Trump urged to abolish national monuments

Trump urged to abolish national monuments, including 2 in NM


SANTA FE – A congressman from a bordering state is calling on President-elect Donald Trump to abolish national monuments created during the Obama and Clinton administrations, an idea that could threaten two newly created monuments in New Mexico.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, head of the House Committee on Natural Resources, is getting push-back from conservation groups and some in the New Mexico congressional delegation for his suggestion that Trump could take back monuments preserving public lands from California to Maine.

Obama designated the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico.

Doing away with national monuments created by presidential proclamation under the 110-year-old Antiquities Act has never been done, but also has never been legally tested. The act was passed in 1906 during the Republican administration of President Theodore Roosevelt, an early leader in the conservation movement.

“If any administration thinks they’re going to start divesting us of a hundred-year history of lands that belong to every American, they’re going to have to do it over my dead body,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich.

Heinrich was joined in his condemnation of Bishop’s idea by New Mexico Democrats U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján.

“Extremists in Congress may be urging President-elect Trump to take radical and unprecedented actions against our public lands, but I will fight any such actions every step of the way. I urge Western communities to join me in informing Mr. Trump about the value these lands hold for New Mexicans and all Americans,” Udall told the Journal in a statement.

“No president has ever overturned a previous president’s decision to designate a national monument and I sincerely hope that the president-elect respects this precedent so that this treasure of northern New Mexico will be protected and preserved for future generations,” said Luján, referring to the Rio Grande del Norte monument.

But U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, New Mexico’s only Republican member of Congress, pointed out this week that he had introduced legislation to protect 60,000 acres of the Organ Mountains, as opposed to the 496,000 acres Obama set aside.

“The Antiquities Act requires that a President designate the smallest possible footprint in order to achieve the desired environmental preservation. American’s have witnessed the Obama Administration disregard that part of the law,” Pearce said in a written statement to the Journal.

He called on Trump to review the Organ Mountains designation and others around the country, reducing their footprint “to an acreage supported by existing federal law.” He added, “Additionally, Congress should work with President Trump in the years to come on changing the designation process – so that no future President may unilaterally restrict lands from the people. These decisions must be made in Congress.”

Bishop has said on his website that “communities across the West live in constant fear of unilateral monument declarations.”

Conservation by pen

During the just-concluded presidential campaign, Trump raised a red flag for conservation groups after Obama used a proclamation to designate 87,500 acres of donated Maine woodlands the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

“This decision, done at the stroke of a pen without the support of the local community, undermines the people that live and work right here in Maine,” Trump said in October.

Obama used his pen to designate the two new monuments in New Mexico on land that was already under the federal Bureau of Land Management’s umbrella. The Rio Grande del Norte Monument’s creation in 2013 was supported by a wide range of business, environmental and community groups as a boon for Taos-area tourism, while the Organ Mountains designation was more controversial.

Conservation groups now are urging Obama to make a last-minute national monument proclamation of the Bears Ears area of Utah, which Bishop opposes.

Using the Antiquities Act, Obama has burnished his conservation credentials with the establishment of a total of 28 national monuments across the country. There were 19 designated during the Clinton administration. President George W. Bush created two.

Asked if Trump has authority to rescind monuments, a Department of Interior spokesperson responded in a statement, “We’re not going to speculate on what any new Administration will or won’t do. For over 100 years, both Republican and Democratic presidents have designated monuments to conserve America’s natural, historical and cultural heritage.”

“No president has ever rescinded a national monument,” said Kristen Brengel, vice president of government affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based National Parks Conservation Association. “There is no precedent.”

Bishop and his Utah supporters think it can be done and they especially dislike a Utah monument designated by President Bill Clinton two decades ago.

“Just because somebody who created mistakes like the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument says you can’t do it, or you shouldn’t do it, or it’s questionable – bull crap,” Bishop recently told E&E News, which tracks environmental issues.

“It’s never been done before and that’s why people are saying you can’t do it … of course you can do it. It’s always been implied.”

John Leshy, a former chief attorney for the Department of Interior, said the legally untested Antiquities Act has become a partisan issue.

“The Republican platform calls for eviscerating the Antiquities Act,” Leshy, now professor of law emeritus at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, said by email. The GOP platform approved at this past summer’s national convention calls for a requirement that Congress and state legislatures sign off on any new national monuments.

