Driving west from Las Cruces, it doesn’t take long to find horses grazing along near rows and rows of Pecan trees.
Steve Wilmeth lives here and he also owns a ranch on part of what would become the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks monument. That’s if President Obama signs a recent proposal by New Mexico senators Udall and Bingaman.
Wilmeth has a deep connection to the land.
“My great grandfather in 1888 – he trailed cattle from Texas, accessed this area by the Butterfield Trail,” says Wilmeth.
The Butterfield Trail goes across his ranch today.
“I don’t think he would understand the effect of the Butterfield Trail on the intention of the monument. If he knew that ultimately it would eliminate one of his descendants from this land and this industry, he simply would not have understood.”
Las Cruces resident, Diana Davidson hiked the Sierra de las Uvas and hopes the land becomes a monument.
“So we can preserve this for generations to come…because this is part of our heritage here.”
So does David Chavez. His main concern is Native American Heritage.
“Just coming over that hill, there was an Indian settlement just virgin sitting there. Having somebody coming in on a four-wheeler or picking up something and taking it, it removes out culture. We gotta remember our past to know what’s going on in the future,” said Chavez.
Trash and destruction has been an issue at two monuments in Arizona – the Sonoran Desert and Ironwood Forest monuments.
According to a May 2012 Arizona Republic article, the Bureau of Land Management has been increasing patrols at those monuments.
In that article, a BLM ranger describes finding “fresh signs of smuggling activity” including “boots made of carpet that smugglers use to conceal footprints,” backpacks and water jugs.
We spoke with Dona Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison over the phone. He’s concerned with a change in access by roads to the areas west and south of the city.
“The roads would be limited, very limited. We have patrols out there two or three times a week keeping an eye on things, recovering stolen vehicles, drug-related crimes, things like that,” says Garrison.
KRWG News reached out to the U.S. Border Patrol in El Paso. They said they can’t comment right now since the legislation is still pending.
Critics say large monuments violate the Antiquities Act, but defenders say the President should have full discretion. Right now, the courts still give the President ultimate power on the size of a monument.
As divisive as this monument can be at times, residents of Dona Ana County seem to agree on one thing, the Organ Mountains.
“I don’t think there’s ever been any question about the mountains,” said Richard Haas, chair of the Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce.
“None of us have ever objected to protection of the Organs. Every one of us are enthralled with that backdrop…. We often see it in a different light than most folks. We see it at sunrise,” says Wilmeth.