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Organizers in Luna County on Wednesday, Dec. 6, announced the launch of a campaign seeking a new 245,000-acre national monument for southern New Mexico.
The proposed Mimbres Peaks National Monument would encompass the Florida Mountains near Deming, Cooke’s Range and Good Sight Mountains to the city’s north and the peaks known as the Tres Hermanas (Three Sisters) near the village of Columbus.
Nearly ten years after the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument protected just under half a million acres in Doña Ana County, proponents in Deming said the Mimbres Peaks proposal was inspired by economic growth it attributed in part to the OMDP’s impact on tourism and hospitality in the region.
The campaign launch was emceed by state Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, who heads the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce. It took place within Rockhound State Park, in an area of the Floridas that attracts hikers, hunters and collectors of rocks and gems. Livestock frequently graze at the side of neighboring roads. The Floridas are also a haven for wildlife and home to a wilderness study area. Recently, at a foothill within the Floridas several miles away, core drilling proceeded for a prospective dolomite and magnesium quarry on federal land.
“The creation of a national monument would not only preserve these lands for future generations and create a proven economic engine for Luna County, it would also preserve the traditional land uses such as ranching, hunting and rockhounding, all of which would continue as it is today,” Luna County Commissioner Ray Trejo said at a podium positioned with the mountains as a backdrop.
Deming Mayor Benny Jasso said the monument designation would fit into the city’s long-term plan for making Deming a tourist destination, in part through outdoor recreation. The city and county have both invested in parks and recreational facilities located near Deming’s commercial loop on the city’s east side, including a water park that opened this summer and plans for a business incubator to feature a brewery, entertainment venue and other amenities, to spur job growth.
The presentation also included an invocation in the indigenous Towa language and addresses by speakers from the pueblos of Ysleta Del Sur and Jemez, noting the Mimbres region’s cultural history.
“We all fight for protection of land — all natives do, because these are lands that our people used to walk on; we prayed; a lot of our people are buried on these lands,” Rafael Gomez said. “These lands are also all of your lands … all Americans.”
Although each speaker stressed the launch was the beginning of conversations with affected parties including ranchers, a number of those in attendance complained the proposal had been developed in secret and demanded an opportunity to ask questions as Hamblen attempted to conclude the presentation. Trejo was immediately confronted by citizens angry about the rollout as well as the monument proposal itself.
“Evidently, they’ve had several meetings and (among) all the ranchers I spoke to, nobody had any information about this until I started making phone calls two days ago,” rancher Eddie Mesa told the Bulletin. “They tried to sneak this thing in under the radar and blindsided us. This is a land grab by the federal government and they’re disguising it as an economical development project.”
Mesa expressed concern a monument designation would lead to decreased grazing rights for ranchers and possibly curtail leases with the federal Bureau of Land Management. Supporters counter that has not held true for the OMDP, where livestock numbers reportedly grew by 30 percent over the first six years of its existence.
Luna County Commissioner Colette Chandler, herself part of a ranching family, expressed doubts about further federal involvement in the area. Referring to local farms and ranches, she said, “If these people who are here making their money and circulating it and keeping all this going, they’re the ones that have the right to say.”
State Rep. Jenifer Jones, R-Deming, who was present for the announcement, remarked to the Bulletin, “To this point, there has been little transparency or public involvement around the monument discussion. I am just as interested in how this impacts farmers and ranchers as I am about the purported benefits of yet another federal land grab.”
Residents associated with the Friends of the Floridas, a volunteer group promoting preservation of the mountain range, were also in attendance. The group and its president, Wesley Light, are parties in a federal lawsuit against BLM over the American Magnesium dolomite mine.
“It’s complex public land; it’s managed by the government for the benefit of all the people, and we have to work together to make that happen here in Luna County,” Light said.
National monuments are established either by acts of Congress or by presidential order under the Antiquities Act of 1906. The OMDP, for instance, was designated by President Barack Obama in May 2014. The Protect Mimbres Peaks campaign is hoping for action by President Joe Biden.
Areas protected by national monuments are limited to lands under federal ownership or control, preserving resources or sites of cultural or ecological importance including Native American cultural sites and artifacts. Since the BLM already manages the lands that would be protected by a national monument, it would likely oversee the monument and develop a required resource management plan with local input, if the Mimbres Peaks becomes a national monument.