Because no president has tried to take back a national monument, “there’s no track record on this,” Leshy said. He said there’s a U.S. Attorney General opinion from the 1930s that examined the issue “and concluded that a president cannot undo a monument.”

“That’s not been litigated because no president has ever tried,” Leshy added. “Perhaps Trump can be the first and we’d have a test case.

“In a very few instances, presidents have shrunk the boundaries of monuments proclaimed by their predecessors,” he said. “The extent of that power has not been litigated either.” Leshy said that much more often “Congress or subsequent presidents expand previous presidents’ proclamations, or convert the monument into a (national) park.”

Wilderness Alliance concern

“We are certainly deeply concerned about the Trump administration’s posture on conservation issues,” said Mark Allison, executive director of the Albuquerque-based New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

Allison thinks there is a distinction between executive actions Trump might take to reverse Obama’s actions on immigration issues and what Obama did under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

“Our interpretation is he (Trump) would be unable to completely rescind a national monument under the Antiquities Act. He may have the authority to modify boundaries or acres, but we think this is extremely unlikely,” Allison said in a phone interview.

“From a political standpoint, these national monuments have widespread support,” Allison said of the two recently created New Mexico monuments. “It is inconceivable for him (Trump) to rescind them.”

Udall’s statement noted a broad coalition that supported the Taos-area monument. “The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument also supports cultural traditions like hunting, grazing and irrigation – and it has been embraced by the local community,” said Udall. Any reversal “would be a massive betrayal of the public interest, putting many of our most precious natural landscapes at risk, and such an action would face strong legal challenge,” he said.

Rio Grande del Norte extends from Pilar along the Rio Grande south of Taos north to the New Mexico-Colorado border and includes over 242,000 acres of volcanic cones and the 800-foot deep Rio Grande Gorge.

The 496,000-acre Organ Mountains monument is home to ancient petroglyphs and lava flows, rare plants and animals, and vast recreational and hunting areas. Ranchers said the monument designation could complicate the already strict rules governing use of federal lands and make ranching tougher.

Public Lands of Enchantment

By Martin Heinrich | September 23, 2016
Posted on

COMMENTARY: Our land is an integral part of who we are as New Mexicans. The Land of Enchantment is home to many national forests, parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, and other public lands.

These are outdoor treasures that are owned by all of us, from ranchers who graze their livestock, to backcountry hunters and anglers, to families who take their kids on a weekend nature hike or camping trip. And the outdoor recreation economy our public lands support is responsible for 68,000 jobs and $6.1 billion of annual economic activity in our state.

The idea of shared, public land has deep roots in New Mexico. Aldo Leopold, U.S. Senators Clinton P. Anderson and Jeff Bingaman, and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall all played major roles in creating and protecting the places we go to seek refuge, responsibly managing our natural resources, and preserving our cultural heritage.

Leopold, who had the vision and influence to protect 500,000 acres of mountains, rivers, and mesas in New Mexico, which eventually became the Gila Wilderness, wrote in his Sand County Almanac, “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

In the Senate, in partnership with U.S. Senator Tom Udall, I am proud to work with communities across New Mexico to build on our state’s rich legacy of conservation.

Over the last four years, despite a tough partisan climate in Washington, New Mexicans have celebrated major conservation victories.

Together we created the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness in Taos County, home to some of the best elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep habitat in New Mexico. Designating this area at the head waters of the Red River and Rio Hondo had broad community support from Taos Pueblo, local government leaders, business owners, land grant heirs, acequia parcientes, sportsmen, ranchers, and conservationists.

After extensive input from local residents, sportsmen, business owners, and elected officials, we transitioned the Valles Caldera National Preserve to National Park Service management, opening this stunning landscape inside the crater of a collapsed super-volcano to greater public access. The preserve model also ensured that hunting and fishing remain central activities for the public to enjoy.

In 2013, New Mexico welcomed the designation the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos and the following year the designation of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in Doña Ana County. Both of these community-driven monuments permanently protect iconic landscapes, increase recreational access, and are proving to be good for business. New visitors from across the country and around the world are fueling New Mexico’s tourism industry and creating new jobs.

