The next land rights bat­tle­ground?

Bundy-style protests feared in New Mex­ico

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN AND DAVE BOYER

Pres­i­dent Obama on Wed­nes­day de­clared 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 de­clared 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.

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.

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.

“An Or­gan Moun­tains-Desert Peaks Na­tional Mon­u­ment will pre­serve im­por­tant cul­tural links to our past and strengthen south­ern New Mex­ico’s econ­omy by boost­ing tourism and recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties, like hunt­ing, hik­ing, camp­ing, and horse­back rid­ing,” Sen. Martin Hein­rich said in a state­ment.

Only Congress can de­clare a na­tional park, which stops most land uses. But un­der the 1906 An­tiq­ui­ties Act the pres­i­dent has the power to de­clare na­tional mon­u­ments, which of­fer height­ened en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions.

The New Mex­ico mon­u­ment is Mr. Obama’s sec­ond des­ig­na­tion this year. In March, he added 1,600 acres in the Point Arena-Stor­netta re­gion to the Cal­i­for­nia Coastal Na­tional Mon­u­ment es­tab­lished by Pres­i­dent Clin­ton in 2000. House Repub­li­cans said the ac­tion wasn’t nec­es­sary be­cause they had passed sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion that was await­ing Se­nate ac­tion.

About half the Or­gan Moun­tains

“It’s ir­re­spon­si­ble to fo­cus ef­forts on new land des­ig­na­tions rather than find­ing so­lu­tions to ex­ist­ing crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties plagu­ing the bor­der.”

mon­u­ment will be des­ig­nated as wilder­ness, the high­est level of pro­tec­tion, clos­ing it to mo­tor­ized ve­hi­cles and hu­man con­struc­tion.

Sher­iff Gar­ri­son said that will shut down roads that his depart­ment uses to pa­trol the land, though he said the car­tels are un­likely to stop us­ing it just be­cause it is de­clared wilder­ness.

“My fear is these ar­eas will be used more than they are now be­cause they’ll have ac­cess to it that will be pri­vate and closed off

— Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Repub­li­can, in a let­ter to Pres­i­dent Obama

to ev­ery law-abid­ing cit­i­zen,” the sher­iff said. “I be­lieve this mon­u­ment will ham­per law en­force­ment’s abil­ity to ef­fec­tively pa­trol the area we need to pa­trol.”

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said the dec­la­ra­tion will in­cor­po­rate a 2006 agree­ment be­tween the In­te­rior Depart­ment and the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment that al­lows U.S. Bor­der Pa­trol some ac­cess to the land.

That agree­ment pre­vents most rou­tine pa­trols through wilder­ness, though it does al­low them to con­tinue to fol­low smug­glers in hot pur­suit.

The agree­ment has been con­tro­ver­sial for both sides of the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and some im­mi­grant rights ad­vo­cates ar­gue that the Bor­der Pa­trol has used the ar­range­ment to tram­ple pris­tine land. Bor­der se­cu­rity ad­vo­cates say agents’ hands are tied when they are in pur­suit of il­le­gal im­mi­grants and drug smug­glers.

Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Repub­li­can who has stud­ied the is­sue, ar­gues that the en­vi­ron­men­tal re­stric­tions have in­deed hurt the Bor­der Pa­trol’s abil­ity to do its job.

Hours be­fore news of the des­ig­na­tion broke Mon­day, Mr. Bishop, chair­man of the Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee’s pub­lic lands sub­com­mit­tee, sent a let­ter to Mr. Obama ask­ing him to hold off un­til the bor­der can be con­trolled.

“It’s ir­re­spon­si­ble to fo­cus ef­forts on new land des­ig­na­tions rather than find­ing so­lu­tions to ex­ist­ing crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties plagu­ing the bor­der,” the con­gress­man wrote.

Mr. Bishop pointed to a case that was in the head­lines last week, in which a Na­tional Park Ser­vice em­ployee at Chir­ic­ahua Na­tional Mon­u­ment in Ari­zona de­tailed the vi­cious at­tack she suf­fered at the hands of an il­le­gal im­mi­grant. Au­thor­i­ties said the man smashed her head into a metal bath­room door and hit her head with a rock, strik­ing so hard that the rock broke.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

About 500,000 acres of land in south­ern New Mex­ico will be de­clared the Or­gan Moun­tains-Desert Peaks Na­tional Mon­u­ment. Ve­hi­cles and con­struc­tion will be pro­hib­ited on about half the land.

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