August 28, 2017

Secret plan for New Mexico’s national monuments draws lawsuit threats

U.S. Department of the Interior

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke taking in a view of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

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.

State Attorney General Hector Balderas has said that any attempt to revoke the designations would be subject to court action.

All four Democrats in New Mexico’s congressional delegation support keeping New Mexico’s monuments intact.

But Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican who represents the district that includes the Organ Mountains monument, and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez are on record saying the monument is too big and should be shrunk to boost economic development and maintain border security.

Brown says the uncertainty Zinke has created about possible boundary changes is unacceptable.

“It’s really a shocking situation we find ourselves in that public land management is shrouded in secrecy,” she states. “That’s not the way it’s been and it’s not the way it’s supposed to be, and certainly Teddy Roosevelt is rolling in his grave.”

Nearly 3 million people submitted comments to the Interior Department about the monument issue and were overwhelmingly in favor of a hands-off approach.