LAS CRUCES – A coalition of New Mexicans in support for Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Río Grande del Norte national monuments called on President Donald Trump to leave the state’s monuments alone.
Trump on Monday scaled back two sprawling national monuments in Utah, declaring that “public lands will once again be for public use” in a move cheered by Republican leaders who lobbied him to undo protections they considered overly broad.
Trump made the plan official during a speech at the Utah State Capitol, where he signed proclamations to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. Both monuments encompass millions of acres of land.
Bears Ears, created last December by President Barack Obama, will be reduced by about 85 percent, to 201,876 acres (315 square miles).
Grand Staircase-Escalante, designated in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, will be reduced from nearly 1.9 million acres (nearly 3,000 square miles) to 1,003,863 acres (1,569 square miles).
Both were among a group of 27 monuments that Trump ordered Zinke to review this year. Also in the review were the national monuments in New Mexico.
Both OMDP and RGDN enjoy wide public support, though some had called on the president to consider shrinking the size of the monument. Zinke’s review did not call for reducing the size of either New Mexico monument, but did suggest the federal government and tribal leaders take a bigger role in management and more grazing, hunting and fishing at two sites.
Trump’s announcement in Utah was met with protests. And Native American leaders say they’re vowing to fight Trump’s order in court.
“We’re here to stand in solidarity with the people who backed those (Utah) monuments to say that we believe that the action taken by the president is illegal and we expect for that to be challenged in court,” said Billy Garrett, Doña Ana County commissioner and candidate for New Mexico lieutenant governor.
The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, on its Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument website, said Trump’s actions “represent the greatest assault on America’s public lands in U.S. history.”
“Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante are unquestionably the types of places that the Antiquities Act was intended to protect for future generations,” said U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., in a prepared statement. “Dismantling protections for these landscapes sets a dangerous precedent that fuels an even larger campaign to attack many of our most treasured public lands across the nation.”
No president has tried to eliminate a monument, but some have reduced or redrawn the boundaries on 18 occasions, according to the National Park Service. The most recent instance came in 1963, when President John F. Kennedy slightly downsized Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico.