Diana Alba Soular , Las Cruces Sun-News Published 9:08 p.m. MT Jan. 25, 2017
LAS CRUCES — The Democrats’ ranking member of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources toured the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument on Wednesday and held a listening session with supporters of the monument.
After visiting the monument, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, met with a panel of 18 residents representing various groups supportive of the monument on Wednesday evening at Thomas Branigan Memorial Library in Las Cruces. Some monument opponents also attended the session, which organizers said wasn’t advertised as a public meeting.
Grijalva said he recognizes that national monuments and a key law that allows U.S. presidents to designate them — the federal Antiquities Act of 1906 — could be undermined, given the “times and tenor of the times.”
“We’re visiting national monuments here in New Mexico,” he said. “We’re going to do the same in other parts of the country to talk about the importance of these to local communities primarily, but also to the inventory of the very important conservation legacy that this nation has. And, we want to highlight, profile these legacies and the monument designations that have occurred.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., has asked newly inaugurated President Donald Trump to review the 496,000-acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument to consider reducing its size (Read the Story). Pearce, recently appointed to the Committee on Natural Resources, has advocated in the past for a 55,000-acre national monument that would focus only upon the Organ Mountains.
Panelists representing outdoor enthusiasts, hunters, tourism entities and some businesses told Grijalva the national monument has benefited the local community by boosting visitation to southern New Mexico, creating educational opportunities, and protecting popular hunting and recreation areas for future residents.
John Cornell, president of the Doña Ana County Associated Sportsmen, said there was uncertainty among hunters, who’d been using the public lands in
Doña Ana County for decades, that they’d continue to have access to it if a national monument was put in place. But once they learned more about it,
“they came on board.”
“There were a lot of misconceptions out there,” he said. “There were a lot of people out there who didn’t understand. It was an education process.”
The monument, which covers several mountain ranges throughout Doña Ana County, was designated in May 2014 by former President Barack Obama.
Resident David Soules said he hikes regularly in the national monument and is especially interested in studying its history. He’s noticed an uptick in the number of people exploring the lands since the monument’s designation, he said.
“I see it every time I’m out there,” he said.
Two attendees in the audience expressed concerns to Grijalva about the monument, saying it’s not supported by everyone. Resident James Huff said one event that drew “1,000 people” has left the county over the monument. He claimed, too, it will create a corridor for human trafficking from Mexico.
“We do not need the monument,” he said. “If you want to do a monument and you’ve got to have a monument, Steve Pearce did a deal that would be real good that would protect the Organ Mountains.”
Representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both D-N.M., were part of the panel. A staff member from Pearce’s office
also was in the audience.
Resident Angel Peña told Grijalva he owns an outfitting business, and “we’re only here because of the national monument.”
Grijalva told attendees they should continue to “tell the story” about the national monument’s impact. That will be key in the debate about monuments’
futures, he said.
“I think everybody having to make these decisions has to understand where a community is,” he said. “I think the stories you’re telling locally resonate
Resident Carolyn Gressit said the beauty of the Organ Mountains also inspires artists.
“It’s just a powerful natural place,” she said. “It’s not just hiking and mountain biking, but the arts community benefits, as well.”
After the session, Grijalva said he “thought it went OK.”
“I came to get an appreciation for the history — how the monument happened,” he said. “As this (monument) matures, it seems to continue to grow in
economic benefit and support.”
Grijalva will tour White Sands National Monument on Thursday morning and is scheduled to be in Los Alamos Friday.
Diana Alba Soular may be reached at 575-541-5443, firstname.lastname@example.org (mailto:email@example.com) or @AlbaSoular (http://twitter.com
/albasoular) on Twitter.
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