Udall, Heinrich, Luján, Lujan Grisham Urge Zinke to Protect NM’s National Monuments

NEWS FROM U.S. SENATOR TOM UDALL
U.S. SENATOR MARTIN HEINRICH
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE BEN RAY LUJÁN
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 20, 2017

Udall, Heinrich, Luján, Lujan Grisham Urge Zinke to Protect NM’s National Monuments

Rio Grande del Norte, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks protect precious resources, enjoy overwhelming public support, boost local economies

Udall, Heinrich, Luján, Lujan Grisham: administration review of monuments could cause ‘irrevocable harm to our treasured places’

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham urged Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to protect New Mexico’s national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act. The New Mexico lawmakers wrote to Zinke to express their strong support for the Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monuments, which the lawmakers said protect treasured resources and places, enjoy overwhelming public support, and drive local economies. In their letter, the lawmakers wrote that they “strongly disapprove” of the Trump administration’s monument review process. “Rescinding or shrinking to New Mexico’s national monuments will cause irrevocable harm to our treasured places, would jeopardize the objects and special values that are protected through the Antiquities Act, and impact positive economic growth in local communities.”

“The Rio Grande del Norte and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments, which were designated in 2013 and 2014 respectively, provide outstanding opportunities for recreation, hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, and seeing centuries-old petroglyphs,” they wrote. “Each of these activities creates a deeper connection with our state’s rich cultural heritage. We urge you to heed the overwhelming support of New Mexicans to preserve their irreplaceable national monuments as designated under the Antiquities Act.”

New Mexico’s national monuments enjoy broad public support and were created after extensive consultation with and input from local communities, Udall, Heinrich, Luján and Lujan Grisham said. In addition, they wrote that New Mexico’s national monuments provide an essential boost to the state’s economy. “Protecting our national monuments has been an important economic driver for New Mexico’s regional and statewide economy,” the lawmakers said. “Outdoor recreation in New Mexico, as in most of the West, is a growing and sustainable industry that is revitalizing our local communities both around the monuments and statewide. Outdoor recreation generates $6.1 billion in consumer spending and provides the state of New Mexico with more than $450 million in state and local tax revenue and employs 68,000 people each year. Taos and Doña Ana Counties have benefitted from increasing numbers of visitors spending their hard earned dollars in our hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants, retail stores, and other services.”

The lawmakers also expressed their disapproval of Zinke’s interim recommendation to reduce the size of the Bears Ears National Monument. “We are disappointed with your handling of the review of Bears Ears National Monument and strongly disagree with your interim recommendation to reduce the size of the monument,” they wrote in the letter. “As you make your final recommendation, we hope you will consider the overwhelming support for national monuments, including that more than 90 percent of the public comments you received during the initial 15-day period favored maintaining Bears Ears’ designated boundaries. In your final report, you have an opportunity to change course and restore cooperation, respect, and trust with the sovereign tribes of the Bears Ears InterTribal Coalition and all of Indian Country by preserving the existing boundaries of all these important national monuments.”

Finally, they called on Zinke to extend the “arbitrary” and “grossly insufficient” 120-day review period for all national monuments. “The arbitrary 120-day review period for all national monuments, including the final review for Bears Ears, is grossly insufficient to collect the necessary information. The comment period, which relies heavily on internet access, puts Tribes and rural communities at a disadvantage because up to 80% of New Mexicans who live in Indian Country and rural areas do not have consistent access to broadband internet. Therefore, we request you extend the 120-day review period for all national monuments to accommodate the input from local communities and tribes in New Mexico who are concerned about the future of their beloved monuments that may be affected by this review.”

The full text of the letter can be found below and here:


Dear Secretary Zinke:

We write to you to express our support for New Mexico’s national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act, and we encourage you to honor and preserve all of the national monuments you are charged with protecting. As Secretary of the Interior, you have a solemn responsibility to steward America’s public lands for the benefit of all Americans and to ensure these lands are maintained for our children and grandchildren. The lands protected as national monuments are irreplaceable and provide a place where all Americans can connect with their history, hunt, fish, hike, and camp, and experience solitude and unparalleled natural wonders.

The Rio Grande del Norte and the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monuments, which were designated in 2013 and 2014 respectively, provide outstanding opportunities for recreation, hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, and seeing centuries-old petroglyphs. Each of these activities creates a deeper connection with our state’s rich cultural heritage. We urge you to heed the overwhelming support of New Mexicans to preserve their irreplaceable national monuments as designated under the Antiquities Act.

