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Interior secretary’s NM monuments agenda includes meetings, hikes, and horseback rides

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rides a horse in the new Bears Ears National Monument near Blanding, Utah. Earlier this month, Zinke recommended that the new national monument in Utah be reduced in size. (Scott G Winterton/The Deseret News/AP)Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is scheduled to arrive in New Mexico Thursday as part of two days of meetings and sightseeing ahead of his decision on whether to shrink the state’s two national monuments or leave them as they are.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is scheduled to arrive in New Mexico Thursday morning as part of two days of meetings and sightseeing ahead of his decision on whether to shrink the state’s two national monuments or leave them as they are.

On Thursday, Zinke will tour the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument by helicopter then meet with elected officials, ranchers, academics, ​border security experts, ​and others local stakeholders “who represent all sides of the issue,” according to the Interior Department.

On Friday, Zinke will hike with southern New Mexico veterans and then hold meetings​ with the Mescalero Apache​, Fort Sill Tribe, and Friends of Organ Mountains Desert Peaks . On Saturday, the Interior secretary will hike and ride horseback with Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both of whom are opposed to shrinking either monument.

Interestingly, the Interior Department’s public announcement of Zinke’s trip makes no mention of a visit to the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos. Those who have followed the monument review process closely have suggested that the Rio Grande monument appears to less likely to get reduced in size than the Organs monument, which Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican, has urged Zinke to shrink by as much as 88 percent.

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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. Pearce contends the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is too large and hampers border enforcement and economic development.

The review is rekindling a fierce debate about oversight of lands marked by ancient petroglyphs and towering mountain spires.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers Association is urging Trump to eliminate certain large-scale national monuments.

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