War On The Gila

Military training proposal would put important Gila cultural and ecological resources at risk and threaten local economies


Mark Allison, Executive Director, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, (505) 239-0906

Allyson Siwik, Executive Director, Gila Conservation Coalition, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (575) 590-7619

Chris Schlabach, Co-Owner of Gila Hike & Bike, (575-740-8481)

Silver City, NM (November 7, 2017) — In response to public outcry about a proposal that could put

the Gila Wilderness and surrounding communities at risk, Holloman Air Force Base (HAFB) has agreed to host a public meeting on Nov. 14th at 6:00 pm at the Grant County Administration Building regarding their “Special Use Airspace Optimization Project.” While the public is invited to attend the meeting, public comments will not be allowed to be submitted either verbally or in writing. A public rally is planned at 5:00 pm at the Grant County Administration Building to show strong public concern over this proposal and process. This public rally will include local elected officials, business owners, sportsmen organizations, outfitters, veterans and conservation groups.

The 6:00 pm meeting in the Grant County Commission Chambers will focus on recently announced plans to conduct 10,000 fly-overs annually above the Gila National Forest, including the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness Areas. Trainings will include low altitude overflights, at 500 feet above the national forest and 2,000 feet above wilderness. The proposal would drop 30,000 magnesium flares and toxic “defensive chaff” each year.

“Their proposal would essentially mean that all of the wilderness areas, wilderness study areas and the entire Gila National Forest would look and sound like a war zone,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild.

Conservation organizations and business interests sent a letter to Holloman on October 13, 2017 asking that the scoping period be reopened and extended and that they hold a public meeting in Silver City to explain to concerned citizens what exactly they are proposing, why it is necessary, and why they think the Gila National Forest is an appropriate place for jets and incendiary devices in an area that has suffered from drought and is home to a very dry, and brittle forest.

“As a veteran, and former Navy SEAL, I know that the readiness of our nation’s military is a top priority, including for those of us here in southern New Mexico,” said Grant County resident Brett Myrick. "But this is exactly the wrong place for screaming jets and incendiary devices.  People live and visit here because of the peace and quiet of our public lands.  This would ruin what I love most.”

HAFB is accepting comments on the proposal though citizens have little information to base their comments or recommendations on. Local groups are urging HAFB officials to address major topics of concern, including:

  • Has Holloman investigated DOD lands to see if the objectives of their training mission can be accomplished somewhere more appropriate?
  • What are the levels and frequency of noise from low-altitude training missions and from 1000 supersonic sorties over the Gila?
  • What would the implications of this be to wildlife, including endangered species? For hunting? For cattle ranchers, including calving? For local businesses such as outdoor retailers and outfitters? For local governments and economies that depend on recreationists, hunters, and tourists?
  • What are the impacts of magnesium flares being released over the forest each year? Do they increase the risk of wildfire?
  • In the event of a flare caused wildfire, who would bear the expense and risk of firefighting activities?
  • What is contained in chaff?  How are toxins disbursed in wind? Are contaminants like chromium and lead included in chaff and what are the environmental consequences to human health, wildlife, waterways and the land?
  • Will there be night time overflights and what will the impact be on night skies, including flares?

“Our business and local economy depend on tourism and outdoor recreation," said Chris Schlabach, co-owner of Gila Hike & Bike. “One of the distinctive features of the Gila National Forest and Wilderness is how quiet and remote it is. With low altitude flyovers, both tourism and ecosystems will suffer.” 

“Now is an important time for local residents to speak up and have a voice in the process,” said State Representative and veteran Rudy Martinez. “Our community stands to be impacted greatly and we need clear information to evaluate this proposal and help the Air Force understand the concerns we have about the future of our community and the need to protect what makes this region special—our protected public lands.”

Conservation groups will provide technical scoping comments to the Grant County Commission on November 14 and ask that they be provided to Holloman AFB. Concerned citizens may also go to sign a petition opposing this proposal.

“It’s critical that community members stand up for peaceful skies and public lands in this early phase of the environmental process,” said Allyson Siwik, Executive Director of the Gila Conservation Coalition. “We need to impress upon the Air Force that the Gila Region is one of the special places that make New Mexico the Land of Enchantment and should not be considered for expanded special use airspace.”

“Veterans groups have been strong allies of ours in the battle for public lands,” said Allison. “They know that public lands offer solace and healing for many returning combat veterans. How ironic and devastating it would be to take this away from them. As we celebrate Veteran’s Day, we honor the service of those in uniform. We also think protecting America’s first Wilderness is patriotic and that there are other areas more appropriate for these training exercises.”

