COMMENTARY: Castner Range is a 7,000-acre stretch of mountains located about 50 minutes from Las Cruces, N.M. Local residents have asked President Obama to designate Castner Range a national monument to protect it from suburban development and preserve it for future generations.
Southern New Mexico residents have an interest in learning about the local movement to protect Castner Range because of its historical, ecological and archeological significance.
Mexican Gold Poppies are among the most unique treasures found on Castner Range. Mexican Gold Poppies are special to this ecosystem and bring much-needed color and life to the desert landscape. The poppies look like a yellow blanket over the desert landscape when in bloom. El Paso has hosted a Poppy Fest every spring for over 10 years at the nearby El Paso Museum of Archaeology.
In addition to the land’s ecological significance, the El Paso Museum of Archeology highlights the ancient rock art and artifacts found on Caster Range. One can only imagine the value of this colorful desert oasis to our early ancestors.
Our most ancient ancestors likely looked to the mountains as a welcome escape from the desert heat during the warmer summer months. Not only would they have seen the mountains as an escape from the heat, but they would have also taken advantage of water filling mountain springs during the monsoon season rains. Protecting Castner Range would help us stay attached to our early ancestors and provide us with a way better understand their important relationship with nature.
Any discussion of Castner Range would not be complete without acknowledging its past use as an artillery range to train troops for our early wars. While this brings added historical value to the land, it also means it may contain some unexploded ordnance that must be cleared before the land could be opened to outdoor recreation, or even to suburban development.
The ordnance does not prevent the land from being designated a national monument. In fact, President Obama designated Fort Ord, California a monument under similar circumstances. Any ordnance on Castner Range will eventually need cleared regardless of the land’s disposition. Designating it a national monument may actually make the land safer for the local community by creating more incentive clear it for recreational use.
El Paso area residents have long advocated for the President to designate Caster Range a national monument. Local business and community leaders appear to support creation of the monument.
The federal government currently owns Caster Range and it has already attempted to designate it excess property, which may allow for eventual privatization and development. El Paso is rapidly growing in all directions and there is little doubt the land would be ripe for development if disposed of by the federal government.
Like much of northeast El Paso, developers would eventually fill the land with subdivisions, shopping centers and chain restaurants. Economic develop is undoubtably a good thing, but it cannot take place at the expense of places with irreplaceable ecological and historical value.
Now, with just weeks left in President Obama’s term, local residents and concerned citizens are pushing harder than ever for him to name Castner Range a national monument. In fact, a recent event at El Paso Community College drew respectable numbers and featured U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas.
President Obama has shown strong support for protecting our national treasures. He has used the Antiquities Act to create more national monuments than any other president in history — a trend that is unlikely to continue during the next presidential administration. Castner Range is another place where he can act to protect valuable national resources before he leaves office.
Castner Range is a unique piece of the American West and would be a noteworthy national monument. Southern New Mexico residents may someday be able to take day trips into these mountains enjoy their unique history, landscape and ecology.
Patrick Doyle is an administrative law attorney, Arizona Law graduate, and New Mexico-area resident. He worked on the staff of the Arizona Journal of Environmental Law and Policy during law school. The views expressed in this commentary are personal to the author and do not represent the opinion of any federal agency.