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Pearce proposes Organs monument

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WASHINGTON – Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., on Wednesday renewed his push to establish most of the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces as a national monument.

Pearce introduced an almost identical bill in the last Congress, but the measure did not pass the U.S. House. The congressman contends his legislation represents a compromise between those who prefer more a restrictive federal wilderness designation for the mountains and those who prefer fewer restrictions on development and use.

Pearce said Wednesday that his latest bill was created with “significant input from local ranchers, business owners, conservationists, sportsmen and other constituents.”

“All New Mexicans want to protect the Organ Mountains,” Pearce said in a statement. “This proposal achieves our shared conservation objectives and ensures economic health by making sure that this national treasure is protected without threatening local jobs.”

Pearce’s bill would bar development in areas of the Organs protected by the monument designation and ban the use of motorized vehicles except on roads designated for use in the proposed monument’s management plan.

His bill also would allow use of motorized vehicles for the construction of range improvements and standard ranching operations and would provide for flood control access in the mountains. The legislation also would allow the issuance of grazing permits and renewed or upgraded utility rights of way.

The land area covered in Pearce’s latest bill – 54,800 acres – is slightly smaller than the previous version, which covered 58,500 acres. The new version also contains specific language ensuring that hunting and fishing would be preserved in the monument area.

Former Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., pushed legislation for years to designate the Organ Mountains as a federal wilderness area, the most restrictive federal protection for public lands. Bingaman’s bill would have designated 241,000 acres in and around the Organs as federally protected wilderness and an additional 100,000 acres in the Broad Canyon area as a national conservation area.

Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, D-N.M., have backed the stricter wilderness designation first proposed by Bingaman.
— This article appeared on page C2 of the Albuquerque Journal

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