches all the way to the White House, that’s pretty special,” he said, adding it will also spur outside interest in the region. “It will be a huge source of pride for Doña Ana County.”

    “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,” said Carrie Hamblen, executive director of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, in a statement.

    The area is twice as big as the largest national monument previously established by Obama.

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