WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) delivered the keynote address at the New Mexico Outdoor Economics Conference in Las Cruces, highlighting the inextricable link between conservation and growing the Western economy. The two-day conference was the first event of its kind in New Mexico and featured business, elected, and outdoor industry leaders from across the West.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the outdoor recreation economy in New Mexico generates 99,000 direct jobs, $9.9 billion in consumer spending, $2.8 billion in wages and salaries, and $623 million in state and local tax revenue.
Senator Heinrich's remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
Good morning. And I want to say a big Thank You to all of you for organizing and attending this year’s New Mexico Outdoor Economics Conference here in Las Cruces.
I’m excited for this opportunity for all of us to talk through the ideas and effective strategies that we are seeing across the West to promote tourism, economic development, and job opportunities offered by the outdoor recreation economy.
And I’m especially proud that this conference is being held here in southern New Mexico.
This region has become a national model for how much public lands and specially designated areas can boost local economies.
For the last century, national treasures like the Gila Wilderness, Carlsbad Caverns, and White Sands have attracted visitors to the region.
And over the last four years, our state’s newest national monument, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, transformed iconic landscapes that locals had long recognized for their beauty and history into a beacon for outdoor enthusiasts around the world.
I will always count standing with New Mexicans to permanently protect the precious natural and cultural resources throughout the monument’s granite cliffs and grasslands as one of my proudest moments in public service.
I’m looking forward to hiking in Dripping Springs with some of you right after this to show off just a small taste of the monument’s rugged beauty.
Monument designation for Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks brought pride to the local community.
And it has also been great for business.
OMDP is a case study for what a national monument can mean as a major boost to a local economy. The monument put Doña Ana County on the map as a must-see destination in numerous national and international travel publications.
That increased visibility led directly to record tourism here in Doña Ana County and a significant boost to business for local restaurants, hotels, retailers, and outfitters.
You can see how much pride the monument has instilled in local businesses in all of the locally tailored products like Organ Mountain Outfitters T-shirts and the OMDP coffee blend at Beck’s Coffee.
And you can see it in the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce’s second annual month-long Monuments to Main Street celebration last September that had more than 50 events touting OMDP and White Sands National Monument.
Those events included tours, hikes, art shows, and special discounts at dozens of local businesses, restaurants, and hotels.
This is exactly the type of positive and sustainable economic activity that public lands can support.
And that’s one of the major reasons why I am fighting so hard to protect these treasured places for future generations.
Like so many New Mexicans, some of my best memories are from weekends spent outdoors with family and friends in our public lands.
Whether it was backpacking trips in southwestern New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness—the place that conservationist and sportsman Aldo Leopold proposed as the first wilderness area in the world.
Or during my time working as an AmeriCorps member for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and as the director of Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions in the Zuni Mountains near Gallup.
I learned to deeply appreciate just how special and irreplaceable our public lands are to our way of life and our livelihoods in New Mexico.
Our public lands in the West are an essential part of who we are as Americans.
They are the places where generations of families have hunted, hiked, and learned about our history.
Our public lands are where locals and visitors alike go to fill their freezers with elk or wild turkey, camp under the stars, bike on challenging single track, or cast a fly in a trout stream.
They’re places all of us can access, regardless of the size of our wallets.
And most importantly for what we’re here to discuss today, our public lands are major drivers of our economy.
Last year, the Outdoor Industry Association found that the outdoor recreation economy directly contributes 9.9 billion dollars in annual consumer spending and employs 99,000 people in New Mexico.
As this conference has shown us, we still have so much room to grow this industry in New Mexico by learning from success stories in other Western communities and states.
A recent poll by Colorado College found that 92 percent of New Mexicans think that the outdoor recreation economy is important to the economic future of our state.
And nearly 80 percent think that our public lands and outdoor lifestyle give New Mexico an advantage over other parts of the country.
I couldn’t agree more. Growing tourism has been one of the real bright spots in our economy.
