Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today joined hundreds of community members to celebrate President Obama's designation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in south-central New Mexico. The President's action supports the locally driven effort to conserve, protect and enhance some of the public lands in Doña Ana County.
The celebration took place at the Oñate High School in Las Cruces. Secretary Jewell was joined by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Neil Kornze, White House Council on Environmental Quality Acting Chair Mike Boots, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and local community and business leaders.
"Today is the culmination of a community-led effort to conserve, protect and promote these public lands, but it's the beginning of a new chapter for the businesses that will benefit from the tourism and recreation, and the wildlife that rely on this unique habitat," said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. "The Organ Mountains and surrounding Desert Peaks are steeped in culture, history, wildlife and opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors -- from hunting to hiking to gazing at ancient petroglyphs and fossils -- and the President's action ensures that these cherished landscapes are celebrated and passed on to the generations of New Mexicans and Americans to come."
The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks will join other popular national monuments in the Land of Enchantment, including Aztec Ruins, Bandalier, Petroglyph, Rio Grande del Norte, White Sands and others. Following the President's designation of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in March 2013, the BLM reported a 40% increase in visitors to the area in less than one year. A recent independent study by BBC Research & Consulting estimates that the new national monument designation could generate $7.4 million in new economic activity annually from new visitors and business opportunities.
"This is a great day for New Mexico -- thanks to so many New Mexicans who spoke up and worked hard, we have a new national monument. It will put the unique and spectacular desert landscapes of Doña Ana County on recreation maps around the world, creating jobs and bringing in millions of dollars in revenue," Udall said. "I'm proud to join Senator Bingaman, Senator Heinrich, Secretary Jewell -- and especially the many people of Doña Ana County who love Las Cruces's beautiful backdrop and wanted it protected for generations to come. Today we celebrate them."
"This celebration and tremendous accomplishment would not be possible without the community's strong support," said Heinrich. "I give my heartfelt gratitude to the diverse coalitions and stakeholders from southern New Mexico who worked tirelessly to make today a reality, and I thank Senator Jeff Bingaman who helped push this effort many years ago. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument will help preserve our cultural identity, promote tourism in the region, boost the local economy, and foster recreational opportunities like hunting, hiking, and camping. I also thank President Obama and Secretary Jewell for recognizing how special this land is for all of us. I will continue to work to ensure we preserve New Mexico's treasured landscapes for future generations to enjoy."
Jewell in January participated in a meeting with senior officials at the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Border Patrol to underscore Interior's continued commitment to cooperate in providing law enforcement and border security in the area. The proclamation supports the 2006 Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding "Cooperative National Security and Counterterrorism Efforts on Federal Lands along the United States' Borders."
The proclamation also allows watershed restoration and small-scale flood prevention projects if they are consistent with the care and management of the monument's resources.
"The creation of New Mexico's Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument helps celebrate the nation's newest and most exciting conservation system, the National Conservation Lands," BLM Director Neil Kornze said. "This system, which is managed by the BLM, includes incredible public lands like the Rio Grande del Norte, the San Juan Islands in Washington, and California's Fort Ord. Each of these areas has been protected by President Obama as testament to the BLM's important conservation work."
The BLM currently manages all of the public lands within this new national monument for a range of multiple uses which will continue, including grazing, conservation of natural and archeological resources and outdoor recreation, such as hunting, hiking, biking, and camping. Statewide, BLM-New Mexico hosted 2.9 million visitors at 28 recreation sites in fiscal year 2013. Recreation on BLM-managed lands and waters in New Mexico supported more than 1,900 jobs and contributed more than $172 million to the state's economy in fiscal year 2012.
"This is an exciting day for New Mexico and the entire country. Hundreds of Americans from diverse backgrounds came together to protect this treasured piece of land, which will now be preserved for future generations" said Acting Chair Boots. "When the President signed the proclamation on Wednesday, he made it clear that he's not finished. He's going to continue to get things done for the American people wherever he can, and that includes protecting lands where communities like Las Cruces are speaking up."
The Organ Mountains provide a spectacular backdrop for the City of Las Cruces, with steep, angular rock outcroppings reminiscent of organ pipes rising to nearly 9,000 feet in elevation and extending for 20 miles, running generally north and south. This high-desert landscape within the Chihuahuan Desert contains a multitude of biological zones -- mixed desert shrubs and grasslands in the lowlands ascending to piñon and juniper woodlands, and finally to ponderosa pines at the highest elevations.
The area is home to a high diversity of animal life, including deer, pronghorn antelope, mountain lions, peregrine falcons and other raptors as well as rare plants, some found nowhere else in the world, such as the Organ Mountains pincushion cactus. Hundreds of archeologically and culturally significant sites are found within the new monument, including some limited Paleo-Indian artifacts, extensive rock art sites and the ruins of a ten room pueblo, among other ancient dwellings. More recent history is memorialized with Geronimo's Cave, Billy the Kid's Outlaw Rock, and sites related to early Spanish explorers. The Organ and Doña Ana Mountains are popular recreation areas, with multiple hiking trails, a popular campground, and opportunities for hunting, mountain biking, rock climbing, and other recreation.
On the west side of Las Cruces, the Desert Peaks area contains mountain ranges and peaks of the Robledo Mountains and the Sierra de las Uvas. These landscapes contain mesas and buttes interspersed with deep canyons and arroyos. Significant cultural sites of the Mogollon, Mimbres, and Jornada cultures are located throughout this region along with historic sites associated with more recent settlements, including the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach Trail. This area is also home to the unusual Night-blooming Cereus, with a one-night-a-year bloom.
To the southwest of Las Cruces is the Potrillo Mountains Complex, characterized by cinder cones, volcanic craters, and basalt lava flows in the open desert landscape. There too is abundant wildlife, and significant scientific finds including an 11,000-year old skeleton of an extinct ground sloth. In more modern times, the Apollo astronauts trained in a section of the Potrillos because of its resemblance to a moonscape. Today it serves as a popular destination for outdoor recreation.
The Bureau of Land Management's National Conservation Lands contain some of the West's most spectacular landscapes. They include more than 875 federally recognized areas comprising more than 27 million acres of National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic and Historic Trails, and Conservation Lands of the California Desert.