By Greg Zimmerman and Jessica Goad
Center for Western Priorities
At the request of local community leaders, President Barack Obama has announced that he is protecting nearly 500,000 acres of the stunning Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument near Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Despite widespread local support for the new national monument, anti-park and anti-federal public land members of Congress like Congressmen Doc Hastings (R-WA), Steve Pearce (R-NM), and Rob Bishop (R-UT) have reacted negatively to other recent public lands protections. Considering their past rhetoric, here are four claims that these and other elected officials may make about the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, and why they are wrong:
1) Rhetoric: there was insufficient public input and a lack of public support to warrant a monument designation for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.
Reality: There is a groundswell of support from communities and leaders across the region to protect the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. The monument has backing from hundreds of businesses, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, local elected officials, cities and towns, sportsmen, veterans, Latino and faith leaders, youth organizations, and more.
In fact, a 2014 poll from the Vet Voice Foundation shows that nearly 3 in 4 Doña Ana County residents—the county in which the monument is located—support an Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument to protect important historic sites, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation.
2) Rhetoric: rather than use executive authority, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks should have been protected by Congress through the legislative process.
Reality: Conserving public lands, like national parks and national forests, has a long history of support from both sides of the aisle. But in recent years, this has changed. Congress has stopped advancing broadly supported legislation to protect even the most deserving of lands.
In the face of Congressional inaction, President Barack Obama made it clear that he is prepared to show leadership and conserve deserving lands. As he put it in this year’s State of the Union, “I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.” And Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stated last October:
If Congress doesn’t step up to act to protect some of these important places that have been identified by communities and people throughout the country, then the president will take action.
By protecting Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, President Obama is following the footsteps of previous presidents—Republican and Democrats alike—who used the Antiquities Act to protect America’s treasured lands, such as the Statue of Liberty, Grand Canyon, Arches, and Zion National Parks.
3) Rhetoric: enough public lands are already protected.
Reality: We have a proud legacy of parks, monuments, and wilderness in this country, but there remain many unprotected outdoor spaces that deserve protection and that local communities want to see protected. There are dozens of locally-driven bills in Congress right now that propose protecting lands, but this Congress has failed to act.
Congress and the Obama administration have done less than their predecessors when it comes to protecting public lands for future generations. Since January 2009, 7.6 million acres of public lands have been leased to oil and gas companies, while only 2.9 million have been permanently protected. This new monument begins to remedy that imbalance.
This is despite the public’s desire to see more conservation. Specifically in the West, voters want to see public lands protected. According to the 2014 Colorado College Conservation in the West Poll, 67 percent of Western voters—and more than 6 in 10 New Mexico voters—are more likely to back a candidate for office who supports enhancing protections for some public lands.
4) Rhetoric: the new national monument weakens border security.
Reality: This national monument will change nothing about where, when, and how the United States Border Patrol operates along the U.S.-Mexico border. Law enforcement activities will be allowed and unaffected by a monument designation.
Truman Project Executive Director, national security expert, and former U.S. Army Captain Michael Breen strongly supports the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, saying in a recent statement that, “Designating the Organ Mountains as a national monument will protect important military heritage sites without impairing border security.”