Environment

Comment period on national monuments ends Monday night

Trump administration ordered review, could shrink some monuments

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The public has until 11:59 p.m. Monday night (July 10) to comment on whether or not the Department of Interior and the president should keep national monuments as they are, including the Rio Grande del Norte near Taos and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in southern New Mexico.

As of Sunday (July 9), the federal agency had received more than 1.2 million comments regarding the monuments.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was directed by President Donald Trump to review 21 monuments created under the Antiquities Act, which allows a president to protect areas as national monuments.

Some of those public land designations generated more controversy than others. In New Mexico, the designation of both the Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments came after years of meetings and public comment.

The 242,500 acre Rio Grande del Norte National Monument , in the works since the late 1980s, achieved broad support from ranchers, environmentalists, Taos Pueblo and local governments. The monument proclamation in 2013 took into account the needs of traditional uses such as collecting firewood, hunting, grazing livestock and fishing, said a letter of support from the monument from Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. to Zinke recently.

While the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, designated in 2014, also enjoyed broad support, it met with more local resistance from both politicians and ranchers. Republican Congressman Steve Pearce, who represents the area, is calling on Zinke to reduce the size of the monument, claiming some 800 businesses in the region oppose its current size of 496,330 acres.

Pearce told Zinke in comments in June that the monument should only cover about 60,000 acres.

"We feel like -- many people on this list feel like -- the law was not followed in the establishment of this monument," he told Zinke.

Advocates say it is a small group of vocal people who oppose the Organ Pipes-Desert Peaks National Monument and doesn't represent the broad swath of the majority of people. Since May, the city council of Las Cruces, the mayors of Las Cruces, Mesilla, Anthony, and Sunland Park, and the county commission of Doña Ana County have reaffirmed their support of the monument at its current size.

"Since the monument's establishment three years ago, the monument has become a point of pride for the local community," Heinrich said in a letter to Zinke. "Last year, the Lonely Planet guide books named southern New Mexico one of its "Best in the U.S. 10 Ten" places, highlighting the new Organ Mountains - Desert Peaks National Monument as a new attraction."

State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn was in the process of trading some state trust lands within the two monuments to the federal government in exchange for other lands which would be more profitable for state trust land beneficiaries. The land swap has been stalled since the monuments have come under a review. Dunn, a Republican, said in a recent letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior that the state owns about 41,155 acres landlocked by the Río Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos and 67,547 acres landlocked within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces.

To comment, go to www.regulations.gov and in the search box enter DOI-2017-0002. This will take you to the monument comment page and also show you how many comments have been received to date.

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