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Washington Notebook: Pearce asks Zinke to reduce monument by 88%

WASHINGTON – A day after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he might not alter the size of two of New Mexico’s newest monuments, Rep. Steve Pearce implored him to dramatically shrink the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in his southern district.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

At a Senate hearing Wednesday, Zinke, who is reviewing more than two dozen national monuments for possible reductions in size, said he was open to keeping New Mexico’s newest monuments unchanged.

“If it’s settled and people are happy with it, I find no reason to recommend any changes,” Zinke said.

But at a House hearing to consider the Interior Department’s budget Thursday, Pearce said that’s not the case. He lifted up a stack of papers that he said contained the signatures of “800 businesses and individuals” who want to reduce the nearly 500,000-acre federally protected area by 88 percent, to 60,000 acres.

“The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is a very highly volatile issue in the district,” Pearce told the interior secretary. “Even when the Democrats owned the House and had a filibuster-proof Senate and Mr. Obama was in the White House, they still could not get this passed through law because it was so contentious.”

Obama used his executive power to designate both New Mexico monuments during his presidency. Pearce said the Organ Mountains monument is too large and will stifle economic opportunities in southern New Mexico. Supporters contend the protected lands draw visitors and investment in surrounding communities, supporting the economy in a sustainable way.

Rep. Steve Pearce

Pearce said he and those who signed the petition he gave to Zinke would like to see the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument be “not revoked, but taken back down to the smallest footprint.” New Mexico’s Democratic representatives in Congress support the monuments in their current configurations.

Zinke, who is planning to visit New Mexico in two weeks and will make his recommendations on the monuments in August, did not comment on Pearce’s remarks at the hearing.

Sacred Items

Sen. Martin Heinrich this week reintroduced a bill that would increase criminal penalties for those convicted of trafficking in sacred Native American items.

The issue gained national attention last year when a stolen Acoma shield used in sacred ceremonies wound up on a Paris auction block. The item was eventually pulled from the auction. Heinrich’s bill, which would prohibit the exporting of sacred items and increase penalties for stealing and illegally trafficking tribal cultural items, has bipartisan support.

The measure died in the last Congress, but probably more due to bad timing, with the elections cutting into congressional working days, than a lack of support for the bill. Heinrich hosted a group of young Native American leaders in his office Wednesday to celebrate the legislation’s reintroduction.

“Our sacred items are a gift that have been passed down,” said Carly Jo Chavarria of Santa Clara Pueblo, who graduated this year from Santa Fe Indian School and was a youth delegate to the United Nations in the spring. “If we fail to protect our sacred items, we are robbing future generations.”