Their View: National monument best way to preserve local treasures

Las Cruces Sun-News
Martin Heinrich

For more than a century, the Antiquities Act has given American presidents the authority to protect some of our nation’s most important and threatened places. Across New Mexico, we see the benefit of the Antiquities Act —Bandelier National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, White Sands National Monument, and El Morro National Monument to name just a few. Research done late last year by the Green Chamber of Commerce shows that New Mexico’s 10 national monuments established through the Antiquities Act account for 1.3 million annual tourist visits and $54 million in annual tourist spending that supports 1,061 New Mexico jobs.

One place in New Mexico deserving of such protection is the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in Doña Ana County. For months now, I have heard from residents and elected officials in the city of Las Cruces and Doña Ana County asking for help with their efforts to protect these southwestern natural treasures. City councilors, county commissioners, and the mayor of Las Cruces, Ken Miyagishima, have implored me to seek permanent protection. In addition, organizations as diverse as the Hispano Chamber of Commerce de Las Cruces, the League of Women Voters, and the Southwest Consolidated Sportsmen all support a comprehensive approach to preserving Doña Ana County’s wild lands.

Only the president of the United States has the authority to use the Antiquities Act to designate a new national monument, and today I join a rising chorus of New Mexicans by asking President Barack Obama to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

This proposed monument includes part of the original route of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, which took settlers and traders from Mexico City through Las Cruces and continuing north all the way to Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. For more than 300 years, this road served as the sole route from Mexico City into New Mexico. Some of the most vivid characters in New Mexico’s history were active in this area, including Geronimo and Billy the Kid. The Butterfield Stagecoach Route ran right though the Sierra de las Uvas Mountains, which also contain some of the most distinctive Native American petroglyphs and pictographs in the Southwest. The Organ Mountains continue to provide critical cultural resources for the growing Mesilla Valley population.

The mountain ranges in the proposed monument include some of the most important wild game habitat in New Mexico. Mule deer, mountain lion, dove, quail, and many other species call the Sierra de las Uvas home. The Potrillo Mountains are especially significant with their ecological links to northern Mexico, and the Organ Mountains provide critical water resources to local wildlife. As proposed, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument proclamation would make access by sportsmen a central part of the area’s management and protection in perpetuity. That would ensure that when my sons are my age, they will be able to enjoy hunting for mule deer in the Las Uvas, or quail in the Robledos.

Because of their proximity to the fast-growing Las Cruces metro area, these places are threatened by increased development pressures, invasive species, and off-road vehicle abuse. By designating these areas as a new national monument, we can make sure that they are protected for us and future generations of New Mexicans to enjoy.

I hope you will join me in urging the president to make southern New Mexico the home of America’s newest national monument.

Martin Heinrich, a Democrat, represents New Mexico District 1 in the U.S. House of Representatives and is a candidate for U.S. Senate.