Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., last week introduced a bill to designate most of the Organ Mountains on Las Cruces’ eastern horizon as a national monument.
While it’s a smaller and less protective set-aside than advocates for federal wilderness seek, it still is a significant step in seeking to protect one of the state’s natural centerpieces. The bill would protect about 58,500 acres of the Organ Mountains from development.
Pearce, whose congressional district includes the area, says his bill is a compromise: “We’ve always supported the idea that the Organs should not be built on —it’s one of the signatures of our district. We’ve just had a disagreement on how to get there.”
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is among longtime advocates for a larger wilderness area.
In 2009, Bingaman and Sen. Tom Udall introduced legislation that would designate 241,000 acres in several pieces in and around the Organs as wilderness and 100,000 acres in the Broad Canyon area as a National Conservation Area. Last year, the bill was left off the U.S. Department of Interior’s list of national “crown jewels” it wanted Congress to fast track for wilderness status.
Bingaman said he welcomes Pearce’s bill as a starting point for negotiations between the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate.
While not as comprehensive as the wilderness effort, Pearce’s bill would in and of itself provide significant new protection to what is one of New Mexico’s crown jewels.
At the very least, it is a good start.