June 23, 2017

Udall questions Interior secretary on future of NM’s national monuments

Bureau of Land Management, Patrick Alexander, via Wikimedia Commons

Baldy Peak and La Cueva seen from Baylor Canyon Road, west side of the Organ Mountains, Dona Ana County, New Mexico, 23 May 2005.

Are New Mexico’s two national monuments safe from a reduction in size or elimination by President Donald Trump?

That’s the question U.S. Sen. Tom Udall had for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Wednesday during a Senate subcommittee hearing. The Democratic senator is a staunch supporter of the designations of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte National Monuments, each of which are part of a review of national monuments ordered by the Trump administration earlier this year.

“Will you commit to me today that you will respect the wishes of the vast majority of New Mexicans and maintain the existing boundaries of these two monuments?” Udall asked the former Montana congressman.

Zinke said he would seek local input, referring to the process in the Bears Ears National Monument. Zinke recommended a reduction in size for the Utah monument but has not decided on what that reduced size should be. He has not made recommendations yet for the two New Mexico national monuments.

“I do not want to rip a Band-Aid off of a monument that’s settled,” Zinke said. “I talked to all the, the governor, I’ll talk to the congressional reps, I’ll talk to the county commissioners as I did on there. If it’s settled and people are happy with it, I find no reason to recommend any changes.”

Zinke also said he will visit New Mexico soon, likely over a weekend. He told Udall that the senator would also be invited.

NM Political Report asked a spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez Thursday morning if anyone from the Interior Department has reached out to her office about the monuments and, if not, what information she would give the department. NM Political Report did not receive a response by press time.

Earlier this week, NM Political Report reported that Democratic members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation supported the current borders of the national monuments, while Republican Steve Pearce supported a smaller version of the southern New Mexico monument.

Other issues

Udall also had other concerns that he voiced during the hearing. He asked for a commitment that Zinke would respond to 11 letters about tk sent by the senator’s office. Zinke said as long as there was no instances of pre-decisions or executive privilege that he would answer—and if there were reasons not to answer, he would call Udall personally.

But Udall spent much of his time questioning Zinke on a reorganization of personnel in the Interior Department. Udall questioned the need for such moves and wanted to know who was transferred and why.

“These senior executives have expertise specific to their current bureaus, and they manage some of the most sensitive issues that affect New Mexico and Indian tribes,” Udall said. “Yet we have no idea why these positions were selected for reassignment, or how moving these individuals out of their current positions improves the management of the department.”

Zinke said he could not give a reason why people in the department were moved—or which people were transferred—until those earmarked for moves made a decision on their future, because of personnel privacy rules.

“I can tell you the movement was not unprecedented,” Zinke told Udall.