TAOS, N.M. — New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte National Monuments could shrink dramatically if their protected status is removed or their size is reduced, and the decisions could come by late August.
A report from Democrats on the U.S. Joint Economic Committee warns that could mean a loss of millions of tourism dollars in New Mexico. Stuart Wilde guides tourists on llama treks through the Rio Grande monument near Taos. He said he agrees that the economic impact would be significant.
“People come to hike and bike, and fish and hunt, and camp and experience these national monuments,” Wilde said. “That really creates a ripple effect that benefits the entire business community.”
Last week, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke removed two monuments from the list of those being reconsidered, both in the Pacific Northwest.
Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall had reintroduced legislation to designate parts of Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as wilderness in order to guarantee their ongoing protection. But some local farmers near Las Cruces have said they believe the Organ Mountains monument should be reduced in size.
Sen. Heinrich has called it “an enormous mistake” to remove protected status from the monuments when visitors spend millions in those areas.
The Trump Administration has said some of the two dozen monuments on its list were created without sufficient public input. But Stuart Wilde said that wasn’t the case in New Mexico, and he worries that this is just a first step toward rolling back decades of public lands preservation.
“Here in northern New Mexico, the efforts to protect the Rio Grande del Norte not only go back decades, but really represent a true coming together of the community across cultural and political divides,” he said.
President Trump ordered the review to determine if the land could be opened up for other uses, including mining and energy development.