Keep Protecting New Mexico’s Monuments

This piece originally appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican on 8/22/17.

Hispanics make up nearly half of the population in New Mexico. We have lived in the area for hundreds of years — ever since Spanish settlers arrived in the 1500s. These lands represent our history, culture and livelihood. One of the ways these lands remain protected is through monument designations, which is why we’re concerned that the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del norte national monuments are currently under threat.

Right now, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is reviewing 21 of our country’s national monuments, including these two in New Mexico, and will give President Donald Trump his opinion as to whether he thinks they should be reduced in size or have their designations rescinded.

The Organ Mountains in the southern part of the state are home to an incredibly diverse range of habitat types, and the region has traces of civilizations thousands of years old. The Rio Grande del norte contains 1-million-yearold volcanic cones a dramatic gorge through which the Río Grande runs, critical wildlife habitat, ancient petroglyphs, prehistoric dwelling sites and, more recently, one of the the highest bridges in the country.

Attempts to revoke or change the fabric of these national monuments is a threat to our historical, cultural and natural heritage. In New Mexico, it directly impacts Hispanics, whose ties to the land cannot be underestimated.

Indeed, Latinos are public land “power users” with centuries-old traditions of getting “out there” and hunting, fishing, camping and gathering materials for healing, ceremonies and art. In New Mexico, Hispanics also use the land for cattle grazing, collecting firewood and piñon nut gathering — activities that date back to the 1700s.

But, it’s not just Latinos who supported the creation of these national monuments. There were local elected officials, business owners, veterans, Native Americans, hunters, faith leaders, conservationists and those who love to recreate outdoors who weighed in in favor over many years. There were also negotiations with the border patrol, the U.S. military, power companies and more. The decision to create these monuments did not come top down from the president, but from the people themselves. It was truly an all-inclusive process that should not be underestimated in Zinke’s review.

Zinke also should examine the current climate of support. Our local elected officials throughout New Mexico strongly agree that these monuments are important for our communities. In the last 60 days the Doña Ana County Commission, city of Las Cruces, town of Mesilla and city of Anthony passed formal resolutions in support of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. Resolutions in support of the Rio Grande National Monument have been passed by the Taos County Commission, the town of Taos, Taos Pueblo and the city of Santa Fe.

This overwhelming support should come as no surprise, because in addition to offering protection for irreplaceable historic and cultural resources, these monuments also generate economic activity that’s beneficial to everyone. In New Mexico alone, the Outdoor Industry Association estimates the annual economic impact of outdoor recreation is $9.9 billion in consumer spending, plus $2.8 billion in wages and salaries; $623 million in state and local tax revenue; and 99,000 jobs.

No president has ever attempted to revoke a national monument — and for good reason: Such an attack on our nation’s public lands and heritage is deeply unpopular. Any honest, transparent review will reveal these monuments for what they are: testaments to our nation’s heritage, recreational resources unparalleled in beauty and economic engines for local communities. I hope that Zinke will recognize that we need more of them, not fewer.

Kent Salazar is a board member of Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors.