COMMENTARY: In a recent interview with the Deming Headlight, Congressman Steve Pearce was asked about his position on the current review of America’s prized national monuments, a review that could precipitate a resizing of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks (OMDP) National Monument in Doña Ana County.
Pearce said he favored reduction of OMDP’s boundaries and, as the Headlight reported, “He flatly rejected estimates of economic activity generated by the monument, ranging from $8.2 million to $33.8 million since the monument was designated by President Obama in 2014, calling the data ‘sheer B.S.’”
It is insulting to Doña Ana County citizens who are working to develop economic benefits for our communities to hear Congressman Pearce speak this way. His comments fly in the face U.S. Bureau of Land Management data that show the new monument has had a 102 percent increase in visitation from 2015 to 2016, equaling more than 85,000 additional visitors.
I also have seen firsthand the economic benefits our region has received since the monument’s designation through the founding of my own business, Organ Mountain Outfitters.
OMDP’s designation in 2014 easily fulfilled the requirements for a monument as set forth by the Antiquities Act. The proclamation cites among many attributes the area’s ruggedly beautiful landscape, archaeological artifacts of ancient people, the rich history of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the historic Butterfield Stage Coach Trail, and the remains of the Deming bombing targets that helped our airmen prepare before going overseas during World War II. These are just some of the essential reasons to protect OMDP and preserve its stories and legacy for the benefit of all Americans.
Thanks to the OMDP designation, Las Cruces and Mesilla have happily been graced with increased economic opportunities driven by the rise in visitation and attention of the national press. For example, Lonely Planet, the largest travel guide book publisher in the world, listed Southern New Mexico as one of the top 10 places to visit in 2016, in part because of OMDP. Articles have appeared in many other publications including Sunset Magazine, the Los Angeles Times and Readers Digest.
With this positive attention, conferences are coming to Las Cruces specifically because of OMDP — each of which brings an average of 100 to 200 people to our community. They spend money at our local hotels and restaurants and patronize other businesses that offer OMDP-oriented products and services. Las Cruces and southern New Mexico have become a destination like never before.
Congressman Pearce’s negative and unsupported opinion about the monument is hugely out of step with the concerns of his constituents. A new poll of Doña Ana County registered voters released by the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce and the mayors of Las Cruces, Mesilla and Anthony shows that a nearly two-thirds majority support OMDP and oppose any rollback or size reduction.
I am blessed with a wonderful life in Las Cruces. On my very first visit, I fell in love with the most picturesque city I had ever seen. I fell in love with the mountains and people. It is a joyful compensation that protecting these monumental public lands has bolstered our local economy and brought national and international attention to our city.
As the evidence mounts, it is clear that any reduction to OMDP would only harm and undermine our economic future.
With all that this monument stands for and brings to us, I urge Congressman Pearce to meet his commitments to help small business owners and foster job creation instead of working to reduce the honor and distinction the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument brings to our region.
Chris Lang lives in Las Cruces and is the founder of Organ Mountain Outfitters, which donates a portion of its sales to the Las Cruces Public Schools.