Feds need clear monument plan before acting
October 4, 2017
The leaked draft of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendations to President Trump on 27 national monuments — including the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument west of Questa — is so vague it’s useless to the communities that would be affected by any changes.
The lack of specificity, like the Sept. 17 “leaking” of the document to The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, has all the appearances of a half-inflated trial balloon sent up by the White House — which has had the document since August — to gauge reactions before the “final, final” recommendations are made.
And because the document, labeled “Final Report Summarizing Findings of the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act,” is an “internal draft” according to an Interior spokesman, the White House is not answering questions about it.
That’s the same White House that used an executive order to target national monuments larger than 100,000 acres that were created since Jan. 1, 1996, almost exclusively established by either President Bill Clinton or President Barack Obama — both Democrats — under the Antiquities Act.
So everyone, especially those who live, work and play in or near the monuments, is left to speculate on the few semi-solid recommendations in the draft.
Apparently, neither of New Mexico’s new national monuments will be downsized, despite efforts by U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., to reduce Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks by up to 80 percent.
Four other Western monuments, however, appear to be headed in that direction — Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Nevada’s Gold Butte, and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou.
But the New Mexico monuments are, it appears, going to be directed to “alter” the way they’re managed, which could mean opening more areas to grazing, hunting, fishing and wood gathering — although those practices are already allowed by specific language in the presidential orders creating the monuments, and the leaked document is sparse on details.
Leaving the monuments as is has had the vocal support of local, state and federal elected officials: 16 local government bodies; multiple chambers of commerce; several Indian tribes and pueblos; 375-plus businesses; hunting, fishing and environmental groups; and dozens of civic organizations.
Sen. Martin Heinrich is calling Zinke’s report a “rushed and sloppy” “solution in search of a problem” and has said it contains errors regarding both New Mexico monuments, specifically referring to management protocols that have been long settled through years of public negotiations. And he’s right that “you’ve got to get the details right if this report is to have credibility.”
Pearce says the plan should have reduced the Organ Mountains monument. And his and Zinke’s suggestion that the noncontiguous Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks monument be “altered” to accommodate the Border Patrol is confusing. The southernmost border of the monument, a 19-mile stretch paralleling the border in the Portillo Mountains, is five miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, meaning agents have at least a five-mile-wide band for enforcement activities.
The monumental bottom line for New Mexico is this report is incomplete and lacks clarity. And after the Trump administration spent months ginning up monumental fear and uncertainly, that’s not a path anyone should be expected to travel.
— Albuquerque Journal