New Bill would designate Organ Peaks National Monument

Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico yesterday introduced a revamped bill to designate the Organ Mountains-Desert Peak National Monument.

The bill, backed by local stakeholders, hunting groups, veteran's organizations, and a host of businesses and historic groups would designate around 500,000 acres as the Organ Mountains—Desert Peaks National Monument. Included within that monument designation would be roughly 241,000 acres of new wilderness.

Senator Martin Heinrich, an avowed public-land hunter and sponsor of the HUNT Act, had this to say in a press release:

"The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region offers outstanding cultural resources, tourism and recreational opportunities like hunting, hiking, and camping, and links us strongly to our past. For years, diverse coalitions in New Mexico have worked tirelessly for its permanent protection. By designating this natural treasure a national monument, a critical piece of our shared outdoor heritage will be protected for us now and for future generations of Americans to enjoy," Heinrich said.

The senators, after working closely with local communities and other stakeholders, revamped an older version of this bill that was sponsored by senators Udall and Bingaman. The new bill does a number of things that seek to protect both traditional uses like livestock grazing and motorized use as well as protect valuable archeological sites, hunting opportunities, and historic areas like the Apollo 11 training site and Geronimo's Cave.

According to Senator Heinrich, the bills would do the following:

  • Boosts the economy and creates jobs. A recent study found that new visitors would generate $7.4 million in new economic activity and create new jobs.
  • Conserves wildlife habitat and enhances hunting opportunities for generations to come.
  • Protects some of southern New Mexico's most iconic vistas and preserves important landmarks and archeological and cultural resources.
  • Increases flexibility for Border Patrol to conduct operations.
  • Directs the completion of a watershed restoration assessment that will support flood prevention.
  • Maintains existing grazing allotments under the current rangeland management guidelines.

You can view the text of the bill and get more information at Senator Martin Heinrich's website.

I've read the bill. It's pretty basic but it does some things that stand out beyond the basic concept of a National Monument and Wilderness Designation. The bill clearly states that livestock grazing will continue where it currently is allowed, and it very clearly establishes that motorized routes that are open today would be open after designation.

It also clearly defines that the New Mexico Game & Fish Commission is in charge of managing wildlife. That means the hunting in the monument will remain unchanged unless the monument collaborates with the Commission to put certain areas off limits (like fragile archeological sites, etc).

In fact, recreation, which hunting falls under, is expressly authorized under this act. While protecting the rights of hunters is not as explicitly spelled out as it is for motorized users or livestock producers, the message is clear: Hunting will always have a place in the Organ Mountains—Desert Peaks National Monument.

I hear a lot from folks who are frustrated with how public lands are managed that local voices are too often drowned out by large national organizations. To a certain extent, I think that's very true. However, when it comes to this effort, it's clear that both of the senators have done tremendous leg work with folks who live in the area to make sure that this conservation measure works for everyone.