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.
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.
The Democrats in New Mexico’s congressional delegation say that the U.S. Department of Interior should protect national monuments. Meanwhile, the lone Republican said the monument in southern New Mexico should be reduced in size. The Democrats, two senators and two representatives, wrote Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and urged him to extend the 120-day review period for more than 20 national monuments, including two in New Mexico. [perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Support New Mexico’s best political coverage. [/perfectpullquote]Since announcing the review, Zinke recommended reducing the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry traveled to New Mexico last week, visiting Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The Los Alamos Daily Post reported the Perry, former governor of Texas, “praised the national labs as a whole and said every country should have at least one lab like the ones we have in the United States.”
Perry also said he was an “extension of the administration” when it comes to climate change: “You’re going to see new ways … to use highly untechnical terms, we’re going to continue to throw some jello at the walls in different places and in different ways because from time to time, you’ll find answers to things you had no idea you were going to find solutions to,” he said. Perry praised nuclear power, did not discount the possibility of expanded nuclear weapon production and said he was surprised by how little people know about the Energy Department. In southern New Mexico, Perry toured the Energy Department’s Carlsbad Field Office and the underground nuclear waste repository.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review national monument designations, including two in New Mexico, made under the Antiquities Act since 1996. “We’re now getting something done that people thought would never get done, and I’m doing it in honor of you guys,” Trump said during the signing ceremony, calling out a number of Republican lawmakers, including Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In particular, Trump recognized Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, saying “Believe me, he’s tough. He would call me and say, ‘you gotta do this.’ Isn’t that right, Orrin?