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.
That monument’s designation in 2012 received widespread support from groups across northern New Mexico, including local hikers, hunters tribes, Land Grant communities, government officials and business leaders.
It did, however, receive some criticism from outside the state—from a congressman in fellow Four Corners state Utah.
In 2012, shortly after then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar held a public meeting in Taos about the monument, Utah Rep. Rob Bishop condemned the designation. The Republican cited a lack of “real public input” and argued Antiquities Act designations were a way to “lock up federal land and resources behind Congress’ back.” He later introduced a bill to limit presidential authority to designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act.
That effort failed. But Bishop’s colleague, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, successfully persuaded Trump to issue the executive order that required Zinke to review national monuments larger than 100,000 acres that have been designated since 1996. That’s the year President Bill Clinton’s designation of the 1.87 million-acre Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, which the Utah delegation opposed.
The Utah connections don’t end there: Pearce sits on the House Committee on Natural Resources, which is chaired by Bishop, a proponent of private property and states’ rights.
When he announced the Republican members of the committee earlier this year, Bishop said they will “strengthen an aggressive agenda that we will pursue in partnership with a new administration.”
Since then, Pearce’s chief of staff, Todd Willens, was also named assistant deputy secretary at the Interior Department.