Update: see this post.
By Mona Blaber, Communications coordinator
When President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the Interior Department to “review,” and quite possibly reduce or eliminate, 27 national monuments that were designated in the past 20 years, the same diverse and wide-ranging coalition that advocated for the monument sprang to action to defend it.
The establishment of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument was the culmination of years of public outreach and community participation, and overwhelming support from the Taos community, including ranchers and sportsmen, land grant heirs and acequia associations, local outfitters and guides, as well as local and tribal governments.
Rio Grande del Norte is also supported by the congressional representative, Ben Ray Luján, who represents the district that holds the monument. That gives it an advantage over Organ Mountains Desert Peaks, which U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce has been trying to undermine since before its designation.
But despite all that local support, Rio Grande del Norte still landed on the chopping block of the Western Congressional Caucus, a group of Republican congressional representatives, 17 of whom signed a letter recommending that both of New Mexico’s recently designated national monuments be reduced in size.
In Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, hundreds of species of migratory birds fly over the land, and the rivers are filled with bass and indigenous fish. These lands are also home to hundreds of years of cultural sites.
U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Reps. Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who will make final recommendations about the 27 monuments under review.
The lawmakers’ letter expressed their strong support for Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains Desert Peaks national monuments:
“The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument is at the heart of one of the oldest continually inhabited landscapes in North America. For over 10,000 years this extraordinary landscape of deep gorges, wild rivers, hot springs, and volcanic cones shaped the diverse ecological systems and human cultures that remain present today,” the lawmakers said. “Rescinding or shrinking to New Mexico’s national monuments will cause irrevocable harm to our treasured places, would jeopardize the objects and special values that are protected through the Antiquities Act, and impact positive economic growth in local communities,” the letter said.
The delegation also asked Zinke to extend the 120-day review period the Interior secretary imposed, saying “The comment period, which relies heavily on Internet access, puts Tribes and rural communities at a disadvantage because up to 80% of New Mexicans who live in Indian Country and rural areas do not have consistent access to broadband Internet.”
The action by the Trump administration is deeply unpopular; the public overwhelmingly opposes attacks on national parks, public lands and waters.
In a 2017 poll conducted by Colorado College, 80% of western voters supported keeping protections for existing monuments in place.