COMMENTARY: As with most great success stories, people are quick to forget the blood, sweat and tears and — in this case — years of public discourse that go into achieving something big and important.
With the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument’s third anniversary already here, and national monuments being reviewed for possible rollbacks by the Trump administration, it’s important to reflect on the long history of public support that resulted in the monument’s establishment.
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument (OMDP) has done much to sustain and improve the quality of life in Las Cruces and nearby communities. It is a place that protects hunting, grazing and outdoor recreation as traditional pathways for New Mexicans. It honors the heritage and culture of Doña Ana County and recognizes our place at the crossroads of New Mexican and American history. It commemorates important historic happenings, from centuries-old petroglyphs to WWII events.
Our monument is a place that heals veterans, brings families together, grows businesses, and enriches our lives.
Public discourse and debate are key tenets of democracy. It takes time, coupled with the tireless effort of visionary leaders, to do it right. Looking back from OMDP’s designation on May 21, 2014, there were numerous opportunities where public debate and input were heard.
Local residents and land management agencies have discussed and analyzed greater protection for public lands in Doña Ana County for decades. In 2005, a local coalition came together to focus on protecting OMDP lands, and U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici began working on legislation to protect diverse public lands that are now part of OMDP.
In 2008, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce introduced legislation to eliminate many public land protections in Doña Ana County, a move which was immediately met with substantial community opposition, including a newspaper editorial.
In 2009, after extensive public outreach to sportsmen, ranchers, local elected officials, conservationists, recreationists and others, U.S. Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall introduced legislation reflecting the community’s vision for protection of the area. That fall, business and other community leaders organized a conference to discuss the economic benefits of protected public lands. Then in the spring of 2010, over 600 enthusiastic supporters attended a Senate field hearing in Las Cruces on the bill.
Between the efforts of Sens. Bingaman, Udall, and Martin Heinrich, OMDP legislation was introduced again in 2011 and once more 2013 but it failed to move in a divided Congress. When we turned to the administration for action, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell came to Las Cruces in early 2014 and for a town hall meeting to gauge support for the proposed monument and tour relevant public lands. Attendees at the town hall confirmed what polls of Doña Ana County residents had already showed: Local support for the national monument was overwhelmingly strong.
Over the years, different constituencies weighed in to encourage OMDP’s designation – interfaith leaders, Latino leaders, tribal leaders, elected bodies, sportsmen, business owners, conservationists, veterans, youth and many others. They supported protecting areas of incredible historical, cultural and scientific importance. But they also noted other benefits for the community, including increasing tourism and attracting new residents, the divine imperative to steward creation, therapeutic benefits for active duty military and veterans coping with the traumas of war, and benefiting and enjoying wildlife.
Our national monuments have all resulted from similar histories of people working together for many years to protect public lands for their country and future generations. In contrast, President Trump’s recent executive order rushes through a review of our national monuments that makes a mockery of the widespread favor and decades of hard work behind each designation. Furthermore, it’s a waste of time and of tax dollars.
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks has long enjoyed support from diverse voices across New Mexico and our nation and is the result of years of debate and compromise. We urge President Trump, Secretary Zinke and Congressman Steve Pearce to honor our monuments that protect the best parts of our great state, respect the huge outpouring of support that was the driving force behind OMDP’s designation, and ensure that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy OMDP in the future as we can today.
Gill Sorg and Kasandra Gandara are Las Cruces city councilors. Stephanie Johnson-Burick is a Town of Mesilla trustee.