And our incredible landscapes and outdoor opportunities are such a large part of attracting out-of-state and international visitors to visit our state.
These outdoor opportunities are also key to attracting businesses and maintaining a high quality of life for New Mexico families.
That’s why today I am calling on the next Governor of New Mexico to create an Office of Outdoor Recreation.
And that’s why I remain doubly committed to securing conservation victories.
Last year, despite the odds, we achieved some major wins across New Mexico.
We finalized a land donation that opened up public access to the Sabinoso Wilderness in San Miguel County for the very first time.
The donation was added as new wilderness and finally allows the public to experience the Sabinoso’s narrow mesas, and rugged canyons.
Imagine that, we successfully created new wilderness in New Mexico.
We also got the planning and construction phase off the ground for the ambitious Zuni Mountain Trails Project, a world-class mountain bike trail system in the Cibola National Forest that leaders in McKinley and Cibola Counties worked for years to make a reality.
Earlier this week, I was up in Farmington, where I met with Mayor Nate Duckett to discuss his community’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Initiative.
That initiative is aiming to attract more outdoor enthusiasts to the Four Corners.
We toured some of the areas where the community has worked with the BLM to create a new network of trails.
It’s going to become an amazing area to hike, bike, and enjoy beautiful scenery.
And finally—and you all are the first to hear this—later today, right after hiking in OMDP, I will be driving a little bit east to make a major announcement.
I will be introducing legislation to promote White Sands National Monument to full National Park status.
This is something that has broad and bipartisan support in local communities like Las Cruces, Mesilla, Alamogordo, Tularosa, and with the Mescalero Apache Tribe.
Some of the biggest champions of making White Sands a national park are leaders like Republican State Senator Ron Griggs and Alamogordo Mayor Richard Boss, who have been calling for this more prestigious recognition of White Sands for years.
And that’s because they know that national park status would be the proper recognition of a place that for anyone who has seen it would agree is a national treasure and international attraction for New Mexico.
Just as importantly, White Sands National Park will be a tremendous gain for the local economy.
After looking at similar monuments turned into national parks, a recent study by Headwaters Economics – that you’ll hear more about shortly – found that promoting White Sands to a National Park could attract more than 100,000 new visitors each year and generate as much as 7.5 million dollars of new annual spending.
That’s a major infusion of out-of-state capital into the local economy.
Right after this, you’re going to hear from Ray Rasker, the executive director of Headwaters Economics, which authored that study. He’ll be able to spell out in more detail how the establishment of White Sands National Park will benefit our economy.
My legislation, the White Sands National Park Establishment Act, would also be a win for southern New Mexico’s military installations.
I’ve worked closely with leadership at White Sands Missile Range, Fort Bliss, and Holloman to make sure this change actually enhances their missions.
The national park legislation would complete a land exchange between the Army and the National Park Service that has been in the works since the 1970s.
The Department of Defense would receive land that would support its testing missions, and the new national park would receive lands with significant cultural resources and new places for visitors to explore.
That’s a win-win for both major assets to this region.
Now some of you may think that these days, with all the gridlock in Washington, this might be a hard thing to get done.
But frankly, when New Mexicans have come together, we’ve accomplished so many supposedly impossible victories in the last few years.
From the designation of OMDP and Rio Grande del Norte to the creation of Valles Caldera National Park Service Preserve and the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness.
I reject the premise that we should let Washington gridlock hold us back from getting an important accomplishment for our state across the finish line.
I have found that if you’re willing to listen to and advocate for what communities in New Mexico want to protect, and if you’re willing to work across the aisle, you can do great things for conservation and our local economies.
With that, I’d like to once again thank each of you for your hard work to promote conservation and the outdoor recreation economy in your communities.
Let’s keep working to protect the places important to all of us for our children and future generations.
And now I would like to introduce Ray Rasker from Headwaters Economics to tell us more about the incredible economic benefits of establishing White Sands National Park.