The "public" in public lands is the most important part. Sure, our public lands protect our water, wildlife, and air, but they also give all Americans a place to recreate and unwind. They tell the human story of our shared heritage and do not discriminate based on income, gender, or race.
Right now, the Department of Interior is asking the public to comment on some national monuments designated in the last 21 years. In the press release about the review of these monuments, Secretary Ryan Zinke is quoted as saying "Today's action, initiating a formal public comment process finally gives a voice to local communities and states when it comes to Antiquities Act monument designations." Secretary Zinke is either forgetting or purposefully ignoring the fact that our national monuments have the support of local communities. Our monuments here in New Mexico had diverse communities working to protect these areas for decades. In Rio Grande del Norte sportsmen and women, business owners, and Hispanic communities came together to protect their traditional use of the land. Organ Mountains Desert Peaks would never have happened were it not for multiple communities coming together to protect this unique landscape. Our monuments are shining examples of community engagement around designation.
Americans have heeded the call for comments - at the time of this writing about 90,000 comments have been submitted. According to the Center for Western Priorities, about 96 percent of these comments stand in firm support of monument designation.
Americans clearly want to keep the public in public lands. Let's hope Secretary Zinke is listening.
– Susan Torres, Communications director, New Mexico Wildlife Federation