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Antiquities act preserves important cultural sites

In July, Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham introduced the Antiquities Act of 2018, designed to uphold the intent of the original Antiquities Act of 1906 and protect some of the best cultural heritage sites in New Mexico and the country from the onslaught of attacks from our current president. AA2018 mirrors a Senate bill introduced earlier this year by Sen. Tom Udall and co-sponsored by fellow N.M. Democrat U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and 59 others in Congress. Missing from this bipartisan group: Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M.

Adding insult to injury, Pearce then voted to strip funding from Ironwood Forest National Monument in Arizona, a proposal so preposterous it was soundly defeated in the House. New Mexico, and our country, is chock-full of historical sites that deserve our attention and care. I should know; I have dedicated my professional life to helping young people find their way outdoors and in life.

Nature has a lot to teach us, young and old. It requires us to listen, which means spending unencumbered time outdoors, but it also requires the government to properly manage the land so that access is possible. Above all else, preventing the commercialization of public lands is how we can continue to protect the sacred places and rights we’ve been using traditionally for generations. I am blessed to be able to share a land-based learning curriculum with my students at NACA and hope that other schools realize and embrace how important this is… for all New Mexicans.

The assaults by the federal government on our public lands are quickly forgotten. Aside from a dedicated few, the country has largely forgotten what happened a few months ago when President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke decimated the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments in Utah, removing critical protections for the Native American historical sites within the monument boundaries. This is our history, displaced in the favor of opening up our public lands for commercial development, diminishing our access to hunt, hike, be at one with nature, and threatening to destroy what we hold most valuable – evidence of our past.

Bears Ears was the linchpin, and we now know, from emails revealed through a Freedom of Information Act request, that the logging, mining and oil and gas industries were deeply invested in shrinking this monument in Utah and that Secretary Zinke tailored Interior Department surveys and reports to highlight those opportunities while downplaying historical sites. Trump is more interested in selling off our public lands to support industry than protecting what’s important, and Pearce keeps voting right in line with this agenda.

The Antiquities Act of 2018 would permanently protect and enhance our monuments by declaring Congress’ support for existing monuments designated by past presidents on both sides of the aisle. In New Mexico that includes Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, which has more than doubled visitation since it became a national monument; Rio Grande del Norte, a traditional use Mecca supporting a thriving outdoor recreation economy; and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, which preserves critical wildlife habits and cultural sights for Cochiti Pueblo and all New Mexicans.

The people of New Mexico overwhelmingly support our national monuments. They are sources of pride and huge potential revenue for our state. More than that, they represent a commitment to protecting the record of our past, and keeping open a window that shows how we came to be in New Mexico.

U.S. Sens. Udall and Martin Heinrich, and U.S. Reps. Lujan and Lujan Grisham have stood up with the people of New Mexico for our national monuments. It’s not too late for Pearce to also and co-sponsor the Antiquities Act of 2018 bill. I, for one, certainly hope he comes around before it is too late.

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