Ken Miyagishima, Nora Barraza, Diana Trujillo and Javier Perea, Guest columnists
June 26, 2016
When President Obama designated the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in May 2014, our community celebrated the permanent protection of our stunning Southwestern natural and cultural landscape. Now, nearly two years later, the designation is paying off.
Visitation to the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument has increased by 30 percent and we have seen new outdoor recreation and tourism businesses open up around Doña Ana County. Thanks in large part to the national monument, Las Cruces was recently included in Lonely Planet’s “Top 10 Places to Visit,” and featured in a full-page article in the Los Angeles Times Travel Section. The American Rock Art Research Association conference just came to Las Cruces to see the monument and filled over 1,000 room nights in area hotels over Memorial Day.
Some of the most special parts about southern New Mexico’s newest attraction are the stunning wilderness-quality lands within the national monument. These include Aden Lava Flow, where exposed geology and unique wildlife combine to form an amazing place to view lava flows, Broad Canyon and its countless archeological sites, and the awe-inspiring Organ Mountains wilderness study areas. The Potrillo Mountains wilderness support one of the healthiest wildlife populations in New Mexico due to its large wildland habitat, and the Robledo Mountains sheltered both Billy the Kid and Geronimo.
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks contains approximately 306 bird species and 78 mammal species, including golden eagles, mule deer, javelina, cougar, ring-tail cat, and quail. Greater protection of the wilderness-quality lands within the national monument will strengthen protections for these most sensitive and historically important landscapes within our new national monument.
But only Congress can designate wilderness, and that is why we are so pleased that Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced a bill to protect these special places as wilderness. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act will ensure the protection that started over 30 years ago when many of these areas were first recommended for the highest level of protection.
The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument was supported by Hispanic leaders, veterans, Native Americans, sportsmen, small business owners, faith leaders, conservationists, and local elected officials like us. This broad and diverse coalition has also long supported the community’s vision for wilderness.
Designating wilderness will further safeguard our important natural treasures and continue to boost our local economies further through tourism and outdoor recreation jobs. Already, outdoor recreation generates $6.1 billion in consumer spending in New Mexico and is responsible for 68,000 jobs across the Land of Enchantment annually.
Public safety also remains our top priority. That’s why we appreciate Udall and Heinrich working with the Border Patrol and law enforcement agencies to ensure that all of their necessary activities will continue. Our senators have worked closely with law enforcement and Border Patrol since legislation was first introduced in 2009. This important collaboration has continued with the national monument designation, and is reflected within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act.
Mesilla, Las Cruces, Anthony, and Sunland Park have always been amazing southwestern towns. But the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument put a special star on the map, and we are starting see great results from it.
We want to thank Sens. Udall and Heinrich for working with us, our communities, and all interested stakeholders in preserving our most wild areas within the national monument. Just as we thank them today, future generations will do so tomorrow.
Ken Miyagishima is mayor of Las Cruces, Nora Barraza is mayor of Mesilla, Diana Trujillo is mayor of Anthony and Javier Perea is mayor of Sunland Park.