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Martinez Questions Monuments In Letter To U.S. Interior Department

Jul 13, 2017

Credit nmpolitics.net

  ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Susana Martinez supports the review of two national monuments in New Mexico, saying it's important that the designations follow the intent and spirit of the federal law that was used to establish the sites.

The two-term Republican governor outlined her comments on the Rio Grande del Norte and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monuments in a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

The letter was made public Thursday as the secretary considers possible modifications to more than two dozen monuments that were created during the last two decades.

The monuments under review in New Mexico were established during former President Barack Obama's tenure.

Environmentalists support the designations, saying they help protect special places in the state. They also argue there have been economic benefits.

Martinez said only anecdotal evidence exists to support those claims. She also questioned the need for the monuments, pointing to previous designations that protected the land as wilderness study areas or as areas that required special management for recreation and research.

With the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks site, the governor noted there are archaeological and other historic sites within the boundaries that warrant protection but that the proclamation also lists objects such as desert grasslands, rattlesnakes and jackrabbits that don't satisfy the intent of the law used to create the monument.

Such wildlife and landscapes can be found around the state, she argued.

Martinez made similar arguments about the Rio Grande del Norte monument and said that ranchers who have used the area for generations are concerned about their access to dozens of grazing allotments that still exist within the boundaries.

The Democratic members of New Mexico's congressional delegation have argued that existing uses can continue, but Martinez said the restriction of motorized vehicles limits access by the public and restricts the ability of ranchers and others to maintain critical infrastructure such as fencing, watering holes and flood control structures.

She said the Antiquities Act calls for designated areas not to exceed the "smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected."

"It is unclear how a larger designation better protects specific objects, especially since multiple federal laws, policies and programs already exist to protect antiquities and archaeological sites," the governor wrote.

Martinez also raised concerns about the billions of dollars in deferred maintenance facing federal land managers and the possible reduction of funding moving forward. She says that could hamper management of the monuments.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, sent his own letter to Zinke in support of the monuments, while advocacy groups said thousands of individual comments were submitted to the Interior Department in favor of preserving the two monuments.