President Obama Is Set To Create His Largest National Monument So Far

CREDIT: AP Photo/Las Cruces Sun-News, Shari Viapando

Heavy rain clouds slowly roll over the Organ Mountains on Monday, Dec. 10, 2007. Organ Mountains Desert Peaks is the newest national monument created by the Obama administration.

On Wednesday, President Obama will create his second national monument of the year, designating the Organ Mountains in New Mexico a protected area.

The Organ Mountains, located at the southern end of New Mexico, will be the 11th and largest national monument of Obama’s presidency. The White House says that the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument will create $7.4 million in new annual economic activity in the region, a finding that first appeared in a 2013 report. That report also found the monument would double the number of outdoor recreation and tourism jobs in the region and contribute $560,000 in state and local tax revenue.

The monument encompasses a total of 496,000 acres, land which contains Native American petroglyphs in its canyons and is one of the most botanically diverse mountain ranges in New Mexico, home to about 870 vascular (i.e. plants with roots, stems, and leaves) plant species and a recorded 210 species of birds. The monument’s designation will “preserve the prehistoric, historic and scientific values of the area for the benefit of all Americans,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. Cattle ranchers who grazed the land before it was designated a monument will still be able to graze there — a rule that’s typical of new monuments — but all drilling and fracking will be prohibited. The area may have some mineral resources, yet new mining is not allowed in areas designated as national monuments.

“This is land that is home to pronghorn and deer, as well as rare plants and animals — some found nowhere else in the world, including the Organ Mountains pincushion cactus,” New Mexico Senator Tom Udall (D) said in December.

The fight to make the Organ Mountains a national monument has gained a range of support in the last decade, drawing sportsmen, native groups, conservation organizations, and faith groups. At one point, a survey found that 83 percent of citizens in Doña Ana County, where the mountains are located, supported the creation of the monument. In December, Senators Udall and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced legislation to protect the mountain range, citing the new visitors and economic activity the monument’s creation would bring as their main reasons. Sen. Udall lauded the president’s decision to create the monument in a statement Monday.

“The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument will put the unique and spectacular desert landscapes of Southern New Mexico on recreation maps around the world, attracting tourists to the region, creating jobs and bringing in millions of dollars in tourism revenue,” Udall said. “The president’s decision finally puts into motion a plan that began with the people of Southern New Mexico, who wanted to ensure these special places would continue to be available for local families and visitors to hike, hunt, and learn from the hundreds of significant historic sites throughout the area for generations to come.”

The monument’s designation comes a few months after President Obama expanded the California Coastal National Monument to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, protecting an additional 1,660 acres of beaches and bluffs, as well as an estuary. Obama said in his State of the Union address this year that he planned to use his authority to create more protected lands. In general, national monuments provide less protection to wildlife than national parks do, but regions within the monument can be designated wilderness areas, which have stricter protections. Udall and Heinrich’s bill called for the designation of wilderness areas within the monument, but since only Congress can designate wilderness areas, it’s unclear so far whether the Organ Mountains will be afforded these advanced protections.