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Monuments matter in New Mexico and around the West

In New Mexico, our livelihoods are rooted in our open spaces. Families have long histories of using our public lands for hiking, hunting, fishing and other outdoor traditions, both new and old. New Mexicans also share an unwavering commitment to protecting our natural heritage for our children and for all future generations, and know firsthand that conservation and growing the economy are inextricably linked.

In the face of new threats from the Trump administration and public land giveaway bills introduced in state legislatures across the West and increasingly in Congress, I joined the community in Taos last month to celebrate and stand up for the Rio Grande del Norte, and all of our national monuments and public lands in New Mexico and across the country.

The campaign to transfer to the states or even sell off our shared lands should not be mistaken for the mainstream values of Westerners whose way of life depends on the region’s land and water. Under these proposals, many critical conservation lands would be turned over to the highest bidder and that local taxpayers would be saddled with the costs of overseeing the rest.

Selling off public lands would also devastate our thriving outdoor recreation economy, which generates 68,000 jobs and $6.1 billion of annual economic activity in New Mexico. And it would result in a proliferation of locked gates and “No Trespassing” signs in places that have been open to the public and used for generations of New Mexico families for outdoor traditions like hunting, camping, and fishing.

Under the Antiquities Act, the president has the authority to designate national monuments to permanently protect public lands and resources of historic, scientific, and cultural importance. For the last century, presidents from both political parties have used their authority to protect iconic landscapes and cultural treasures.

In New Mexico, places such as Bandelier, White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns, Chaco Canyon, and most recently the Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments were originally protected for all of us by use of the Antiquities Act. These are places we all treasure and integral parts of who we are as New Mexicans.

However, extreme public land opponents have cynically called on President Trump to overturn the Antiquities Act and rescind our national monuments. This would erase places like Rio Grande del Norte and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments in New Mexico and the new Bears Ears National Monument in the Four Corners region of Utah from the map.

From the tops of Cerro de la Olla and Ute Mountain, to the depths of the Rio Grande Gorge, the Río Grande del Norte is one of the most spectacular places on earth. The historic monument designation nearly four years ago would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of our local community who dedicated years of hard work to protect this area. New visitors from across the country and around the world to the Rio Grande del Norte are fueling the Land of Enchantment’s tourism industry and creating new jobs.

Bears Ears in Utah includes thousands of historic and cultural sites with deep meaning to numerous Native American tribes. I was proud to stand with New Mexico tribes like the Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo who called for permanent protection of their ancestral homelands. Safeguarding this type of sacred ground is exactly what the Antiquities Act was intended to do.

The overwhelming majority of New Mexicans oppose the effort to revoke our national monuments and sell off our public lands. A Colorado College poll conducted after the presidential election found that 82 percent of New Mexicans want to keep our existing national monuments in place.

As we stand up against new threats, we must remember that democratic engagement works. Earlier this month, following backlash from thousands of his constituents, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) withdrew his bill to sell off millions of acres of public lands, including nearly a million acres in New Mexico. When we make our voices heard, we can demonstrate to policymakers how important it is to all of us to keep public lands in public hands.

I remain deeply committed to standing with New Mexicans to protect and conserve our public lands, watersheds, and wildlife for all to enjoy. I can’t think of anything more fundamentally American than defending the land we all own and love.