Written comments can be submitted to


Monument recommendations would put important cultural and ecological resources at risk, and harm local economies

New Mexico Wild Calls on President Trump to Stand with Voters Above Special Interests for New Mexico’s National Monuments

Monument recommendations would put important cultural and ecological resources at risk, and harm local economies

Albuquerque, NM—Yesterday, Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendations to President Donald Trump concerning 27 National Monuments were leaked to the press. These were made pursuant to Trump’s April 2017 Executive Order which directed Zinke to review all National Monuments greater than 100,000 acres designated since 1996, and to make recommendations about whether to abolish or shrink them.

While this national monument review never should have been ordered, the fact that Department of Interior Secretary Zinke is not recommending boundary reductions for either Rio Grande del Norte or Organ Mountains Desert Peaks must be seen as a direct result of the overwhelming community support the administration heard from New Mexicans. 

Both monuments were created after a decades long public process and overwhelming community support by broad coalitions of diverse stakeholders.  They enjoy support from all local governments in their respective areas, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, businesses, sportsman’s organizations, faith leaders, veterans and recreational users. 

Zinke recommends opening the monuments to drilling, mining and logging – even going so far as to disingenuously claim they are “traditional uses” comparable to hunting and fishing or Native American sacred ceremonial sites.  These heavy commercial industrial activities would decimate the very cultural, historic and natural resource values that the monument designations intend to protect.

Zinke’s report based recommendations in part on claims that roads have been closed due to the Rio Grande del Norte designation and that grazing permittees have chosen not to renew their permits due to the monument.  These are patently false assertions as the Bureau of Land Management has confirmed.       

New Mexico Wild now calls on President Trump to side with the people and reject Secretary Zinke’s national monument recommendations.  “Now that his review has concluded that over 95% of the public opposes any changes or harm to these natural wonders, President Trump can choose to side with voters rather than the radical proposals of Congressman Steve Pearce, DC lobbyists, and special interests,” said Executive Director Mark Allison.

Any Presidential action that removes protections for the numerous historic, cultural, and ecological objects and resources will be met with immediate legal action by New Mexico Wild.

“The Antiquities Act has been an important conservation tool used by Presidents of both parties for over one hundred years.  New Mexico Wild is prepared to take legal action so that our monuments and the integrity of the Antiquities Act will endure beyond the cynical and short-sighted attacks of this administration.”

ABOUT THE NEW MEXICO WILDERNESS ALLIANCE: The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is a non-profit 501 (C)(3), grassroots, statewide, conservation organization dedicated to the protection, restoration and continued respect of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. Founded 20 years ago, the organization is aligned with our nation’s landmark Wilderness Act of 1964 and is dedicated to the rights and the value of citizen involvement in protecting increasingly rare wild places within public lands. Just as freedom is every American’s birthright so too is Wilderness. We know they are inseparable. We hold this truth dearly as we preserve Wilderness from generation to generation for us, for all species and for its own sake.

Thank You Wilderness Rangers


RhettSpencer JoshParken Latirs June2017 web150 Josh Latirs web150 Jade Sandias web150 Hailey Sandias web150 Luciano Headshot web150 Zack Headshot web 150
Rhett Spencer
Carson National Forest
Josh Parken
Carson National Forest
Jade McLaughlin
Cibola National Forest
Hailey Henck
Cibola National Forest
Luciano Naranjo
Santa Fe National Forest

Zack Bumgarner
Santa Fe National Forest

Thank you to our Wilderness Rangers who have successfully completed their first season with the program. These rangers worked across nine wilderness areas on the Cibola, Santa Fe and Carson National Forest through a public-private partnership between the Forest Service and New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. The rangers worked to monitor invasive species, trail conditions, opportunities for solitude, user created trails, as well as camp site inventories.

20170624 074017  20170701 120142 F02CBBE0 2450 4846 B727 3A1F9F4C0437

IMG 7250 IMG 3433

Tabling at TMO


New Mexicans condemn Secretary Zinke’s assault of our nation’s National Monuments

New Mexicans condemn Secretary Zinke’s assault of

our nation’s National Monuments
Local communities urge President Trump to not upset broad protections

that are benefiting diverse access and economic activity

Las Cruces and Taos, New Mexico – New Mexicans of all walks of life, including local elected officials, veterans, sportsmen, small business owners, Hispanics, and tribal leaders, are expressing outrage at Secretary Zinke’s recommendation that the federal government remove protections for some national monuments. This recommendation comes from the review Zinke conducted this summer as a follow-up to an Executive Order issued by President Trump this past April.

