WASHINGTON, May 28, 2014 - The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is criticizing President Obama for his designation last week of almost a half-million acres of wilderness in southern New Mexico as the nation’s newest national monument.
The NCBA said about two-thirds of the land in the new Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument is public grazing lands and that the designation threatens family ranching operations in the area.
“This is just another decision made by the administration driven from pressure by radical special interest groups without the consideration of the negative impact on local economies or the will of local residents,” said Jose Varela Lopez, president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association and an NCBA member.
The Obama administration has a different outlook, noting that the designation, which was in the process for more than a decade, was supported by conservation and sportsmen’s groups, local tribal governments, historic preservationists, the nearby cities of Las Cruces and El Paso and over 200 local businesses. The move could generate $7.4 million in new economic activity in the area each year, it said.
Obama’s action “is the culmination of a community-led effort to preserve, protect and promote these public lands, but it’s the beginning of a new chapter for the businesses that will benefit from the tourism and recreation, and the wildlife that rely on this unique habitat,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewel said in a release.
The area encompassed by the monument, where Spanish explorers, Billy the Kid and Geronimo once roamed, will continue to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency of the Interior Department, which was criticized recently for the heavy-handed manner in which it dealt with rancher Cliven Bundy, who had refused to pay grazing fees for years.
Varela Lopez said that despite claims that cattle grazing will continue within the monument boundaries, Obama’s proclamation gives BLM “the power to eliminate existing ranching operations in an effort to ‘protect’ the land.” This, he said, “is a far cry from the multiple-use concept under which these lands have been successfully managed.”
House Speaker John Boehner also criticized the president’s action, saying it could jeopardize national security.
“For many months, I have warned that the president’s fondness for unilateral action has created widespread doubt among the American people that he and his administration can be counted on to enforce any law he signs, particularly when it comes to securing our nation’s borders and reforming our immigration system,” the Ohio Republican said.
The president’s announcement “intensifies those concerns, demonstrating a level of audacity that is remarkable even for this administration.” Boehner’s office said, adding that Obama should have acted in concert with Congress, where lawmakers would have included border security provisions.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, meanwhile, wrote the president, asking him to reconsider his action, saying the “restrictive environmental laws” within the new monument would hamper the Border Patrol.
Customs and Border Protection meanwhile, said the designation would not limit its ability to secure the border.
Obama’s designation of the area as a national monument was authorized under the federal Antiquities Act, which was first used by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 to designate Devils Tower Monument in Wyoming. The White House notes that the authority of the Act has been sued by 16 presidents since then to protect natural and historic features such as the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients.
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