In the run-up to the Organ Mountains–Desert Peaks declaration under the Antiquities Act, a number of critical questions were ignored and otherwise deflected by proponents, politicians, and government officials, ostensibly to be dealt with after the fact. It is no surprise that none of these questions were addressed once the half-million acre monument was formalized; nevertheless, the questions remain relevant and the answers remain necessary, to address the well being of the region and its people.
Grazing in this part of the country has been an economic and cultural phenomenon since the era of settlement that followed Spanish exploration of the region. Over the past several decades ranchers have enjoyed a cooperative partnership with the Bureau of Land Management that has demonstrably protected and preserved the beauty, diversity and sensitive ecology of these lands. Unfortunately, history confirms that, in large transformations of federal lands to “protected status,” like the Sonoran Desert and Escalante Grand Staircase monuments, those partnerships have become dismantled in the face of adverse legal actions by special interests that diminish and ultimately remove the collaborative grazing relationships. Despite numerous requests to recognize these centuries-old, culturally and ecologically important, grazing traditions as monument purposes, no effort on the part of the government or its public officials to address the issue was ever initiated.
The Rio Grande valley is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the country as well as a very desirable region in which to live, giving rise to numerous communities, large and small, up and down that valley. A desert environment like ours can also be the setting for large and destructive flash floods, and that kind of floodwater frequently threatens the complex sensitive system of irrigation in the valley and its populated communities. A recent example is the 2006 destruction that occurred in Hatch, NM. Prevention is critically dependent upon access to the upper watershed in order to build large and small structures to spread and slow such flood-waters. Besides protecting the valley, these projects preserve and improve the biological diversity of the watershed. This type of mitigation was never seriously addressed, nor was it included among the voluminous points in the monument declaration, leaving the safety of lands, property, infrastructure, and people in question as a result.
Regardless of the vague notion of a buffer zone between the U.S./Mexico border and the vast monument area, no assurance exists that this wholesale removal of land, restricting access by law enforcement and homeland security personnel, will not result in a massive corridor for human trafficking, drug smuggling, and other dangerous criminal movement, as it has with other monuments designated over recent history. The undeniable precedent of ecological destruction, as well as danger to tourists and local citizens is dreadfully evident in the nearby Sonoran Desert Monument in Arizona. In that particular case, the perceived protection, by way of an Antiquities Act declaration, of a very sensitive ecology is actually contributing to its destruction. Specific language preserving sufficient access, road infrastructure, and jurisdictions for federal, state, and county authorities was intentionally excluded from the Organ Mountain Desert Peaks declaration. As a result, both the ecology and the people of Dona Ana County are being put at risk.
The foregoing describes only three of a number of questions that remained intentionally unanswered under the pretext of monument protection.
The majority of people in the region, including this writer, are not opposed to, and in fact support, a monument encompassing the Organ Mountains; however, what we have witnessed is a massive, far-reaching and impactful abuse of the Antiquities Act reflected by the removal of nearly half a million acres of federal lands intermittently reaching all the way from the Organ Mountains to Luna County.
If the foregoing questions cannot, or will not, be answered by the monument’s proponents and instigators, the OMDP designation is exposed as no more than an ill-conceived, ill-advised, unaccountable action, indifferent to the historic culture, natural productivity, and ecological balance of this region, as well as to the safety and security of its citizens.