Examining The Monument Proposal - Part 1

Bill S. 1024 is how the 112th Congress sees the proposal by Senators Bingaman and Udall to expand national wilderness protection for the Organ Mountains and surrounding areas.

However, to many residents of Dona Ana County, the mountains are the very symbol of the place where they live. Whether they should become a national monument along with several hundred thousand acres is still in question.

Right now, anybody can hike along land not privately owned in the area. One group recently traveled to see the Native American petroglyphs at the Sierra de las Uvas Range that is west of Las Cruces.

Long-time Las Cruces resident, Diana Davidson, was there.

“I think it’s absolutely amazing. I’ve lived here for over 30 years and I didn’t know this was here and I feel very privileged to be able to come out and see this," said Davison.

Her favorite sight?

“Catprints – I didn’t realize there were cats out here probably bobcats I’m not sure, but I thought that was very cool just seeing the animal prints. And we’ve been lucky because of the rains that these footprints are here in the mud.”

David Chavez also described the landscape.

“Just crossing over that little section of an Indian settlement and it’s just virgin it’s sitting there, having somebody coming in on a four-wheeler and coming in removes our culture, it removes our history.”

“The hike this morning was great but the final destination to the petroglyphs was just phenomenal – it was just well worth the hike. I’d have gone another mile if we’d had to go see them," said Chavez.

One of the younger people on the hike told me what he sees looking up at ancient carvings in the stone there.

“Yeah I see it can be a spaceship. You can see those three lines just pushing up and there’s like a spaceman. He has a fox head and you can see his face. He doesn’t have any arms. Is it just a cloud or is it a spaceship? It’s funny it makes you wonder did they see something we haven’t?

About 7,000 acres of the Organ Mountains have been managed as a "Wilderness Study Area" since the Reagan administration set it aside in the 1980's.

The proposed expansion would cover about 600,000 acres in and around Dona Ana County.

Bill S. 1024 is unlikely to pass before the lame duck session ends when the bill expires.

That’s why both senators Udall and Bingaman sent a letter to President Obama urging him to create a national monument instead.

Presidents have created national monuments ever since Theodore Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to create the Devils Tower Monument in Wyoming. He thought Congress wouldn’t act in time to protect it.

National monuments require executive approval – in other words, the signature of a U.S.  president...but that’s it. Meanwhile, national parks or wilderness areas need Congressional approval.

The last monument President Obama created was the César Chávez Monument in California in October.

Part 2 of this series will examine more specifics of the proposal. You will hear from people who live on land that would become part of the monument if President Obama were to sign it into law.