As we reported last week, New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich brought national attention to errors in U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s report to the White House about national monuments. In particular, Heinrich pointed out factual errors in the report related to the two New Mexico national monuments being reviewed. Zinke has recommended changes to both monuments. Now, the Democratic members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have sent a letter to White House adviser, and former Marine General, John Kelly about the mistakes. At the urging of Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, President Donald Trump signed an executive order this spring directing Zinke to review all national monuments designated since 1996 that are larger than 100,000 acres.
When U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke came to New Mexico in July as part of his review of national monuments, he met with various groups, including veterans. Zinke retired from the military in 2008 after 23 years as a Navy SEAL. Brett Myrick, who lives near Silver City, had been trying to get a hold of Zinke, even visiting Washington, D.C to try and connect with him. “I know with the transition he was super busy, but I finally wound up taking him on a hike at Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks,” Myrick said. That national monument near Las Cruces is one of two in New Mexico the secretary was evaluating under orders from President Donald Trump.
National media outlets released a leaked copy of the national monument review submitted by U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to the White House in August. Screenshots of the document, labeled as “Draft Deliberative – Not for Distribution,” were released Sunday night. The 19-page report Zinke sent to President Trump includes recommendations about the two national monuments up for review in New Mexico, Rio Grande del Norte near Taos and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces. Sign up for our weekly environmental email here. Widely expected to recommend changes to Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, Zinke’s review also calls for “amendments” to Rio Grande del Norte.
Days after a highly anticipated report was delivered to President Donald Trump on the future of 27 national monuments, New Mexico politicians and conservation groups already are threatening lawsuits even though the report remains shrouded in secrecy. After delivering the report on Friday, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke refused to release it. Attorney Susan Jane Brown with the Western Environmental Law Center is confident the courts eventually will conclude the Federal Land Policy and Management Act forbids the president from making changes to the monuments. “In terms of an administration that claims it wants to cut red tape and make things easier for the public to utilize their public lands, all this process is going to do is result in enduring litigation,” she states. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte national monuments in New Mexico made the original list for possible alterations.
U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had 120 days to review 27 national monuments and recommend to the White House whether they should be left alone, eliminated or reduced in size. Thursday, Zinke submitted his review to the White House. But the Interior Department has yet to make his specific recommendations public. During the four month review, Zinke visited eight national monuments in six states, including New Mexico. His office said the review included more than 60 meetings, “tours of monuments conducted over air, foot, car and horseback” and a “thorough review” of more than 2.4 million public comments that had been submitted to the department.
During U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recent visit to New Mexico, most of his attention focused on Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. The secretary spent two days in southern New Mexico, viewing the monument by helicopter and on foot and meeting with people and groups in closed settings. That monument, designated in 2014 by President Barack Obama, lies within Rep. Steve Pearce’s congressional district, and the Republican has long opposed the monument’s size. It’s possible, if not likely, that Zinke will recommend changes to the monument, despite widespread support from southern New Mexico’s elected leaders, businesses and residents. For now, many think the boundaries of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument may be safe.
In New Mexico last week, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke met with elected leaders, local sportsmen, ranchers and veterans. The former Montana congressman squeezed in a horseback ride and even showed off some wrestling moves to New Mexico’s senators. Currently, Zinke is considering the fate of about 20 places currently protected as national monuments, including Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks near Las Cruces and Rio Grande del Norte near Taos. New Mexico’s senators and sportsmen took advantage of his visit to the state, bringing him to the Sabinoso Wilderness in San Miguel County. Even though Congress designated the wilderness in 2009, hikers, hunters and horseback riders have been locked out of the 16,000-acre area’s canyons and mesas.
U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Zinke is visiting New Mexico this week as part of his review of national monuments throughout the country, including New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monuments. Zinke will visit northern New Mexico—but not Rio Grande del Norte itself— Saturday with U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall. The Interior head’s schedule primarily focuses on southern New Mexico and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. That has led to speculation the secretary will not order a review of Rio Grande del Norte near Taos, but will call for changes to the 496,000-acre monument in southern New Mexico. President Barack Obama designated the monument near Las Cruces in 2014 after a decade of planning and public meetings.
Today is the final day to share your thoughts about national monuments as part of a review by the federal government. Earlier this spring, the U.S. Department of the Interior solicited public comment on Secretary Ryan Zinke’s review of monuments larger than 100,000 acres that were designated from 1996 onward. This includes two monuments in New Mexico, the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in the southern part of the state. The review was spurred by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch’s opposition to national monuments, including President Barack Obama’s 2016 designation of Bears Ears and President Bill Clinton’s 1996 designation of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. “We’re now getting something done that people thought would never get done, and I’m doing it in honor of you guys,” President Donald Trump said in April during the signing ceremony for the order directing Zinke to review the monuments.
The Trump administration reassigned several top-level employees in its reorganization of the U.S. Department of the Interior. That includes Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Region, and Weldon “Bruce” Loudermilk, director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The New Mexico State Director for the Bureau of Land Management, Amy Lueders, whose background is in economics, is also being reassigned to the Fish and Wildlife Service. In a state like New Mexico, with more than 20 American Indian tribes, vast tracts of public lands, federal water projects, myriad endangered species issues, large-scale oil and gas development and existing and proposed mines on public lands, the staffing changes—and what they signal— could have deep and long-lasting effects on the state’s landscapes, communities and future. During a Senate subcommittee hearing last week, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall questioned Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about the staffing changes, slated to take place at the end of June.