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Report Highlights Economic Impact of National Monuments

Premium content from New Mexico Business Weekly by Megan Kamerick, NMBW Senior Reporter

Date: Friday, October 21, 2011, 4:00am MDT

There is little dispute over the beauty of the national monuments and national parks sprinkled throughout New Mexico.

But these sites are also important economic drivers for local communities. That’s the argument the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce is promoting via a new repor

Using 2008 data collected by the National Park Service, the report points out that the nine New Mexico monuments created under the Antiquities Act and managed by the National Park Service had 1.3 million visitors who spent more than $54.2 million in nearby communities, supporting 1,061 jobs.

More recent data indicates visitation increased to 1.37 million in 2009, and visitors spent about $54.8 million. The numbers do not include El Malpais, which was not created by the Antiquities Act, or Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rock on Cochiti Pueblo.

The Green Chamber is making a push now in response to a battle over the Antiquities Act, the federal law that allows presidents to designate national monuments. There are at least six bills in the U.S. House of Representatives that would alter the Act, according to testimony given on Sept. 13 by the U.S. Department of the Interior before the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Three would bar the use of the Act by the president to extend or establish new national monuments in Montana, Idaho and Utah. H.R. 817 would require congressional approval for national monuments. H.R. 302 would require the approval of a state legislature and governor before the president could designate a national monument.

H.R. 758 would require national monument designations be approved by Congress within two years of a presidential proclamation.

“The Antiquities Act is creating jobs and economic value,” said Allan Oliver, CEO of the Green Chamber, a statewide organization with about 1,200 members. “It it’s not broken, it’s working and it doesn’t need fixing.”

Keeping the authority with the president is important, Oliver added.

“If you look at Congress, it’s very difficult for them to find agreement on things,” he said

Most of the state’s congressional delegation is in agreement. U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, both Democrats, said they oppose efforts to repeal or change the Act. U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., also opposes the efforts and gives them scant chance of success.

“We saw this kind of legislation after the 1994 so-called Republican revolution and it didn’t go anywhere in the Senate because it was incredibly unpopular with the American people,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M. said he recognizes the positive economic impacts of natural monuments. But added he is concerned about future federal efforts.

“There is a major push for the federal government to take up lands, like at Otero Mesa, where there are proposals for responsible drilling for natural resources,” he said in a prepared statement. “This would clearly destroy good paying jobs that can’t be replaced by a monument declaration.”

Signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the Antiquities Act has been used by presidents to create monuments across the country, some of which became national parks. Those include the Grand Canyon National Park, the Statue of Liberty National Monument, and Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico

Most recently, President George W. Bush used the Act to establish six national monuments, according to Interior’s testimony in September.

In New Mexico, 10 presidents – six Republicans and four Democrats – have used the Antiquities Act to designate 10 national monuments on public lands since 1906. They include Bandelier National Monument. It was impacted by the Las Conchas fire, but a new shuttle is taking a steady stream of visitors to the site, said Kevin Holsapple, executive director of the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corp.

While Los Alamos National Laboratory is the city’s main economic engine, Holsapple said, the tourism activity created by the nearby presence of Bandelier is an important segment as well

“We just treasure Bandelier,” he said.

Steve Jaszai, corporate manager of Heart of the Desert Pistachios & Wine in Alamogordo, said most of his customers visit the nearby White Sands National Monument. Kevin Schneider, superintendent of White Sands, said most visitors come from outside the immediate area and they spent $16 million in local communities in 2009.

Sharon Schultz, executive director of the Tourism Association of New Mexico, said the economic impact of national parks and monuments, especially in rural areas of the state, cannot be overstated.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who introduced H.R. 2147, the Utah Lands Sovereignty Act, and other members of Congress who introduced similar legislation, are pushing for more local input into the creation of monuments.

In its congressional testimony in September, the Department of the Interior said the Obama administration supports an open and public process that considers input from local, state and national stakeholders before any sites are considered for designation as monuments.

One of the most controversial monument designations was the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Bishop told the Vernal Express newspaper that the decline in rural economies, particularly in Kane County, where the Escalante National Monument is located, is evidence of the Antiquity Act’s negative impact.

However, a recent study by Headwaters Economics found that since 1996, the two counties near the monument have seen jobs grow by 38 percent, and per capita income rise by 30 percent.

That report, and others on other monuments, including El Malpais in New Mexico, are available online. The New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce report is available online.

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