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Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks is national treasure

Last week, hundreds of local residents filled a Doña Ana County Commission meeting to voice their support for a resolution to urge President Trump to protect the public lands in Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. This was just the latest overflow crowd to demonstrate the community’s clear consensus that we should keep in place the national monument that so many worked for decades to protect.

Earlier this year, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at undermining the Antiquities Act by shrinking or even eliminating monument protections for some of the most iconic American places. 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.

Since President Teddy Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law in 1906, 16 presidents from both political parties have used it to protect places that are integral parts of who we are as Americans. In New Mexico, the Antiquities Act was used to establish White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns, Chaco Canyon, and Bandelier — places that tell our history and draw visitors from around the world. This unprecedented and likely illegal executive order threatens many of our most treasured national monuments and public lands across America, including the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monuments in New Mexico. Since opening a public comment period — which closes on July 10 — the U.S. Department of the Interior has received more than 1 million comments from Americans who overwhelmingly want to keep protections in place for the public lands that we all cherish.

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is a national model for community-driven conservation. Its creation was the culmination of decades of advocacy from a broad coalition of local businesses, sportsmen, tribal and Hispanic leaders, veterans, faith leaders, and community members across southern New Mexico, who long recognized the national treasure in their backyards and knew it should be conserved for future generations to enjoy.

The monument is incredibly rich in cultural and natural history. It includes six stunning mountain ranges — not just the well-known Organs, but also the Robledos, East and West Potrillos, Doña Anas, and Sierra de las Uvas. Below these mountain peaks, the canyons and lowlands of the Mesilla and Hatch Valleys teem with plant and animal life and historic and prehistoric artifacts.

Perhaps even more importantly, the monument protects the places that generations of families in southern New Mexico have used for family hikes, picnics, and hunting trips. Monument designation preserved private property rights and ensured other historic uses like grazing continue while opening up even greater recreational access to the stunning scenery of southern New Mexico and guaranteeing these public lands will be conserved.

We were both proud to stand with countless New Mexicans who worked tirelessly for years to permanently protect the precious natural and cultural resources throughout the monument’s granite cliffs and grasslands. 

In New Mexico, our national monuments, national parks and public lands are not only critical to conserving our historical, cultural, and natural heritage, but they are also good for business. Outdoor recreation is one of our state's largest economic sectors, generating 68,000 jobs and $6.1 billion of annual economic activity.

In the three years since the monument was created, Doña Ana County has been put on the map as a must-see destination in numerous national and international travel publications. Visitation to Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks doubled last year alone. 

New Mexicans’ livelihoods are rooted in our open spaces. Ensuring our way of life continues depends upon our ability to live up to our responsibility to be good stewards of our land and water. We remain deeply committed to conserving New Mexico’s public lands like Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, and we will oppose any effort by the Trump Administration to turn back the clock on the progress we’ve made to protect the places we hold dear.

We urge all New Mexicans, and all Americans, to continue making their voices heard to stand up for our nation's conservation legacy and for the places that make us who we are as Americans.