Zinke visited Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in New Mexico in July and culminated his review today by announcing several national monuments on public lands in the West will be reduced in size.  No specific details were provided by the Department of Interior. 

New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks (OMDP) and Rio Grande del Norte (RGDN) national monuments are still in the crosshairs despite the Department of Interior receiving overwhelming support for them and other monuments during Interior’s public comment period. Of the over 2.8 million comments submitted to Interior,99 percent of all comments expressed support for maintaining/expanding national monuments. 93 and 98 percent the comments that mentioned OMDP and RGDN, respectively, requested that those monuments not be altered.

Community members had the following to say in response to Secretary Zinke’s announcement and comments today.

After decades of community advocacy for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and fourteen local government resolutions of support, we are shocked that the Trump Administration is considering harming our National Monument. The City of Las Cruces and its citizens have benefited greatly from the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument and we stand ready to defend it from unprecedented attacks,” said Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima.

"The Doña Ana County Commission has passed four resolutions supporting Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks because protecting this land protects our culture, boosts our economy, and protects antiquities valuable to the entire country,” said Doña Ana County Commissioner Billy Garrett. “Weakening our National Monument protections weakens our community, so we will continue to defend Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.”

"Hunters and anglers fought for Rio Grande del Norte because it protects the wildlife habitat and waters that our way of life and livelihoods depend on. The same goes for sportsmen who worked to get other national monuments established. Any rollback to our National Monuments hurts all sportsmen and threatens our hunting and fishing traditions, whether that’s locally or nationally,” said John Olivas, owner of JACO Outfitters, based in Holman, New Mexico. “The Rio Grande del Norte monument designation has benefitted many local businesses, including mine.  Any changes to our monuments would threaten our livelihoods and is unacceptable.”

“This is the land where our ancestors walked. For the many that have moved on to the next world, may we be their voice to protect the land that was once theirs,” said Rafael Gomez, Jr., Tribal Council member for the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. “Resizing Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument would be a direct affront to Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Native American culture and heritage.”

“The designation of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument has put a star on the map, and Las Cruces is now a destination,” said Russell Hernandez, co-owner of restaurant Salud! de Mesilla. “Weakening our national monument will hurt businesses and tourism that depend on protected public lands. I’m very concerned that businesses in our region may suffer because of Secretary Zinke’s decision.”

“Changing any National Monument will harm local businesses and jobs. Rio Grande del Norte National Monument has benefitted Taos County tremendously. It attracts over 200,000 people annually, a 45 percent increase since before the monument was designated,” said Jamie Tedesco, owner of ZAP Marketing in Taos. “We hope the Trump administration will leave our monuments intact and instead work to support our economy.”

“Like Secretary Zinke, I am a veteran, and I depend on the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks for my well-being. Many other southern New Mexico veterans do as well,” said Las Cruces resident Andrea Sandoval, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq in 2003-2004. “And like Secretary Zinke, I fought to protect all that makes America what she is, and that includes our shared natural treasures. I am urging President Trump to listen to the people of Doña Ana County, and leave Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks the way it is today.”

The Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monuments have proven to be economic boons to both northern and southern New Mexico. After RGDN was designated in 2013, Taos County quickly experienced an increase in visitation and local tax revenues, benefits that continue to be felt today. Visitation to OMDP increased by 102 percent from 2015 to 2016, and Las Cruces was recently included in Lonely Planet’s “Top 10 Places to Visit.” And next month, Doña Ana County is holding its 2nd annual Monuments to Main Street” month-long festival where residents and visitors can explore Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks among other cultural treasures.

The OMDP and RGDN monument proclamations specifically recognize that grazing permits and leases shall continue. Many ranchers applauded the designation of both monuments, specifically because they knew they would be able to continue grazing, continue their way of life, and not have to worry about the public lands they use being opened up to drilling or mining or sold off to the highest bidder.  A recent Congressional Review Service memo looking at grazing in OMDP found that “there have been no changes to livestock grazing on the ground as a result of the establishment of the [OMDP] monument.”

Despite all of the longstanding public support, Congressman Steve Pearce remains the lone member of New Mexico’s congressional delegation opposed to Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. Rep. Pearce has repeatedly made misstatements about the national monument and is the out of step with the surrounding communities.

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte national monument supporters from across New Mexico urge President Trump to look at the facts and leave our national monuments intact.