WASHINGTON – New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is backing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s decision to review and possibly reduce the size of two national monuments in New Mexico.
The Republican governor had been previously noncommittal on the Trump administration’s plans to reconsider the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte National Monuments in the state.
“I support a thorough review of the two national monuments to focus on the respective proclamations and the objects to be protected to analyze whether the designations make the best sense for New Mexico,” Martinez wrote to Zinke in a letter this week. She did not, however, make a recommendation on what action, if any, should be taken.
President Donald Trump directed the interior secretary in April to review national monuments of more than 100,000 acres designated since 1996, saying some of them amounted to a “massive federal land grab.” In early May, Zinke produced a list of 27 monuments for possible alteration, including the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks monument, in southern New Mexico, and the Rio Grande del Norte monument, in the northern part of the state.
Democrats in New Mexico’s congressional delegation strongly oppose altering the New Mexico monuments in any way, saying they protect cherished public land and spur tourism. But Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican who is running for governor in 2018, contends the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is too large and hampers border enforcement and economic development.
On Thursday, Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima blasted Martinez’s support for the review, but David Sanchez, vice president of the Northern New Mexico Stockman’s Association, said the governor made the right decision. The Taos Chamber of Commerce and the Las Cruces-based Doña Ana County Commission have endorsed the existing monuments.
Martinez, a Republican who hails from Las Cruces, focused her five-page letter primarily on the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. She said the “sheer size and scope of the monument increases management complexity and requirements for all parties (federal, state, local, and private entities).”
“The nearly 574,000 acres that encompass the (monument) may be greater than needed to address concerns of ‘theft from and destruction of archaeological sites,’ which was the original impetus for the (Antiquities) Act,” she wrote. “It is unclear how a larger designation better protects specific objects, especially since multiple federal laws, policies, and programs already exist to protect antiquities and archaeological sites.”
The Antiquities Act allows for monument designations by presidents but also says that the monuments should contain the “smallest area compatible” with proper care and management of the sites.
Miyagishima, whose city abuts the Organ Mountains, said Martinez, a former prosecutor in Doña Ana County, isn’t reflecting the wishes of the southern New Mexico community.
“For her to do this is just not right,” he said in a Journal interview. “I’m disappointed and surprised. The community that has supported her throughout her tenure as district attorney is now looking for her support and leadership – to have Secretary Zinke tell the president to please leave the Organ Peaks-Desert Mountains National Monument alone.”
While Martinez’s letter focused mostly on the southern New Mexico monument, she also raised concerns about the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.
“The monument consists of the Rio Grande Gorge and surrounding lands, most of which were included in previously designated Areas of Critical Environmental Concern or as a Wild and Scenic River,” she wrote. “It is not clear what additional goals the monument designation achieves outside the previous designations. It is important for the state and the public to understand the effect of monument designations and the difference between the protections provided under the Act or other scenarios.”
Sanchez said Martinez’s position is supported among northern New Mexicans who rely on federal land for subsistence. He said increasing the amount of federally protected land decreases some people’s ability to get by.
“It takes people – the folks who are grazing or utilizing natural resources – out of the question,” he said. “Our counties have such a small percentage of private property, so the impacts are cumulative. It affects the tax base and all of those people dependent on the land. Anytime we’ve had a wilderness designation, these people get displaced again.”
Zinke is expected to issue a decision about the monuments under review in New Mexico and elsewhere by late August. Meanwhile, the Interior Department reported this week that it received more than a million comments from Americans about the pending review.