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Las Cruces Sun-News

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall asked President Obama to consider designating two special areas in New Mexico — already managed by the Bureau of Land Management — for National Monument status.

The senators are the sponsors of legislation that would elevate these two places — the Rio Grande Gorge and adjacent Taos Plateau, and the Organ Mountains and other important public lands in Doña Ana County — to National Conservation Areas/Wilderness Areas.

In a letter to the president Thursday, the senators acknowledged that it has been difficult to pass legislation in this Congress and it is unclear whether the logjam will be broken in the lame-duck session. Given this uncertainty, they asked the president to consider exercising his authority to establish National Monuments — authority granted to presidents by Congress in the Antiquities Act.

The senators are also the sponsors of legislation — called the Organ Mountains Doña Ana County Conservation and Protection Act— which seeks to create wilderness and conservation areas in Doña Ana County that provide for continued public use while protecting the granite peaks of the Organ Mountains and the volcanic cinder cones of the Potrillo Mountains, among other public lands in the county.

The legislation would bring to fruition President George H.W. Bush’s recommendation to protect sensitive landscapes in the county by creating 241,000 acres of wilderness and 100,000 acres of National Conservation Area (NCA). Under the legislation, these areas would be managed in ways that protect the landscape from development while preserving current uses — such as hunting and grazing.

Much of the area has been managed as a “Wilderness Study Area” since the 1980s when the Reagan administration first set it aside for protected status. It was later recommended by the George H.W. Bush administration and then-Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan to be elevated to full wilderness status. A National Monument designation would still allow Congress to designate lands with the Monument as wilderness in the future.

Other National Monuments in the state designated by past presidents include Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands, Bandelier, Chaco Canyon, El Morro, Gila Cliff Dwellings, Gran Quivira, Capulin Volcano, Aztec Ruins, and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks.

In their letter to the president, the senators point to the strong support behind both of the bills.



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