Wilderness effort makes new appeal: Petition cites history in seeking to establish national monument status

The Las Cruces Bulletin
3/23/2012
Todd G. Dickson

With Congress unlikely to pass public land protections in the near future, supporters of wilderness protections in Doña Ana County are starting a new drive to convince President Barack Obama to grant national monument status to the Organ Mountains and other areas.

With the Organ Mountains as a backdrop at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum Tuesday, March 20, Doña Ana County Commissioner Billy Garrett made the announcement about the new appeal directly to the president.

Garrett, who grew up in the county before going on to workfor national parks, said he returned “with new eyes for this landscape” that is equal to any other place given national monument status.

Advocates of wilderness protections have been trying to get more permanent protections for federal lands in the Organs, as well as the Robledos, Las Uvas and Potrillos.

Borrowing from the most recent form of wilderness legislation that called for 241,000 acres of wilderness and 100,000 acres of National Conservation Area, the request has the same title of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.

Comissioner-Billy-Garrett

Doña Ana County Commissioner Billy Garrett talks about his support for an effort to protect the Organ mountains and the surrounding landscapes through a national monument designation, Tuesday, March 20, at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum. (Photo by Todd Dickson).

In addition to gridlock in Congress, efforts to create wilderness have also run into staunch opposition from ranchers, off-road enthusiasts and those concerned about border security, especially in the Potrillo Mountains in the far southern end of the county.

According to the supporters, national monument status would protect “valid existing rights” based on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to include “wood gathering, grazing, herb and traditional plant gathering, previously-existing oil and gas leases, access to private property, valid mining claims, and rights of way for roads and utility infrastructure.”

In its fact sheet, supporters say other allowable uses on land with national monument status include: hunting and fishing; horseback riding; camping and backpacking; riding motorizedvehicles on designated roads; hiking and biking; law enforcement and border security; livestock grazing; and firefighting and fuels reduction.

Also in the Robledo Mountains is the Pre-historic Trackways National Monument created to help protect fossilized records of early life. The area also is used by offroad enthusiasts, most notably in the annual Chile Challenge.
Garrett was one of the number of supporters who signed an initial letter to President Obama.

Also speaking at the announcement was Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima, who described the new effort as a good way to protect the natural setting of the mountain area while also acknowledging its history.

Historic and cultural features of the lands proposed include sections of the Butterfield Stage Trail, Kilbourne Hole, Billy the Kid’s“Outlaw Rock,” Geronimo’s Cave, Apollo Astronaut training sites, the original U.S.-Mexico border from Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, World War II aerial targets, 243 known archeological sites and more than 5,000 unknown archeologicalsites “What better way to promote Las Cruces and southern New Mexico than by establishing this monument,” Miyagishima said.

In the letter to the president, supporters describe the region as “an international treasure, characterized by unique and irreplaceable natural and cultural resources.”

Miyagishima said Jeff Steinborn of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance had asked him to pass a pamphlet on the proposal to the president during a recent visit to the White House.

For more on the effort, visit www.organmountains.org.