Down in Las Cruces, excitement is growing.
Years of work to preserve the Organ Mountains-Desert Peak region are almost completed, with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visiting Friday to listen to the community and hear their views on what should be done to protect the majestic country. Her visit is likely one of the last steps before action is taken — in this instance, a declaration from President Barack Obama through the Antiquities Act to create the Organ Mountains-Desert Peak National Monument.
The action is worthwhile and long overdue.
Under normal circumstances, legislation would make its way through Congress and be signed by the president. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich listened to the residents of the area and introduced the necessary enabling legislation — they will be meeting with people along with Jewell today. As with so many good things, though, bills to preserve wilderness go to the House of Representatives to die. (Measures to safeguard this area have died in the last two sessions of Congress despite widespread public support — opinion polls show 82 percent support for the preservation of the monument.)
Through the inaction of the House, the United States is failing to preserve our wild lands — the last congressional designation of new wilderness happened back in 2009. With that avenue blocked, supporters of preservation for the Organ Mountains region turned to the Antiquities Act. The president, after weighing the wishes of the community, can decide to designate a national monument. We trust President Obama will do so again, just as he did in setting aside the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Northern New Mexico.
The move is supported by sportsmen, environmentalists, tribal members, business people and many others in the Las Cruces region. Monument designation protects the outdoors so that the tradition of hunting can be passed down, generation to generation. Historic sites, including El Camino Real, Geronimo’s Cave and the Butterfield Stage Coach Trails, will be preserved. Jobs and economic development will be affected, with a recent study showing that the impact of the monument contributing an estimated $7.4 million in additional annual economic activity. Monument designation should double the number of jobs supported by outdoor recreation and tourism industry in the region.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect a historic part of New Mexico. We encourage President Obama to listen to the people of the Las Cruces region and save the Organ Mountains-Desert Peak region — for today’s residents, but most importantly, for the future.