- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2014

President Obama on Wednesday will declare a national monument in southern New Mexico, delivering a win for environmentalists but angering ranchers and local law enforcement, who say the land restrictions will end up creating a safe haven for drug cartels to operate within the U.S.

Mr. Obama will declare about 500,000 acres as the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. About half of that land is expected to be set aside as wilderness, meaning it will be closed to vehicles and construction.


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Local ranchers say it’s a land grab that will interfere with their grazing rights, and border security advocates said the move will make it tougher for federal agents and local police to patrol the land, leaving a security gap that Mexican smuggling cartels will exploit.

“This is about opposing so many thousands of acres that is going to create nothing more than a pathway for criminals to get into this country to do their criminal acts,” Dona Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison told The Washington Times in a telephone interview Monday.


A spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency refuted the claim that the national monument designation would threaten border security.

“This designation will in no way limit our ability to perform our important border security mission, and in fact provides important flexibility as we work to meet this ongoing priority,” said spokeswoman Jenny Burke. “CBP is committed to continuing to work closely with the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service to maintain border security while ensuring the protection of the environment along the border.”


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The monument has been in the works for some time and has been controversial from the start.

Conservationists and tourism businesses have been pushing for the designation, hoping it will bring more visitors.

“The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument will help protect our way of life while allowing for responsible development and expanding opportunities for all Americans to enjoy the beauty and multi-cultural history of this unique landscape,” Billy Garrett, Dona Ana County Commission chairman, said in a statement.

But land rights advocates said it is the precursor to more conflicts like the recent standoff in Nevada, where a rancher refused to comply with a court order that he stop grazing on Bureau of Land Management property, prompting the BLM to confiscate his cattle, though they were returned after a public outcry.

The BLM, which is part of the Interior Department, will administer the national monument.

The land contains five mountain ranges with fragile landscapes, prehistoric rock art and more recent historic sites such as a training area for the Apollo astronauts.

The monument would cover hundreds of thousands of acres right next to the Mexican border.

New Mexico’s representatives in Congress have been divided over the monument. Rep. Stevan Pearce, a Republican, called for a 50,000-acre monument, one-tenth the size of the one Mr. Obama will designate.

But the half-million-acre proposal has the backing of the state’s U.S. senators, both of them Democrats.

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