WASHINGTON — Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., introduced a bill late Thursday that would establish most of the Organ Mountains in southern New Mexico as a national monument.
Pearce told the Journal his bill represents a compromise between those who prefer more restrictive federal wilderness designation for the mountains and those who prefer fewer restrictions on development and use.
“We’ve always supported the idea that the Organs should not be built on — it’s one of the signatures of our district,” Pearce said. “We’ve just had a disagreement on how to get there.”
Pearce’s bill would bar development in areas of the Organs protected by the monument designation and ban the use of motorized vehicles except on roads designated for use in the proposed monument’s management plan.
His bill also would allow use of motorized vehicles “for the construction of range improvements or the performance of standard ranching operations” or flood control in the mountains. The legislation also would allow the issuance of grazing permits and renewed or upgraded utility rights of way.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., has pushed legislation for years to designate the Organ Mountains, as well as parts of the nearby Potrillo, Robledo and Doña Ana mountains and Sierra de las Uvas, as a federal wilderness area, which is the most restrictive federal protection for public lands.
Pearce’s monument bill would protect about 58,500 acres of the Organ Mountains from development. Bingaman’s wilderness bill, by contrast, would designate 241,000 acres in and around the Organs as federally protected wilderness and an additional 100,000 acres in the Broad Canyon area as a National Conservation Area.
Bingaman said Thursday that he welcomed Pearce’s legislation as a starting point for potential negotiations between the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate.
“There’s broad consensus in the community that there are special areas in Doña Ana County that need permanent protection,” Bingaman said. “Now that Rep. Pearce has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives, I hope we can work together in the coming months to get a bill to the president’s desk.”
Pearce said his bill intentionally takes a narrower approach than Bingaman’s because he wants to leave open to ranching some of the areas that would be protected in Bingaman’s bill.
“We’re basically trying to protect what we all think of as the Organs from development, but still allow broader access,” Pearce said.
Jerry G. Schickedanz, chairman of the group People for Preserving Our Western Heritage, which opposes Bingaman’s bill, said he supports the Pearce legislation.
But Renee Frank, president of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, said Pearce’s bill doesn’t reflect consensus in the community that a much greater portion of the mountainous area should be preserved.