I was also proud to stand with the community in Albuquerque’s South Valley and secure resources to turn the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, a 570-acre oasis in the Rio Grande Bosque, into a place filled with educational and recreational programs. There is so much opportunity at Valle de Oro to help New Mexico kids discover the incredible natural heritage of our state right in their backyard, while supporting vital river and habitat conservation.

Last year, I also secured a three-year extension and $450 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), an increase of 47 percent over the previous year’s funding. For more than 50 years, this vital conservation program has protected some of our most treasured public lands and created many community parks across the state. I will continue fighting to fully fund and permanently reauthorize LWCF so New Mexico’s landscapes will be protected and accessible for our children and future generations to enjoy.

While we have much to celebrate in conservation gains, we have also witnessed renewed threats from a growing campaign of special interests and extremist groups to seize and sell off the American people’s public lands.

As the instigators of the attack on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon begin to face trial, I sincerely hope that they will see consequences for their dangerous actions. New Mexicans serve as park rangers and wildlife biologists, volunteer in visitor centers, and routinely hunt, fish, and camp with their families on these public lands. The possibility that their offices and community buildings may be overrun in an armed siege is simply unacceptable.

The idea that these lands should be transferred to states or private auctions is equally concerning. Proponents of land giveaway bills in state legislatures across the West argue that states are better equipped to manage our natural wonders than the United States Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. But what they don’t say is that their proposals would raise the possibility that some of the lands would be turned over to the highest bidder and that Western taxpayers would be saddled with the costs of overseeing the rest.

This would result in a proliferation of locked gates and “No Trespassing” signs in places that have been open to the public and used for generations. And it would devastate outdoor traditions like hunting, camping, and fishing that are among the pillars of Western culture and a thriving outdoor recreation economy.

Questions of how to best use our public lands to promote the public good can sometimes be contentious and controversial. But that’s exactly why we all need to be at the table making those decisions. There are real problems that need to be solved, like creating more access points for recreation, hunting, and fishing, as I have proposed doing with a bill I introduced called the HUNT Act. But these are problems we can solve because of the very fact that these lands are public, and we each have a voice in their management.

As we celebrate Public Lands Day, I remain deeply committed to standing with New Mexicans to protect and conserve our public lands, watersheds, and wildlife for all to enjoy. I can’t think of anything more fundamentally American than defending the land we all love.

Martin Heinrich, a Democrat, represents New Mexico in the U.S. Senate.

Spring Break Guide 2017

New Mexico Guide to Spring Break

It's time for spring break and adventure is right outside your door. Our staff lists the top 7 things to do this spring break and their favorite place to venture out for each of them.

Caving Caving. Lois Manno, Membership Coordinator notes Carslbad Caverns Wilderness as her favorite spot for caving.
 Fishing Fishing. Tisha Broska, Associate Director says the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument is the perfect spot for fishing with the family.
 River Rafting River Rafting. You'll often find Grassroots Organizer Nathan Newcomer in the Gila Wilderness kayaking the Gila River.
 Wildflowering Wildflowering. According to Laticia Edmonds, Office Manager, you can also do some great wildflowering and photography in the Sandia Mountain Wilderness. 
 Camping Camping. Nathan Small, Wilderness Protection Organizer says, "Come down to the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. You can camp in Aguirre Springs Campground and relish the Organ Mountains, the majestic face of the national monument. If primitive camping is more your style then enjoy the Desert Peaks and explore places like Broad Canyon, the heart of the Monument.“ 
 WildlifeWatching  Wildlife Watching. Bighorn sheep watching along the gorge in Rio Grande del Norte is prime location for Traditional Community Organizer, John Olivas.
Hiking Hiking- Manzano Wilderness is one of Staff Attorney Judy Calman's favorite hiking spots.


Big Step Forward for Conservation in Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

Legislation moves through U.S. Senate Committee during Monuments to Main Street Month

Las Cruces, New Mexico (September 22, 2016) – Today a diverse coalition applauded the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act (S. 3049) . A wide variety of stakeholders successfully worked to create the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, and has been advocating for wilderness protection of this area for nearly a decade.

The bill was reintroduced in June by New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich. Legislation to safeguard the wilderness in Doña Ana County was first introduced by former Senator Jeff Bingaman in 2009 in the 111th Congress, and then again by Senators Udall and Heinrich in the 112th and 113th Congresses. In 2014, President Obama established the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

This bill would designate eight wilderness areas within the monument, granting these sensitive areas the higher level of protection they deserve. Many of the proposed wilderness areas enjoy temporary wilderness status as Wilderness Study Areas (WSA), but only Congress can designate an official wilderness area through legislation.

