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David Soules grew up exploring the desert landscapes outside his Las Cruces home.
Years later, he would play a key role in protecting those lands with the creation of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.
Soules, a New Mexico Game and Fish commissioner, died March 26 at age 63 after a heart attack.
His brother, state Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, said David was passionate about protecting land and wildlife.
“He was always behind the scenes,” the senator said. “He didn’t care about things getting named after him or public recognition, but he cared about making his community better.”
David Soules graduated from high school in Las Cruces at age 16 and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from New Mexico State University, before earning a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Colorado State University.
He was an avid swimmer and hunter, and enjoyed backpacking and canoeing. For nearly four decades, Soules worked as an engineer at White Sands Missile Range.
“As an amateur historian and anthropologist, he found all these historic sites that the (Bureau of Land Management) didn’t even know about, like petroglyphs and bomb test target sites,” William Soules said.
That knowledge made him the right expert to help create the boundaries for what would become Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in 2014.
State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, a Las Cruces Democrat who worked with Soules on the monument proposal, called him the “Indiana Jones of Doña Ana County.”
“He spent every waking moment exploring and documenting and teaching everyone else about it,” Steinborn said. “History graced us with David’s talents at a moment where we had an opportunity to pull all of his knowledge into a very exciting landscape protection project.”
Soules wrote the book “Exploring Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.” He also walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain and completed a 100-mile backpacking trip through the Sierra Nevada.
The Las Cruces resident worked for a “balanced approach” to conservation, said Patrick Nolan, executive director of the Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.
“With wildlife and land management, everybody has a different opinion,” Nolan said. “But David brought all those folks to the table. He was able to take in all the different viewpoints and perspectives and come up with a solution that made sense.”
Soules was appointed to the Game and Fish Commission in 2019 by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. He helped negotiate an easement with the State Land Office for hunting and fishing access on state trust lands.
“David believed that for wildlife to thrive there should be a balance between consumptive and non-consumptive use of wildlife,” Commissioner Roberta Salazar-Henry said.
Soules served on the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance directors’ board, and was a member of the Las Cruces chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Mule Deer Foundation, Doña Ana County Associated Sportsmen, New Mexico Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Ducks Unlimited.
He is survived by wife, Nancy; son Kevin and wife Robyn; son Keith and wife Lauren; grandchildren Theodore and Isla; brother William Soules; and sister Merrie Lee Soules.