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05/22/2012

Saving New Mexico's Organ Mountains

Organ Mountains

The Organ Mountains form the rugged backdrop to Las Cruces, New Mexico’s second-largest city. In those mountains are hundreds of thousands of acres of desert grasslands, sky island mountain peaks, canyons, arroyos, historic features from both Native Americans and early Spanish settlers, and an abundance of plant and animal diversity. In fact, the mountain range is the most botanically diverse in the state, home to a rich assortment of ferns, lichens, mosses, and several plant species that exist nowhere else in the world. Mountain lions, javelina, mule deer, quail, and countless other animals call this area home.

Unfortunately, these one-of-a-kind lands are facing a variety of threats. Las Cruces and the surrounding regions is one of the most rapidly expanding areas of New Mexico and along with that growth comes the resulting urban sprawl. As the population has grown, destructive off-road vehicle use has also risen dramatically. And very recently, proposals have multiplied for destructive energy development and rare earth mineral mining. However, a significant portion of this area can still be saved through a National Monument designation.

The proposed monument would encompass more than 600,000 acres of mountain ranges, lava flows, ancient archaeological sites, prehistoric petroglyphs, and pristine wildlife habitat. The idea is widely supported by local businesses, tribal groups for which the land is sacred, dozens of notable Hispanic leaders across the state, local city governments and county commissions, to name a few. You can check out a full list of supporters at this site.

A monument designation would also work to protect the sort of recreational activities that are drawing people in droves to Las Cruces. Tourism brings more than $5.7 billion every year to New Mexico. Of that, outdoor recreation contributes $3.8 billion to the state annually and supports 43,000 jobs. This is testament to the fact that protected public lands are one of New Mexico’s most important economic drivers. Visitation at the nearby White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns National Park has some of the most significant economic impacts in the entire state where visitors there alone spent $39 million every year. Headwaters Economics recently undertook a study of the region and found that the economy surrounding the proposed monument is one of the fastest growing in the state, in no small part because of the quality of life afforded by the surrounding public lands. The finding reinforces an earlier study highlighting the economic potential of additional protections for public lands near Las Cruces.

A National Monument designation would be good for wildlife, good for recreationalists, good for the unique cultural and historical landscape, and good for the economy.

By Matt Kirby, photo courtesy BLM

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