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Interior Dept. Secretary visits Las Cruces, state lawmakers tour Organs

U.S Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument Thursday, meanwhile state lawmakers shared their concerns about the possibility of scaling back on the size of the monument.

The news of Zinke’s visit comes exactly three months after President Donald Trump’s April 26 executive order that called for a review of designations under the Antiquities Act.

In the past, Congressman Pearce has called for reducing the size of the monument from more than 496,000 acres to 60,000 acres.

“I support protecting the organ mountains as a national monument, I even introduced legislation in 2013 to ensure they stay protected for generations to come,” Pearce said in a statement. “However, the current footprint is a good example of the abuse of the antiquities act by a number of different administrations that have designated over-expansive monuments.”

Other lawmakers are vocally opposing the review. Thursday morning, several state representatives boarded a small plan to view the desert peaks portion of the mountains. State Representative Nathan Small told ABC-7 he worries about the openness of the mountains in the future.

“You could see large scale perhaps mining interests or hobby ranches or anything in between where folks just want to cut off or severely limit public enjoyment and access,” Small said.

Representative Bill McCamley chairs the state’s economic deveopment committee. He tells ABC-7 tourism has spiked since the Organs were declared a national monument. He says scaling back will decrease the number of jobs in the state.

“One of the three things that we’ve actually done well in New Mexico in the last ten years other than film and border trade, is tourism,” McCamley said.

During a news conference Thursday, Zinke spoke about President Trump’s order on the review. Zinke says he arrived at Ft. Bliss then continued on to Las Cruces.

Zinke told media the national monument is vastly different than those in surrounding states and said it’s beautiful ground. He also mentioned there is private land and a lot of state land, adding it’s fairly large, a little disconnected and said the boundaries are difficult to discern.

Zinke also spoke about the review process and said there are several things he considers. He says he sees how the governor and state lawmakers are reacting and goes to the community.

“There’s concern from the ranching community and to a degree if you’ve ever been in a ranching position it’s not an easy life. But there’s concern that their lifestyle, their cultural existence is under duress. The number of cattle per acre, the inability to make sure they can make improvements on their water system, access, roads so there’s a concern with traditional use,” Secretary Zinke said.

Zinke met with several different groups. His report on the review is due on August 24th.

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