Editorial: Our View: New monument a win for state

Santa Fe New Mexican, May 23, 2014

What a great moment for New Mexico!

Southern New Mexico’s Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks have gained the essential wilderness protection they deserve and the community demanded.

President Barack Obama’s decision to declare some 500,000 acres the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument will mean protection for archaeological, geological and historical sites (Billy the Kid’s Outlaw Rock, the Butterfield Stagecoach Trail and Geronimo’s Cave), as well as assurance that the open spaces that all species need to survive remains untouched. President Obama made the designation through the 1906 Antiquities Act, cheered on by a diverse group of New Mexicans who have been working to safeguard this wilderness for years.

New Mexico’s Democratic congressional delegation worked hard to win the protection, with both Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich proposing legislation that would have shielded the region. With Congress gridlocked, though, initiatives to set aside wilderness and to save our natural legacy for our grandchildren have mostly stalled. That’s why presidential action was essential and Obama’s decision welcome.

It’s the same method he used to designate the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. New Mexicans are grateful the president acted. Southern New Mexicans, in particular, know that the economic boost from this designation includes 88 new jobs and an estimated $7.4 million a year in direct economic benefit.

None of this would have happened without an on-the-ground effort by so many people. Hunters, hikers, tribal leaders, business owners, local governments, city and rural residents — all worked to protect the unique land they love. There was some opposition, as is always the case (even Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce only wanted to protect 55,000 acres and called the move a “land grab”).There were scare tactics that the designation would eliminate grazing rights and encourage drug smugglers. Heinrich and others believe the designation will make it easier to for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to patrol the area. There is no reason that a monument should be mean lawlessness.

For once, the naysayers could not block what is good for the region and state. This is wonderful news for New Mexico.