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Democratic members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation on Monday issued a last-ditch plea to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to keep intact two national monuments on a list of sites being reviewed by the Trump administration.
Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Reps. Ben Ray Lujan and Michelle Lujan Grisham sent a letter to Zinke, saying thousands of New Mexicans support the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces and the Rio Grande del Norte monument outside of Taos. They pointed to the monuments as drivers for local economies on each end of the state.
“The voices of New Mexicans could not be clearer — our national monuments are vitally important to our history and are part of the living culture of local tribes and pueblos,” the letter states. “Our local communities worked for decades to ensure that permanent protections for our national monuments would be in place for the use and enjoyment of future generations.”
But not all New Mexicans have embraced the designations made under the Obama administration.
Opponents, like some Hispanic ranchers with ties to the land that go back generations, say the designations are another attempt by the federal government to attack grazing rights and water access while discounting their historical connections.
The ranchers also have voiced opposition to any new wilderness designations as minority farm and ranching groups continue to push the U.S. Department of Agriculture to address decades of discrimination and civil rights violations, particularly against Hispanic ranchers and land grant heirs in New Mexico.
Zinke visited the state last month and held a series of private stakeholder meetings. It’s not clear when he will issue recommendations on the two New Mexico monuments. The deadline is Thursday.
Supporters of the monuments say the designations have helped to protect some of the state’s most iconic landscapes and that tourism and economic development related to the sites are on the rise.
Environmental groups have been running advertisements statewide, and Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, has pledged his support for keeping the monuments intact. Two-term Republican Gov. Susana Martinez said earlier this summer that she welcomed the review.
The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks site encompasses close to one half-million acres (202,343 hectares), or about one-fifth of Dona Ana County. It is home to desert grasslands as well as rocks that were once a practice ground for the Apollo astronauts, the remnants of tracks from the Butterfield Stage route and other archaeological sites.
Rio Grande del Norte covers nearly a quarter-million acres (101,171 hectares) of rugged terrain near the New Mexico-Colorado border, with the river cutting a deep gorge through the plains and volcanic cones such as Ute Mountain providing notable markers along the horizon. The area also serves as a wildlife corridor between mountain ranges and features petroglyphs and other archaeological sites.