Public lands are a driver for economic development
Op-Ed, Las Cruces Sun News
Philip San Filippo, Carrie Hamblen and David Crider 10:20 a.m. MST December 11, 2016
As leaders of economic development in southern New Mexico, we know the immense value that national monuments and protected public lands contribute to our economic vitality. In Las Cruces, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is bringing more visitors, creating priceless advertising and is fast becoming a key piece of a sustainable economic future for our region. We know the same to be true for the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico.
Visitation has substantially increased since Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks’ designation, helped by local marketing efforts and recognition in national publications such as Lonely Planet. In the monument’s Organ Mountains portion alone, visitation increased by 102 percent in fiscal year 2016, 170,451 visitors, compared to fiscal year 2015, 84,197 visitors, according to Bureau of Land Management data.
Other efforts have helped drive this increase. This year saw our first Monuments to Main Street festival, which combined existing community festivals with new events and outdoor excursions, including commercial helicopter flights over the increasingly popular Desert Peaks part of our national monument. We’re already planning for 2017’s Monuments to Main Street.
Our new monument also has drawn three conferences to our community, bringing over 1,500 room-nights in local hotels. This visitation surge will increase over time as Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks continues to gain national and international notoriety. Permanent protection for these beautiful lands has resulted in permanent economic opportunity for our region.
The monument designation came after years of public discourse and was supported by vast majorities of voters in southern New Mexico. Our local coalition — including elected officials, sportsmen, business owners, tribes and Latino leaders, conservationists, veterans and faith leaders — worked for years to protect these public lands, but were repeatedly stymied by congressional inaction. The Obama administration and Sens. Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich and Jeff Bingaman all worked hard to seek out the thoughts of local residents over a multi-year period leading up to the monument’s designation.
After our community’s hard work and successes, we found recent calls from Utah Congressman Rob Bishop to take away our national monuments to be shocking, upsetting and completely against our community’s interest. Rolling back national monument designations would likely lead to privatizing our treasured public lands and would remove the incredible branding that national monuments give Las Cruces, Taos, and other communities across the country. Any attempt to remove these important protections would never stand the scrutiny and sustained public consultation that brought us these monuments in the first place.
In fact, it was the sustained consultation with the public that provided the impetus to protect not only the iconic Organ Mountains, but also many other historically important areas such as petroglyphs, Billy the Kid sites, the Butterfield Stage Route, and World War II bombing targets used to train our airmen.
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, Rio Grande del Norte, and numerous other national monuments have been established under the Antiquities Act, a law that provides presidents with the ability to protect lands that are important to our nation’s history and natural heritage. In the past 110 years, 16 presidents — eight Republicans and eight Democrats — have used the Antiquities Act. In doing so, they have protected worthy public lands and historic sites to be shared, accessed and enjoyed by all Americans — both present and future generations.
Thanks to President Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act, our new monuments will be preserved forever. For local businesses, this preservation provides us with new ways to market our community and attract new residents looking to settle here and create jobs.
Unfortunately, Bishop’s radical proposal threatens the values and opportunities that our monuments create. The incoming administration would do well to look at how the recently designated monuments, such as those here in New Mexico, are widely supported and benefitting local economies.
Our experience with Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument demonstrates how the Antiquities Act works and why it is in the interest of Americans everywhere to fight short-sighted efforts to take away monuments.
Philip San Filippo is the executive director of the Las Cruces Convention & Visitors Bureau. Carrie Hamblen is the CEO of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce. David Crider is the owner of Southwest Expeditions in Las Cruces.