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Interior secretary starting NM trip

WASHINGTON – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will arrive in New Mexico today as part of three days of meetings and sightseeing ahead of his decision on whether to shrink the state’s newest national monuments or leave them as they are.

President Donald Trump directed Zinke 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.

During his New Mexico trip, Zinke will tour the Organ Mountains monument, near Las Cruces, but not the Rio Grande monument, near Taos.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

Today, Zinke will tour the Organ Mountains monument by helicopter and then meet with elected officials, ranchers, academics, ​border security experts ​and other local stakeholders “who represent all sides of the issue,” the department said Wednesday. On Friday, Zinke will hike with southern New Mexico veterans and then meet with representatives of the Mescalero and Fort Sill Apache tribes and Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. On Saturday, the interior secretary will hike and ride horseback in the Sabinoso Wilderness in San Miguel County in northern New Mexico with Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall of New Mexico, both of whom are opposed to shrinking either monument.

An Interior Department spokeswoman told the Journal the Sabinoso tour is not a part of the monuments review in New Mexico, but related to public access issues in wilderness areas.

Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican who represents southern New Mexico, has urged Zinke to shrink Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks by as much as 88 percent. 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 prehistoric petroglyphs and towering mountain spires. Zinke’s decision on the monuments is due in August.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers Association is urging Trump to eliminate certain large-scale national monuments. Meanwhile, the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce is hosting a public rally tonight at the Las Cruces Convention Center at 6 p.m. in support of keeping the Organ Mountains monument as is.