By Alex Curtas / For the Sun-News lcsun-news.com
In recent days, an already popular proposal to designate an Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monument has gained a handful of high-profile new supporters.
Congressman Martin Heinrich has implored President Obama to utilize a comprehensive approach for protecting these culturally, historically, and environmentally significant New Mexico landmarks by designating America’s newest national monument under the Antiquities Act.
Late last month, however, Congressman Steve Pearce introduced a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing bill that would open the door for exploiting more than 150,000 acres of land already under protection. Those who truly want what’s best for these pristine areas and the Doña Ana County economy should be skeptical of Rep. Pearce’s paltry proposal.
Legislation introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman to protect the Organ Mountains has been in the federal pipeline for years, but the 2010 wave of Tea Party-backed anti-conservation legislators (of which Rep. Pearce was one) dashed any hopes for passing such a bill. But now, in a half-hearted attempt to appease the growing constituency of southern New Mexico voters supporting national monument designation, Rep. Pearce has come out in favor of legislation using the “national monument” label but with drastically different interests.
Republicans in Congress continually frame conservation issues in highly misleading ways – like labeling common-sense protections “land grabs” and falsely blaming high energy prices on the EPA – and Rep. Pearce’s ostensible support for an Organ Mountain national monument is no different. Rep. Pearce’s call for just 58,000 acres of protection is trivial compared to the 241,000-acre full national monument designation that would bring New Mexico thousands of jobs, and millions of outdoor recreation and tourism dollars, and which already enjoys broad support throughout the state.
Rep. Pearce dubs his bill a “compromise” when it’s actually a calculated attempt to strip these lands of common-sense protections that could sustain the land while supporting the local economy. Remember, Rep. Pearce has received some of the lowest rankings on environmental voting records given by the League of Conservation Voters and he is a proud member of the Congressional Western Caucus, a group of extremist legislators whose website falsely declares that “a monument designation” can be “devastating to communities and individuals.”
While Rep. Pearce wants to forfeit thousands of acres of protected land to allow for more harmful development and exploitation along the Mesilla Valley, Rep. Heinrich – along with a diverse coalition of conservation, economic, veteran, and sportsmen groups – are calling on President Obama to issue robust protections for these lands by way of the Antiquities Act.
Past presidents have used the Act to create New Mexico’s treasured national monuments which contribute over $54 million in annual tourist spending and which support over 1,000 New Mexico jobs. Far from being “devastating” to “communities and individuals,” a true monument designation would bring more tourists, more jobs, and higher incomes to the growing communities of Doña Ana County.
ProgressNow New Mexico supports the effort to have President Obama designate an Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monument.
Recently, along with other ProgressNow partners, we launched MonumentalWest.com as an online resource that provides information about this important endeavor. Visit the website to learn more about how you can help us call on President Obama to designate critical western lands as national monuments.
Alex Curtas is the research and special projects director for ProgressNow New Mexico, a nonprofit progressive advocacy organization.