Looking In: Sportsmen hail monument designation

Op-ed by John Cornell
Santa Fe New Mexican, May 26, 2014

Southern New Mexico sportsmen were not just happy, we were relieved when President Barack Obama designated the nation’s newest national monument, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.

Hunters in particular have been outspoken advocates of protecting these lands surrounding Las Cruces because we use them regularly. Some members of our organization have been hunting in the Potrillos, Robledos and Sierra de las Uvas since they were teenagers, and they’re now parents and grandparents.

For decades — thousands of years, in fact, judging by the petroglyphs of big game in some of the hidden canyons of the region — hunters have wandered the hills, valleys, washes and bare rock peaks around what is now Las Cruces. Now the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks are the backyard of New Mexico’s second-largest city, and they easily could have been gobbled up and closed off to the public by development.

Instead, they have been permanently protected, giving thousands of hunters the opportunity to enjoy our public lands and to pass on our outdoor traditions to our kids and grandkids.

In New Mexico, hunting and fishing are more than sport. They are a central part of our culture, an important link between generations and a way to feed our families.

And protected public lands, such as the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, are where sportsmen go. Areas around Las Cruces have provided hunting opportunities for mule deer, antelope, javelina, quail and dove. Without protection, these invaluable outdoor recreation lands could be sold or developed, and closed to hunting forever. Designation as a national monument requires that existing uses, such as hunting, continue.

Hunting and other forms of outdoor recreation on public lands benefit more than just sportsmen, however. In 2011, New Mexico hunters and anglers spent $579 million — more than the combined receipts for pecans, hay, cotton, corn and chile peppers. Hunting and fishing support thousands of small businesses in rural communities, as well as in urban centers. In short, sportsmen are a key economic driver in New Mexico.

Members of Doña Ana County Associated Sportsmen have hiked, scouted, camped and hunted on these lands for more than 50 years. We have a passion for and a deep-rooted connection to the land, which we want to share with future generations. With this designation, we now have something concrete to pass on.

Our thanks go to President Barack Obama, as well as to the support voiced for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and our U.S. senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich. Through their combined efforts, we have cause to celebrate and breathe a sigh of relief.

John Cornell is the president of the Doña Ana County Associated Sportsmen.