Law enforcement and Border Patrol has been unaffected in the national monument. In fact, U.S. Customs Border Protection (CBP) wrote that S. 3049 would “significantly enhance the flexibility of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to operate in this border area.”

September marks both National Wilderness Month and Monuments to Main Street Month, a time when and the local community has been celebrating the economic benefits of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Las Cruces has been featured in several reports, recognized in publications like Lonely Planet, and hosted multiple conferences that have infused hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy. The designation of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is cited as large part of the reason for all of these exciting developments.

“It is fitting that this critical bill is moving during Monuments to Main Street Month and National Wilderness Month,” said Carrie Hamblen, CEO/President, Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce. “Our national monument has proven to be an economic powerhouse in Doña Ana County. Passing the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act will pay us back in dividends.”

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act enjoys support from sportsmen, Native Americans, business leaders, veterans, civic groups, current and former local elected officials, archaeologists, historians, and conservation organizations.

A recent poll commissioned by the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce showed 78% of citizens in Doña Ana County support the protection of wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

Rafael Gomez, Tribal Councilman from the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo added, “Passing the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act will preserve the outstanding cultural and historical resources within the national monument that are vital to our community across the country. The wilderness areas keep us connected to our families, traditions and the land itself.”

Hunting, livestock grazing, hiking, camping, horseback riding, firefighting, law enforcement activities, and border security would continue in these areas. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks contains approximately 306 bird species and 78 mammal species including golden eagles, mule deer, javelina, cougar, ring-tail cat, and quail. The proposed wilderness will strengthen the wildlife habitat for these species as well as protect the watersheds that they depend on.

“The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act will add another layer of protection in safeguarding wildlife and habitat within areas like the Sierra de Las Uvas, West Potrillos, and Robledo Mountains,” said Jim Bates with the Doña Ana County Associated Sportsmen. “Hunting opportunity for the average citizen is a time-honored and uniquely American tradition and is part of our heritage. Protecting habitat and insuring healthy wildlife populations through conservation efforts such as this are key elements to the future of those traditions and heritage. I want to thank Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich for acting on behalf of sportsmen, and all American citizens, for their continuing actions to protect these irreplaceable areas.”

The broad coalition of supporters hopes that Congress continues to move this critical legislation forward. To learn more about community driven effort to protect the wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument, visit

The wilderness areas protected would be:

  • Aden Lava Flow Wilderness: This area offers one of the best opportunities in the continental United States to view lava flows and the many unique shapes and structures created by them.
  • Broad Canyon Wilderness: This area is home to countless archeological sites and an extensive record of previous Indigenous culture habitation within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region.
  • Cinder Cone Wilderness: Features an extremely high concentration of undisturbed cinder cone mountains known for their remoteness and unique wildlife habitat.
  • Organ Mountains Wilderness: The rugged terrain makes this one of the steepest mountain ranges in the western United States. These mountains are the picturesque backdrop to Las Cruces, and were mentioned in the earliest Spanish journals.
  • Potrillo Mountains Wilderness: The Potrillo Mountains Wilderness contains eight different habitat sites, all substantially intact, across its terrain. The trans-pecos shrub savanna, mesquite-acacia savanna, and grama-tobosa shrub steppe vegetation types support some of southern New Mexico’s healthiest wildlife populations. There are four known pueblo sites in the West Potrillo Mountains and Mount Riley WSA. One site is a Classic Mimbres pueblo, and there are several El Paso phase structures.
  • Robledo Mountains Wilderness: Named after Spanish colonist Pedro Robledo, these mountains sheltered both Billy the Kid and Geronimo in the late-19th century and include the Paleozoic Trackways National Monument.
  • Sierra de las Uvas Wilderness: This diverse mountain range is a hunting hot spot with wildlife habitat home to three different quail species, desert mule deer, and pronghorn antelope. Cultural riches also abound.
  • Whitethorn Wilderness: This area is named for the prevalent white-thorn acacia, a key year-round food source for quail and a summer food source for desert mule deer. Weathered lava houses small and large wildlife, and views stretch hundreds of miles.




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