The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument is at the heart of one of the oldest continually inhabited landscapes in North America. For over 10,000 years this extraordinary landscape of deep gorges, wild rivers, hot springs, and volcanic cones shaped the diverse ecological systems and human cultures that remain present today. The Rio Grande del Norte is part of the Central Migratory Flyway, a vital migration corridor used by tens of millions of birds. It is also an important corridor for large elk and antelope herds and provides key wintering grounds. The Rio Grande and its tributaries support a world-class trout fishery by providing essential riparian habitat, which draws anglers from across the country.

The Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument is also archeologically rich, featuring thousands of artifacts from the Folsom and Clovis cultures, the first people who lived in New Mexico, as well as other cultures that inhabited the area. Some of the areas within the monument are considered sacred by local tribes. The monument protects historic places such as the Gadsden Purchase boundary, Butterfield Stagecoach Trail, old West ranch houses, Billy the Kid Rock, and World War II bombing targets. The congressionally-designated Prehistoric Trackways National Monument is adjacent to, and shares its paleontologically rich formations with Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, suggesting that this landscape could yield many more significant fossil discoveries. Fossil deposits in the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument have drawn the attention of the Smithsonian and other high-caliber scientific institutions. Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks stretches from Chihuahuan grassland to high elevation stands of Ponderosa pine and include some of the last intact Chihuahuan desert grassland remaining in the U.S. Hunters played a key role in the creation of the monument due to the importance of the landscape to quail, deer, antelope, and other wildlife populations.

Above is just a small sampling of the resources the monuments in New Mexico were designated to protect. Our national monuments encompass the smallest area compatible to protect and manage the high diversity of nationally-significant historic and scientific objects found within them. In fact, a number of areas were excluded from protection that could easily have qualified. Any changes to the boundaries or designations of Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monuments threaten the lands, values, and objects thousands of New Mexicans fought to protect.

The Rio Grande del Norte and the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monuments have decades-long histories of public support with numerous and diverse constituencies vocally advocating for their protection. The claim that the American people have not been heard on the designation of National Monuments does not accurately reflect the open and transparent process that established each monument. The foundation for legislation to protect the Rio Grande Del Norte began with public interest in the early 1990s and led to the introduction of the El Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act in 2009. The legislation was reintroduced several times by the New Mexico delegation but languished in Congress. In 2012, Secretary Ken Salazar participated in a public meeting with local residents; the near unanimous approval for a national monument designation expressed by the citizens at that meeting initiated the designation process. Over 1,200 written comments were collected, in addition to the public meeting held in Taos, detailing how the monument should be managed.

Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks also originated as a legislative proposal to conserve this special place, stemming from over a decade of community support and hundreds of meetings with stakeholders. In 2009, business and community leaders organized a conference to discuss the economic benefits of public lands. Then in the spring of 2010, over 600 enthusiastic supporters attended a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee field hearing in Las Cruces on the legislation. Two panels of local residents were asked to testify, giving all parts of the community a voice. The Committee also accepted comments from the public for a period of time after the hearing. After 15 years of campaigning by local residents and stalled legislative efforts in Congress, the community turned to the Administration for help. In 2014, Secretary Sally Jewell came to tour the southern portion of the monument with U.S. Border Patrol and participate in a town hall in Las Cruces to hear public input. Over 750 people attended the town hall to provide their comments. The town hall confirmed the results of polling of Doña Ana County residents who overwhelmingly support the creation of the national monument. More than 15,000 petition signatures were collected in support of the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument in the lead up to the proclamation. Since the monument was established in 2014, its popularity and the support have only grown.

Protecting our national monuments has been an important economic driver for New Mexico’s regional and statewide economy. Outdoor recreation in New Mexico, as in most of the West, is a growing and sustainable industry that is revitalizing our local communities both around the monuments and statewide. Outdoor recreation generates $6.1 billion in consumer spending and provides the state of New Mexico with more than $450 million in state and local tax revenue and employs 68,000 people each year. Taos and Doña Ana Counties have benefitted from increasing numbers of visitors spending their hard earned dollars in our hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants, retail stores, and other services.

In the first year after the Rio Grande del Norte Monument was established, the Bureau of Land Management reported a 40% increase in visitors to the area. The same year, the Town of Taos enjoyed a 21% boost in tax revenue from stays in hotels, motels, and bed-and-breakfasts, and an 8.3% jump in gross receipts revenue in the accommodations and food service sector. In the three years since the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument was designated between $8 and $34 million in additional economic activity has been generated. There has been an estimated 152% increase in visitation to the monument over that same period. Lodging taxes for the City of Las Cruces have grown from $1.87 million in 2013 to $2.04 million in 2016. In January, Secretary Jewell attended a roundtable with local businesses to better understand the effects of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks on their bottom lines. She found increased sales, new products and services marketed around the monument, and, indeed, new businesses formed to take advantage of the monument’s attraction of tourists. We are deeply concerned that efforts to shrink, revoke, or alter the protections for national monuments threaten the positive economic growth our communities have experienced.

