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Decision on monuments expected soon

WASHINGTON – After spending all summer reviewing 27 national monuments – including two in New Mexico – it’s decision time for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Zinke is expected to submit his final recommendation to President Donald Trump today on whether to rescind, reduce or maintain the monuments, including Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, near Las Cruces, and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, near Taos. A public announcement is expected soon.

Zinke and other officials were busy briefing White House officials on their recommendations for the monuments late Wednesday. Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift told the Journal in an email that there are “lots of moving pieces and coordinating agencies.”

Meanwhile, proponents of keeping New Mexico’s monuments intact were working overtime to get their message out. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is planning to lead a rally to in support of the monuments at 12:15 p.m. today at the REI store in Albuquerque, at 1550 Mercantile Ave NE.

Mark Allison, executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, said Wednesday that any alteration to the existing monuments – including changes to the noncontiguous sections of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks monument that encompass the Robledo and Portillo mountain ranges – could trigger a legal challenge.

“These (monument) boundaries weren’t just arbitrarily made,” Allison said. “We think they were arrived at in a very deliberate way.”

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has said that “any attempt to revoke the designations by the Trump administration would not only be legally suspect, but would be open and subject to court action.”

Rep. Steve Pearce supports a rollback of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, citing excessive federal involvement in rural states.

All four Democrats in New Mexico’s congressional delegation support keeping New Mexico’s monuments intact. But Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican who represents the district that includes the Organ Mountains monument, has encouraged the Trump administration to shrink it by as much as 88 percent. Pearce and some others in the state, especially ranchers, have said the nearly half-million-acre monument is too large, and inhibits economic development and border security.

Monument proponents argue that although presidents have the power to create national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act, only Congress has a right to change them.

Zinke visited New Mexico in late July. After touring the Organ Mountains monument and taking a horseback ride through the Sabinoso Wilderness in the northern part of the state, Zinke declared that he probably would not recommend major changes in New Mexico, “if at all.”

Big horn sheep in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. (Eddie Moore/Journal)