The Democrats in New Mexico’s congressional delegation say that the U.S. Department of Interior should protect national monuments. Meanwhile, the lone Republican said the monument in southern New Mexico should be reduced in size.
The Democrats, two senators and two representatives, wrote Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and urged him to extend the 120-day review period for more than 20 national monuments, including two in New Mexico.
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The Democrats, Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Representatives Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Lujan, want to make sure Zinke doesn’t rescind or recommend reductions in size to the Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments.
The letter says that doing so would “cause irrevocable harm to our treasured places, would jeopardize the objects and special values that are protected through the Antiquities Act, and impact positive economic growth in local communities.”
The Rio Grande del Norte and the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monuments, which were designated in 2013 and 2014 respectively, provide outstanding opportunities for recreation, hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, and seeing centuries-old petroglyphs. Each of these activities creates a deeper connection with our state’s rich cultural heritage. We urge you to heed the overwhelming support of New Mexicans to preserve their irreplaceable national monuments as designated under the Antiquities Act.
The Democrats in the delegation also said the monuments serve as regional and statewide economic drivers.
“Taos and Doña Ana Counties have benefitted from increasing numbers of visitors spending their hard earned dollars in our hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants, retail stores, and other services,” the letter reads.
The letter also called on Zinke to “engage with” communities, businesses and local elected officials as well as consulting with tribes in the areas.
The letter says that the comment period “puts Tribes and rural communities at a disadvantage” because of the need for internet access. Many tribal and rural areas, the Democrats wrote, do not have consistent access to broadband.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the lone Republican in the delegation, represents the district which holds the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Pearce has said in the past he would have supported a smaller national monument designation.
Pearce also sent a letter to Zinke last week, where he reiterated that he felt the “current footprint of the monument is excessive.”
Pearce wrote that he believed the size of the monument means the Potrillo Mountains, which are southwest of the monument, “could very easily become a drug and human smuggling corridor given its close proximity to the border and the restrictive language in the monument designation.”
Pearce also said the size of the monument would have “a devastating impact on local ranchers” and their cattle.
He also wrote that he believed reducing the size of the monument to just the Organ Mountains “will preserve whatever tourism is created while also allowing for other economic growth in the area.”
“Responsible conservation is about compromise, and that is what my footprint recommendation is aiming to accomplish,” Pearce said in a statement to NM Political Report on Tuesday. “I want to protect our monuments for future generations to come, while ensuring real opportunities to develop New Mexico’s economy are considered.”