In addition, we strongly disapprove of the review process initiated by the President’s Executive Order and are gravely concerned that rescinding or shrinking New Mexico’s national monuments will cause irrevocable harm to our treasured places, would jeopardize the objects and special values that are protected through the Antiquities Act, and impact positive economic growth in local communities. A credible review of the national monuments should include conducting public meetings to collect information from all stakeholders. A formal review, as done under a standard APA process should be conducted. We also note that the local Resource Advisory Groups in New Mexico can provide another conduit for input on these decisions, and find it alarming that you’ve halted their convening at exactly the time you need their input the most.

We are disappointed with your handling of the review of Bears Ears National Monument and strongly disagree with your interim recommendation to reduce the size of the monument. We appreciate your extension of the public comment period for Bears Ears aligning it with the comment period for all monuments under review. As you make your final recommendation, we hope you will consider the overwhelming support for national monuments, including that more than 90% of the public comments you received during the initial 15-day period favored maintaining Bears Ears’ designated boundaries. In your final report, you have an opportunity to change course and restore cooperation, respect, and trust with the sovereign tribes of the Bears Ears InterTribal Coalition and all of Indian Country by preserving the existing boundaries of all these important national monuments.

We urge you to engage with our local communities, businesses, and their elected officials at all levels, and we urge you to fulfill your obligations to respectfully consult with Indian Tribes as you conduct your review. The arbitrary 120-day review period for all national monuments, including the final review for Bears Ears, is grossly insufficient to collect the necessary information. The comment period, which relies heavily on internet access, puts Tribes and rural communities at a disadvantage because up to 80% of New Mexicans who live in Indian Country and rural areas do not have consistent access to broadband internet. Therefore, we request you extend the 120-day review period for all national monuments to accommodate the input from local communities and tribes in New Mexico who are concerned about the future of their beloved monuments that may be affected by this review.

We encourage you to fulfill your promise to faithfully uphold Teddy Roosevelt’s vision that our treasured public lands should be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of all Americans now and for generations to come.

Sincerely,

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Contacts: Jennifer Talhelm (Udall) 202.228.6870 / Whitney Potter (Heinrich) 202.228.1578 / Joe Shoemaker (Luján) 202.225.6190 / Gilbert Gallegos (Lujan Grisham) 505.967-5612

Rio Grande del Norte Area a Natural, Cultural Treasure

Erminio MartinezVeteran Erminio Martinez, from Taos, reflects on why Rio Grande del Norte should be permanently protected. From the Albuquerque Journal (April 29, 2012):

I was born and raised in Taos County and come from a ranching family that has lived off the land for eight generations. Today, as a registered grazing permittee, I continue to run cattle on several allotments throughout the Carson National Forest. Growing up in the ranching business allowed me the good fortune of spending most of my life in the great outdoors. Like my father and grandfather, I quickly learned to love the beauty of the wide-open landscapes and to understand the importance of sound conservation of the abundant natural resources on which so many New Mexicans depend for their livelihoods.

After my military service, I attended New Mexico Highlands University and then the National Judicial College. I served for 20 years as a magistrate judge in Taos County, and have worked for the Taos tribal government and the Pojoaque tribal government during my career. I continue to be active in conservation, including through my service with local land trusts.

To me, the wide open landscape of the Rio Grande del Norte area is a treasure that we must do all we can to protect. It is not only a natural treasure, but also a treasury of cultural resources and associations, evoking the Native American, Spanish, and American history that contribute to the diverse values of this area. Even though this region may seem relatively remote, it lies in the path of pressures for change that could slowly but surely affect the resources that makes this landscape so special.

Conservation is about exercising protection of our lands today with the foresight that our children and their children will inherit this precious landscape.

I believe that what Teddy Roosevelt said about the Grand Canyon should be our guidance for the Rio Grande del Norte: “In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

The Grand Canyon, of course, is a national park and is protected from all development. With the Rio Grande del Norte we have challenges, for this is a working landscape that embraces traditional land uses such as ranching, hunting, fishing and wood and herb gathering. For example, many local multi-generational ranching families like mine rely on their use of portions of these federal lands for grazing their livestock.

