Commentary: New Mexican business owners, Native American Tribes, Latino organizations, sportsmen, veterans, elected officials, and other community members today welcomed the House introduction of the ANTIQUITIES ACT of 2018, sponsored by Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham and Congressman Ben Ray Luján along with 55 co-sponsors. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced a Senate version of the bill in January 2018.
The legislation came in response to President Trump’s significant reductions to Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. The ANTIQUITIES ACT of 2018 enhances the protections to national monuments that were designated by the Antiquities Act between 1996 and 2017 – the timeframe of the Trump administration’s “review.” In New Mexico, this includes Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, Río Grande del Norte, and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monuments.
“We are defending yet again our public lands and national monuments that belong to all of us,” said Jeff Dray who served in the U.S. Army from 2008 to 2009 as a Cavalry Scout during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. “Millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans told President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke to leave protections for our national monuments intact. Today, we stand with Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham and Congressman Ben Ray Luján in defending our natural and cultural heritage.”
The legislation also includes provisions to designate wilderness within the Río Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments. The language mirrors the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act (H.R. 5600 and S. 432) and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Conservation Act (S. 441), which have all been introduced this Congress.
“The wildest lands within our national monuments provide for critical wildlife habitat and safeguard our clean water. Protecting these unfragmented areas will ensure that sportsmen and women will continue to enjoy access to quality game and world-class fisheries. I want to thank Congresswoman Lujan Grisham and Congressman Luján for working to preserve our time-tested hunting and fishing traditions in New Mexico,” said Gabe Vasquez, sportsman and director of community relations for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.
The legislation importantly expands Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument to the 1.9-million- acres proposed by the Bears Ears Inter-Trial Coalition. It also restores Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to its original boundaries. In January, President Trump ignored millions of public comments and reduced Bears Ears by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante by half.
Rafael Gomez, Jr., Tribal Council member for the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, added, “These lands are where our ancestors walked, and they should remain conserved for future generations. Río Grande del Norte, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, Bears Ears, and other national monuments across the country are sacred places for us, and we will continue to defend them.”
The ANTIQUITIES ACT of 2018 recognizes the important economic role national monuments play in local communities. After Río Grande del Norte was designated in 2013, Taos County quickly experienced an increase in visitation and local tax revenues, benefits that continue to be felt today. Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks was designated in May 2014, and by September 2016 annual visitation had increased by 152 percent. Furthermore, New Mexico broke record tourism numbers again in 2017, with the state’s public lands being one of the largest draws.
Other national monuments protected by the Antiquities Act have been economic success stories in the state. For example, in 2017, 612,000 visitors spent roughly $31.7 million in local economies surroundingWhite Sands National Monument.
“Our potential as a state is deeply tied to our public lands, especially from an economic development perspective,” said Robb Hirsh, Board Chair for the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce and and owner of WindForce, Inc., a New Mexico-based renewable energy development company. “At the end of the day, this support from Senators Udall and Heinrich, and now Representatives Lujan Grisham and Luján, is support for business and tourism, which goes hand-and-had with conserving our air, land, and water for future generations to enjoy.”
During the Trump administration’s “review,” over 2.8 million comments were submitted to the Department of the Interior, of which 99 percent of all comments expressed support for maintaining/expanding our national monuments. Ninety-three and 98 percent the comments that mentioned Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Río Grande del Norte, respectively, requested that those monuments not be altered.