Doña Ana County is a thriving region that has had one of the fastest growth rates in New Mexico for decades. The county possesses many assets including New Mexico State University, White Sands Missile Range, the NASA White Sands Test Facility, and the country’s best green chile in Hatch. South of Las Cruces lies the communities of El Paso, Texas, Fort Bliss and Juarez Mexico, with a combined population of over two million residents. Northeast is the new Spaceport America, where commercial space flights are expected to begin in 2012. Doña Ana County is also blessed to have some of the finest public lands in the Rocky Mountain West.
Las Cruces, the county seat of Doña Ana County, has been repeatedly recognized by top national publications and surveys as one of the premier places in the country to retire and do business.
These qualities have contributed to the strong local growth rate, and with it, a rapid decrease in the amount of open space and a continuing fragmentation of the land within our regional wilderness areas.
Threats to Doña Ana County’s Public Lands
Under the current Resource Management Plan for Doña Ana County, some of the same lands within the National Monument and wilderness protection are classified by the BLM as “disposal”, allowing their sale to the highest bidder. With affordable land prices in this charming southwestern community, demand for large scale development continues in Doña Ana County. During Las Cruces’ recent growth boom, the City annexed an amount of land equal to 40% of the City’s total land mass in 2006-2007 alone.
Off Road Vehicle Abuse
Off Road Vehicle Abuse continues to be the number one threat to public lands in the West, according to recent research. Irresponsible ORV use leads to fragmentation of sensitive lands, incursion of non-native species, degradation of wildlife habitat, property damage caused by cut fences, and a nuisance to other non motorized visitors. With the tremendous growth of Doña Ana and El Paso Counties, we have also seen a proliferation of illegal off road vehicle abuse in some of the regionsin the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Irresponsible ORV use leaves scars that can take generations to heal.
With New Mexico’s abundant energy resources, there is significant discussion about the construction of various utility corridors to carry this power to market. Particular plans propose to build major infrastructure right through the foothills of the Organ Mountains and other key lands recommended for protection.
New Mexico Tech will soon release a new report documenting the presence of rare earth minerals (REM) in New Mexico. Their research has discovered the presence REM’s in the Organ Mountains. Depending on its location within this mountain range, industrial mining could devastate the Organ Mountain’s wild character.
The monument is home to a diversity of vegetation, but much of this plant life can be pushed from its habitat by non-native species. Invasive species can take hold where fragile environments, such as Chihuahuan Desert grasslands, can be impacted through surface-disturbing activities. Once topsoil is removed, non-native species can thrive where native plants cannot. In addition, certain species, such as cheat grass, can also dominate a landscape once it is allowed a foothold. Unchecked, invasive species can transform the landscapes that make the monument unique and biologically important.
Arid environments, such as Southern New Mexico, are especially vulnerable to the impacts of humancaused climate change. The predicted increased temperature and decreased availability of water can destabilize the Monument’s ecosystems, endangering the variety of plants and animals that are highlighted for protection. The special management associated with a national monument can provide an opportunity to manage these lands to adapt to climate change and also to study its effects for the benefit of science.