Monument benefits well documented: Designation a great opportunity for local business

By Russell Larcher and Duane Mosley For the Las Cruces Bulletin

As of late, there has been much discussion over designating the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks (OMDP) a national monument. One of the most recognizable vistas from our community is of our beloved Organ Mountains. By exploring the mountains, as well as areas to the west and the north, such as the Potrillo, Doña Ana, Robledo and Uvas mountains, residents and visitors to our area will be overwhelmed with desert landscapes, petroglyphs, wildlife, cultural and historical artifacts and stories of our state heritage in every view.

But the effort to protect our treasured public lands and heritage have been countered by some with false information, most recently challenging the positive impact a national monument would have on our local businesses.

In August, the Las Cruces Green Chamber released a study (http://bit.ly/1afWFme) we commissioned by an independent firm, BBC Research and Consulting, to determine the economic viability of designating the OMDP a national monument. BBC is a well-respected consulting firm that has conducted hundreds of economic studies for clients in a wide range of public and private sectors. Their study found that designating OMDP as a national monument would contribute more than $7.4 million in additional local annual economic activity, create 88 new jobs and result in an addi¬tional $562,000 per year generated in combined state and local government tax revenue.

In recent local publications, Utah researchers questioned the findings of BBC’s OMDP economic forecast report, claiming they could not recreate similar economic benefits for our community resulting from such a national monument designation.

We find this curious, since BBC used the well-known and highly regarded IMPLAN economic modeling techniques in both their OMDP and 2012 Rio Grande del Norte (RGDN) studies. IMPLAN has been providing widely used economic modeling tools since 1976. The modeling projections are straightforward, supported by the simple logic that national monuments attract thousands of visitors and those visitors spend millions of dollars in the local economy.

In March 2013, President Obama designated RGDN in northern New Mexico as a National Monument. Since that time, visitation to the area has skyrocketed. Data compiled by the Bureau of Land Management for this new monument shows a year-over-year visitation increase from fiscal 2012 to 2013 of 40 percent. This is all the more impressive when you consider that the monument was designated exactly half way through fiscal year 2013. The increase for fiscal year 2014 is expected to be even greater.

Locally, 2009 data showed that nearby White Sands National Monument saw 471,167 visitors who spent $16 million in the local economy, supporting 278 jobs. Based on the experience at White Sands, Rio Grande del Norte and other area attractions such as Carlsbad Caverns, it is a no-brainer that national monuments attract thousands of visitors annually.

Beyond economic modeling and tourism numbers, having a national monument designation for OMDP is plain common sense. The Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce has been discussing this issue for more than a year with our members. With their input, we are advocating for what we know is the best opportunity for our local businesses.

The possible economic benefits are well documented, providing evidence to appropriately dismiss as ludicrous the claims that this important conservation effort would harm our local economy.

When approximately 100,000 new, non-local visitors start coming to Las Cruces to explore the surrounding public lands, they are going to spend millions of dollars that will benefit our local businesses and create new jobs. Why are we arguing about this?

Russell Larcher and Duane Mosley are on the board of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce and submitted this letter on behalf of the entire board of this organization. Larcher may be contacted at 386-7194, russell@eccsolar.com. Mosley may be contacted at 649-0268, duane.mosley@gmail.com.