Obama names newest U.S. monument: New Mexico's Organ Mountains

 

President Obama’s record on public lands protection has been spotty – as of January 2013, he’d opened more than twice as many acres to drilling as he’d conserved. Lately, though, the POTUS has been on a bit of a roll. Over the last 16 months, Obama has used the Antiquities Act – the 1906 law that gives the President executive authority to declare national monuments – to protect sites including the San Juan Islands, 1,600 acres along Northern California’s coastline, and New Mexico’s vast Rio Grande del Norte landscape.

Earlier this week, Obama dropped the Antiquities hammer again – this time on the Organ Mountains, a rugged, spectacular range overlooking Las Cruces in southern New Mexico. The designation, officially the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, encompasses nearly half a million acres, making it Obama’s largest by far. In addition to its scenic beauty, the region is home to thousands of archaeological sites, 210 species of birds, and several endemic species that are found nowhere else on earth. Rest easy, botanists, secure in the knowledge that the Organ Mountains pincushion cactus is forever safe from oil and gas drilling.

OrganMts.png
Say hello to Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, America's newest national monument. Image courtesy of BLM.

Of course, the Organ Mountains designation is more about politics than cacti. Two months ago, the House of Representatives voted to restrict the executive’s monument-creating authority under the guise of increasing public input. Among other changes, H.R. 1459, a bill spearheaded by Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, would prevent the president from unilaterally declaring two monuments in a single state during one four-year term – a stricture that would have kept Obama from designating another monument in New Mexico after already tabbing Rio Grande del Norte.


It’s easy, then, to see Organ Mountains as a subtle middle finger to the legislative branch from a president who’s increasingly fed up with Congress’ obstructionism, not to mention its abysmal record on environmental issues. Alternately, Obama may fear Democrats losing the Senate this fall. Any bill restricting the creation of monuments would be D.O.A. in the current Senate; a year from now, that might not be the case. Maybe the president is deploying the Antiquities Act while its use is still unfettered. Or maybe he didn’t relish the prospect of another Bruce Babbitt tongue-lashing (check out the former Secretary of the Interior's Writers on the Range opinion piece).

Or perhaps Organ Mountains’ time had simply arrived. Like many candidates for monument designation, the region’s protection has been the object of multiple congressional bills. The most recent, coauthored by U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall – both New Mexico Democrats – was introduced in December, and it appears that Obama’s designation resembles their bill in most particulars. “This (White House announcement) was a long time coming and really an incredible vindication of all of the efforts that so many local community leaders have put on for over a decade now,” Heinrich told the Albuquerque Journal earlier this week.

Inevitably, not everyone was pleased. “With this land grab, the President is once again going out of his way to derail any attempt for form (sic) a consensus, and do what local people want,” said Rep. Steve Pearce, R.-N.M. Back in March 2013, Pearce had introduced his own Organ Mountains monument legislation that would have protected around 54,000 acres – just one-ninth as many as Obama preserved.

While politicians like Pearce and Bishop are fond of invoking “what local people want,” communities tend to support the protection of public lands and the economic benefits those lands provide. That’s why even controversial monuments, like Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante, today enjoy overwhelming public support. Considering that Organ Mountains is expected to generate up to $7.4 million per year in tourism and new business opportunities, our newest monument will likely be just as popular.

Ben Goldfarb is an editorial intern at High Country News. He tweets @bengoldfarb13.

High Country News Classifieds
  • OWN YOUR OWN CANYON - 1400 SF STRAW-BALE ECO-HOME ON 80 ACRES - 3 HOURS FROM L.A.
    1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • WYOMING CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    We are hiring a Wyoming Conservation Associate Full time, competitive pay and benefits. Location: Cody, WY (preferred), Jackson, WY, or Lander, WY Visit www.greateryellowstone.org/careers for...
  • SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    The National Parks Conservation Association, the nations leading national park advocacy organization, seeks a Regional Director to lead and manage staff for the Southwest Regional...
  • DIRECTOR OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS
    This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • PROGRAM OFFICER, INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES, NOVO FOUNDATION
    The Foundation NoVo Foundation acts from the original meaning of philanthropy: the love of humanity. The Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing a global social transformation...
  • ARMY OF THE DOG
    A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • ANNIE CLARK TANNER FELLOWSHIP IN ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    The Tanner Humanities Center and the Environmental Humanities Program of the University of Utah seek an environmental writer to offer classes in Utahs Environmental Humanities...
  • ALASKA STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • IDAHO RIVERFRONT:
    2+ acres, 400+ feet on Snake River, 2800 sf residence, NWF-certified wildlife habitat, excellent hunting, fishing, birdwatching, stargazing, sunsets & panoramic views. In the heart...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS IS EXPANDING - THREE JOB OPENINGS
    Guardians is expanding and looking for a few great people to join us in protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health...
  • SUNNYSIDE MARKET SEEKS NEW PROPRIETOR
    Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • NO INDIVIDUAL HEROES: OURAY MOUNTAIN RESCUE TEAM
    Ouray County, Colorado, a popular tourist destination, has dramatic mountains and amazing winter ice climbing. Challenging terrain and high altitude can push visitors to their...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM COORDINATOR - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Coordinator-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM MANAGER - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Manager-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE, SOUTHERN CA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Southern CA. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • THE BOOK OF BARLEY -
    Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • RIVER TRIP LEADER & EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • RIVER GUIDE AND EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...