By Howie Dash, Southern New Mexico Group Chair
This past April, President Trump ordered a review of all national monuments over 100,000 acres created under the Antiquities Act from 1996 to present. This directly affected New Mexico’s two new national monuments, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte.
During this summer’s comment period, the Southern New Mexico Group joined a wide coalition of supporters in Southern New Mexico, the Doña Ana Coalition, to encourage public comment to keep the national monuments as is. We gathered signatures, placed door hangers to encourage comment and “bird-dogged” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke during his visit to Las Cruces. The result is that over 98% of New Mexicans who sent comments to the Interior Department support keeping the current protections for our national monuments.
The Interior Department report was sent to President Trump in late August but was kept secret. A leak suggested the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte would not have any boundary changes but would be subject to management changes. The Southern Group as well as the Doña Ana Coalition continued to press Secretary Zinke to release the report and chided him for his secrecy.
On December 4, President Trump visited Salt Lake City to issue a proclamation to reduce Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument by almost 50% and Bears Ears National Monument by almost 85%. The following day, Secretary Zinke issued his final report, which included recommendations for the two New Mexico National Monuments that were similar to the preliminary report, namely no boundary changes but management changes.
The Zinke report recommended that ranching be protected and the monument along the Mexican Border be reviewed. However, both grazing and border security were already addressed in the original Organ Mountains Desert Peaks proclamation.
The original proclamation stated “Laws, regulations, and policies followed by the BLM issuing and administering grazing permits or leases on lands under its jurisdiction shall continue to apply with regard to the lands in the monument, consistent with the protection of the objects above.”
The border is also specifically protected by the proclamation’s remarks.
Make no mistake, President Trump’s attack on the two National Monuments in Utah is the first step in a right-wing effort to confiscate our public lands for development, oil and gas exploration and mining, mainly to benefit large corporations rather than the will of the vast majority of Americans who want to protect and enjoy our wild public places.
New Mexico is not free from possible boundary reductions either. Despite the Interior Department’s report, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, who represents the district containing Organ Mountains Desert Peaks, continues to press the president to reduce that monument to the footprint of a small portion of the Organ Mountains. As they say, “it’s not over until it’s over.”
The president’s authority under the Antiquities Act to reduce or eliminate monuments is highly questionable. While past presidents have adjusted boundaries, they have never been challenged in court. Lawsuits have already been filed to challenge the reductions to Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears. The Southern N.M. Group and the Sierra Club support their effort in Utah and will continue to fight attacks on our public lands everywhere.
Across the country, people are not only recognizing more and more the value of public lands, they’re organizing to protect these places permanently. The power of our grassroots teams and coalition building cannot be denied. With strength in numbers, this administration faces a long fight ahead in taking away the places we know and love.
Featured image of the Organ Mountains in snow by Lisa Mandelkern.