Fortunately, Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall and Congressmen Ben Ray Lujan and Martin Heinrich are working to ensure these land uses can continue, and that the land will stay undeveloped. After gathering support over the last few years with a broad cross-section of community members and local businesses, they have introduced legislation to designate two new wilderness areas and safeguard 236,000 acres as a National Conservation Area. The Rio Grande del Norte Conservation Area Establishment Act (H. R. 1241 and S. 667)is crafted to protect the not just grazing but other traditional uses that we have enjoyed for hundreds of years.

The balanced legislation stipulates that a comprehensive conservation and management plan will be prepared, with full opportunity for input from local residents, including grazing permittees and acequias associations. In this sense, the legislation creates an overall conservation framework for the area, and the subsequent conservation plan will fill in essential details. This will be done in an open, public, and democratic process, which assures all of us who live and work here that our voices will be heard in shaping the conservation and management of this tremendous resource.

Permanent protection for the Rio Grande del Norte area will be a gift we can pass down to all the generations of New Mexicans who will follow us. Congress should listen to the many voices who support this bill – ranchers, sportsmen, business owners, local elected officials – and pass this conservation bill currently in Congress.

Protecting our sacred lands

Garrett VanKlessenDespite strong local support for protection of this area, the proposed Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act is moving through Congress slowly. Garrett VeneKlasen with Trout Unlimited, talks about the need to push for the protection of our most cherished public lands for the benefit of our children and grandchildren. From the Albuquerque Journal (March 17, 2012):

Everyone has a story and everyone has history. Tragically, most of us have lost or somehow forgotten important pieces of our story in the passing of generations. Some have a name for this – they call it “progress.”

New Mexico is one of the few states in our union that has a complete historical and cultural record with unbroken ties back to the origin of its traditional, land-based cultures. This epic tale – which is steeped in diversity, tradition and heritage – starts something like this:

In the beginning there was nothing but an endless expanse of wild and pristine country completely devoid of humans. Then perhaps 13,000 years ago, a small band of Paleoamericans, the Llano Culture, appeared in our story. And so began the rich cultural history of man upon the wild New Mexican landscape. Over time, the pueblos evolved, followed by Francisco Coronado and his fellow conquistadors, who first explored the Rio Grande Valley in 1540. Like the tribal peoples who came before them, the Spanish settlers who followed and remained upon the untamed land were soon irrevocably transformed by it.

New Mexico’s historical record is a sacred text that begins with one word – wilderness! Our state’s remaining wild places are irreplaceable, iconic cultural heirlooms. Wilderness is the genesis of New Mexico’s story. It is the first sentence in the first chapter of our epic tale; it is undeniably the sacred cornerstone of New Mexican culture. And these last vestiges of New Mexico’s wild lands must be preserved, honored and protected.

Of these sacred lands, I cannot think of two more worthy of protective designation than the Columbine Hondo and El Rio Grande del Norte, both in the northern part of our state. The Columbine Hondo is only 46,000 acres of rugged, critically important alpine headwater terrain in the Carson National Forest. The Rio Grande del Norte corridor, comprising approximately 236,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands, is the very heart and soul of northern New Mexico’s traditional cultural agrarian epicenter.

The focal antihero in this saga is time. Time is running out for our wild lands. Some members of Congress would love to see these currently unprotected lands either sold off to private hands or developed in the name of “prosperity and progress.”

As we speak, there are a host of bills in Congress cleverly designed to pillage the last pockets of unspoiled backcountry. If they pass, the beginning of New Mexico’s epic tale could someday soon be replaced with Chinese pulp mills, exclusive “ranchette” subdivisions, strip mines and clear cuts. Considering the political agenda of an increasingly ideologue-led Congress, the reality of this is much more plausible than one might think.

Just 472 years ago, nearly the entire landscape of New Mexico was wild and untamed. Back then, our Native peoples and Spanish settlers were peoples of the land. These cultures are so solidly rooted in wilderness that the two simply cannot be considered as separate entities.

Despite the odds, relics of the “original wild” still exist in isolated islands within the state’s ever-expanding sea of development and modernization. Our generation, through a local community and citizen-based federal legislative process, has a unique opportunity to protect these places so that future generations might have a direct tie to their past.

We owe this push for protection on our most cherished wild public lands to our children and grandchildren. Without a solid connection to their cultural past, how can they forge a meaningful future? As part of a diverse, bipartisan coalition of stakeholders – ranging from tribal interests, land grant concessions, grazing permittees, community leaders, businesses, sportsmen, homeowners, and conservationists – we have stood up in support for the protection of these precious lands.

I urge all across the state, regardless of political affiliation or personal self interest, to encourage our congressional delegates to protect the Columbine Hondo and Rio Grande del Norte now or risk forever losing your cultural and biological integrity in the name of “progress and prosperity.”