Southern NM Veterans’ Organ Mountains Tour Highlights Importance of Protecting Public Lands

Vets Discuss Value of Lands for Those Who Fought for America

Dona Ana Democrats

On a tour of various landmarks in the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks region on Wednesday, Southern New Mexico veterans from every branch of the military discussed their strong shared support for protecting rich public lands within the Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks region in Doña County. Veterans spoke of the importance of having protected mountains and open space at home for veterans to recreate and provide a sanctuary.

The tour included several natural and historic locations including the Organ Mountains, rare World War II Aerial Targets in the Sierra de las Uvas, and the historic Butterfield Stagecoach Trail.

“Veterans – more than most — recognize that when our sons and daughters are fighting overseas, they’re fighting for so much more than our freedoms. They are also fighting for our land and our nation’s sacred places,” said Doña Ana County-area veteran Peter Ossorio. “To Southern New Mexicans, the craggy peaks of the Organ Mountains and its surrounding desert is one such sacred place. In fact, I would say protecting our public lands heritage is one of the most patriotic things we could do.”

The event, which was a desert tour of some of the public lands proposed for a national monument in Doña Ana County, was organized by local veterans and the national Vet Voice Foundation. The Organ Mountains-Doña Ana County Conservation and Protection Act (S. 1024) would protect these resources as would a recently-announced proposal to create the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

Just last week, a broad coalition of Southern New Mexico businesses, sportsmen, faith-based organizations, conservation groups and community leaders announced their support for a Presidential monument designation for the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks region. Representatives from the Offices of Sens. Bingaman and Udall, two sponsors of S. 1024, were on hand for the veterans tour, which included an expert on the Butterfield Stage and a local historian on the land’s significance.

“As veterans, we are committed to serving beyond the time when we were in uniform,” said Doña Ana County area veteran Bernie Digman. “Serving our country is about so much more than our time in the military – it’s about what we do when we take that uniform off. For me, that means fighting to protect public lands so that my kids and grandkids can enjoy the wonders of nature that I enjoyed as a boy.”

In addition, healthy public lands are critical to many returning veterans as they reintegrate to civilian life.

“You cannot understate the therapeutic value of a camping trip or a peaceful hike for our brothers and sisters who are returning home from service in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Ossorio added. “These wild and beautiful places like the Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks region are a crucial part of the America our service members are fighting for.”

“Protecting public lands is about more than merely conserving acreage, it’s about preserving our history,” Digman said. “Right here in Doña Ana County we have the obvious places to protect – like the crest of the Organ Mountains. But we also have more hidden treasures, like the Butterfield Stage route and the bombing targets carved into the desert these are no less significant than the beautiful vistas we enjoy every day.”

Recent studies have highlighted the positive economic impacts of National Monuments. A 2011 report on Carlsbad Caverns showed an annual tourist spend of $23 million, supporting nearly 350 direct and indirect jobs.

“National Monuments mean local jobs,” said local veteran Nathan Cote. “How? Because when a monument is designated it immediately goes to the top of the list when it comes to tour books and travel blogs. A National Monument in our community will bring more visitors who will spend money and create jobs right here. There really is no downside.”

Nathan Cote, Bernie Digman and Peter Ossorio are all featured in a recent series of videos from the Vet Voice Foundation on the importance of preserving our public lands and heritage.

Vet Voice Foundation is a national group that works to mobilize veterans to become leaders in their communities on the important issues our nation faces. With regard to the conservation of our public lands, Vet Voice Foundation recognizes that when a service member is fighting for his or her country, they are also fighting for our nation’s natural wonders and an American way of life that is steeped in enjoyment of the great outdoors.