By Mona Blaber, Communications coordinator
On September 18, a leaked report revealed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendations on national monuments, including two that were under review in New Mexico.
The document’s vague recommendations call for rolling back protections from New Mexico’s Organ Mountains Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte National Monuments by allowing “traditional” uses such as mining.
The leaked report revealed recommendations for shrinking four monuments, showing disregard for more than 2.8 million public comments, 98% of which urged the administration to maintain current and future protections, according to a comment analysis by Key-Log Economics.
While Zinke didn’t recommend shrinking either New Mexico monument — a surprise to many because of U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce’s advocacy for downsizing Organ Mountains Desert Peaks — the report’s changes could reduce protected areas by opening the sites to fossil-fuel extraction and development.
“These monuments were created as a result of community-led coalitions working together for years. They included local business owners, tribes and pueblos and faith groups. Local governments at every level expressed support for these monuments during the review, and they have added millions of dollars to local economies,” said Rio Grande Chapter Conservation Coordinator Daniel Lorimier.
Those wide-ranging coalitions came together to defend the monuments when President Trump issued the executive order that prompted Zinke’s review. Local communities hosted events the day the news came out to oppose the recommendations.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich called on Zinke to “get his facts straight,” noting that Zinke’s claims of road closures and some grazing permittees not renewing permits in Organ Mountains Desert Peaks were not true.
“While this review never should have been ordered, the fact that the recommendations do not include boundary reductions as anticipated must be seen as a result of the overwhelming public outcry,” said Mark Allison of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.
Trump has not indicated whether he will accept the recommendations in the report. Legal action would likely follow if the changes recommended in the report were made.
“An unprecedented number of New Mexicans responded to this process, and 98 percent of them asked Zinke to keep our monuments’ current protections,” said Howie Dash, chair of Sierra Club’s Southern New Mexico Group. “Zinke has disrespected the communities he has sworn to serve. We will continue to defend these places for this and future generations.”