ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — President Barack Obama made it official today.
At a ceremony packed with New Mexicans, the president set aside nearly 500,000 acres of land in south-central New Mexico as a national monument, protecting it from development and preserving it for future generations.
Here’s the president’s speech, as delivered, at the U.S. Department of Interior.
2:25 P.M. MDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) Everybody, please have a seat. Thank you so much. Thank you. Well, good afternoon, everybody. As somebody who lives in the neighborhood, I thought I might just drop by and see what all the fuss is about. (Laughter.) I want to thank Sally for hosting me here today.
And I am thrilled to be with all of you because of your work — not to mention some of the art on the walls reminds me that one of the great blessings of being an American is that we are blessed with some of the most beautiful landscapes and real estate on Earth. I think about the awe that I felt as a little boy the first time I saw the Grand Canyon. I think about the pride that I felt when I took my daughters to see Yellowstone. I think about the memories of what it’s like to go on a hike without a security detail behind me. (Laughter.) It’s a wistful feeling. (Laughter.)
But most of all, I think about our obligation to be good stewards to the next generation — to make sure that our children’s children get the same chance to experience all of these natural wonders. So today, I’m here to announce that I am using my executive authority to protect more of our pristine landscapes by designating the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region a National Monument. (Applause.) I am grateful for the incredible partnership of so many residents of this region — including ranchers and tribal leaders and hunters — and many of you here today, especially Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall and former Senator Jeff Bingaman, who were instrumental in helping preserve this treasured landscape. (Applause.)
Anyone who’s ever seen the Organ Mountains that overlook Las Cruces, New Mexico will tell you that they are a spectacular sight. Secretary Jewell told me as much after her visit there. You got massive rocks that jut up 9,000 feet in the air and stretch for 20 miles, like the organ pipes of a giant. And they’re home to many of God’s smaller creatures, as well — deer and antelope roam; falcons, mountain lions. There are even plant species that don’t grow anywhere else in the world.
But it’s not just the natural beauty of this region that makes it invaluable to future generations. Its caves and peaks and cliffs bear the marks of millennia of history. From the rock art of some of the first Native peoples living on the land to the trail traveled by some of the first overland mail carriers. Some of the most notorious adventures of the Wild West were written in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region.
More than 130 years ago, Billy the Kid took cover in the Robledo Mountains and literally left his mark –- inscribing his name into what we now know as “Outlaw Rock.” You can see it today, and I want to make sure that future generations can see it as well. Legend has it that Apache chief Geronimo hid in these same mountains and staged a miraculous escape from what is now called “Geronimo’s Cave.”
Every year, tens of thousands of Americans visit the region to discover what still remains of these landmarks, and to explore what lies along its beautiful trails. Families go on vacation. Tribes return to uphold rich traditions. Archeologists dig for ancient artifacts. Scientists study a thriving environment. And all of it supports the local economy and jobs in the region.
So, we’re not just preserving history. Outdoor recreation at parks and forests and other public lands brings in tourism dollars — attracting new businesses and encouraging
spending at lodgings and food establishments and, of course, park souvenirs. One recent study says that the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks designation alone could double the number of visitors to the area and help grow the local economy by more than 70 percent.
It’s impossible to put a price on towering peaks and pristine forests and America’s cultural history, but we know that our national parks have an economic impact that extends beyond their boundaries. In 2012, hundreds of millions of recreational visits to public lands and waters generated over $50 billion for local communities, and supported nearly 900,000 jobs. So whether they’re hiking or camping or fishing, visitors to our parks and public lands are not only enjoying the bounty of our natural resources, but also they’re promoting jobs and they’re promoting growth. And continuing to set aside federal land for outdoor recreation will drive critical revenue for those local communities, and preserve our pristine lands for generations to come.
The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is the second national monument I’ve designated this year, the 11th overall. I’ve preserved more than 3 million acres of public lands for future generations. And I am not finished. (Applause.)
As I said in my State of the Union address, I’m searching for more opportunities to preserve federal lands where communities are speaking up. Because wherever I see an opening to get things done for the American people, I’m going to take it. I’ve said before: I want to work with anyone in Congress who is ready to get to work and shares those goals, but recently they haven’t gotten the job done.
Congress is sitting on dozens of bills that would help protect our precious land and wildlife. And by one count, there’s a set of 10 land conservation bills that have been introduced a combined 52 times over the past 30 years, and they are still stuck. So I’m here to pick up a little bit of the slack. (Laughter and applause.) Because there is no time to waste to preserve our precious resources and give a shot in the arm to local economies, like Las Cruces.
So I want to thank everybody, again, not just here on stage but all of those at the Department of the Interior who worked so hard on this project. And I want to thank all the public servants around the country for everything that you do to guide Americans through God-given wonders, and keep our national landscapes pristine -– not only today, but for many years to come.
Thanks, everybody. And now I’m going to sign this proclamation.
(Proclamation is signed.)