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.


Court Throws Out Feds’ Misguided Policy Limiting Prosecution of Killers of Endangered Wildlife

For immediate release                                                                                                June 22, 2017


Bethany Cotton, WildEarth Guardians, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 406.414.7227

Judy Calman, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 505.615.5020

Court Throws Out Feds’ Misguided Policy Limiting Prosecution of Killers of Endangered Wildlife

Flawed ‘McKittrick’ Policy Ruled Unlawful

Tucson, AZ — Late yesterday, a federal judge threw out the Department of Justice’s flawed ‘McKittrick Policy’ under which the government only prosecuted killers of animals on the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA) list of imperiled species when it could prove the killer knew the exact biological identity of the species s/he was harming. The decision came as a result of a challenge brought by WildEarth Guardians and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance in 2013.

Because of the defective policy, the government declined to prosecute people who killed protected species, including critically endangered Mexican wolves, gray wolves like ‘Echo’ the Grand Canyon wolf — who was shot by a coyote hunter — whooping cranes, condors, and grizzly bears.

“The end of the McKittrick Policy is a crucial victory for critically imperiled animals including Mexican wolves and grizzly bears,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “Wildlife killers who are either profoundly careless or worse, who intentionally target protected animals, no longer have a get-out-of-jail-free card by claiming they did not know the identity of the animals they kill.”

The Court held: “…the Court agrees with Plaintiffs that the McKittrick policy is outside the range of prosecutorial authority set out in [the] ESA’s comprehensive conservation scheme because it eviscerates the deterrent effect of the ESA criminal enforcement statutes. In other words, prosecutions prevented by the McKittrick policy result in little to no protection for the Mexican wolf and cause direct and real harm…to this protected species.” Opinion at 11.

“The Court’s ruling is a victory for endangered species across the country, but especially for those like the Mexican gray wolf, whose highest cause of mortality is illegal killing,” said Judy Calman, staff attorney for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “This decision is an affirmation of Congress’s intent that endangered species recovery should be the highest priority for federal agencies, and that people who harm listed species should be held accountable under the law”

The Court reasoned: “In adopting ESA’s public welfare offenses, Congress recognized that killing wildlife is not an entirely innocent act because a killer is knowingly engaged in a lethal activity, using a deadly device, which places him or her in a position of responsibility in relation to the public. Congress placed the burden to know the identity of the wildlife species being killed on the killer.” Opinion at 40.

“This internal DOJ policy to arbitrarily limit its own prosecutorial discretion was abhorrent and directly conflicted with its enforcement responsibilities. This abdication resulted in dozens of wolves being illegally shot without penalty, which in turn undoubtedly led to additional killings,” said Mark Allison, executive director at New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “We’re gratified by the ruling and eager to take other necessary steps to ensure that the Mexican gray wolf recovery effort is successful.”

The court’s ruling means the Department of Justice may no longer rely on the unlawful McKittrick policy when making decisions whether to prosecute those who illegally kill wildlife protected by the Endangered Species Act.

“This ruling is important because it ensures careless hunters can no longer hide behind the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ mindset that led to the tragic deaths of many endangered Mexican wolves and other imperiled animals,” said John Horning, executive director of WildEarth Guardians. “The case powerfully affirms the longstanding ethical tenet that hunters are responsible for knowing their prey—before they shoot to kill.”

The organizations were represented by attorneys Steve Sugarman and Judy Calman.


Additional excepts from the ruling:

“Necessarily, the narrow construction of criminal liability under the McKittrick policy, which DOJ has consciously and expressly adopted, is a complete abdication of DOJ’s statutory responsibility under ESA.” Opinion at 17.

“The McKittrick policy, implemented as a prosecutorial policy, moots the power retained by the trial courts to say what the law is and ensures they will not be afforded opportunities to decide what law is warranted and appropriate on facts analogous to those that existed in McKittrick.”

Opinion at 18.

“The McKittrick policy violates the APA because it is based on the DOJ’s incorrect belief that it cannot prosecute mistaken and/or careless wolf takings. The ESA is a public welfare statute and this context defeats the general presumption that mens rea attaches to every fact constituting the offense. Under ESA, it is a misdemeanor offense to knowingly shoot wildlife, if the animal shot is a protected species. Because Congress created this vigorous enforcement scheme to conserve endangered and threatened species, including the Mexican gray wolf, the DOJ has abdicated its statutory responsibility by adopting the McKittrick policy which precludes, without discretion, prosecutions for mistakenly and/or carelessly taking, i.e., shooting, a wolf.” Opinion at 41.


WildEarth Guardians works to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers and health of the American West.

New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is dedicated to the protection, restoration, and continued enjoyment of New Mexico's wildlands and wilderness areas, and has been working to support recovery of the Mexican gray wolf since 1997.

New Mexico Wild Celebrates Expanded Access to Sabinoso Wilderness Area

August 9, 2017

New Mexico Wild Celebrates Expanded Access to Sabinoso Wilderness Area

The Department of Interior announced today its intention to add approximately 4,000 acres to the 16,030-acre Sabinoso Wilderness east of Las Vegas, New Mexico.  Created in 2009, Sabinoso has been surrounded by private property, making it the only “landlocked” wilderness area in the country.  Today’s announcement not only marks the first expansion of a wilderness area in the country by the Trump administration but also the culmination of a nearly decade-long effort to provide access to the public.

Today’s announcement was made possible by the Wilderness Land Trust which purchased the Rimrock Rose Ranch for the purpose of donating it to the public to own in perpetuity.  The area will be managed by the Bureau of Land Management.  The Sabinoso Wilderness is a rugged backcountry area that is characterized by its remoteness, red rock canyons, archaeological sites and solitude.  It is home to elk, mule deer, mountain lions, and wild turkey.  The headwaters of the Canadian River run through Cañon Largo. Cañon Largo was a well-traveled route used by native people for centuries and by cavalry traveling from Fort Union to Fort Bascom in the 19th century.

Interest from residents of San Miguel County and throughout New Mexico has been high and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (New Mexico Wild) is gratified that the public will finally have the opportunity to visit this beautiful area to hike, backpack, photograph, hunt and ride horses.

New Mexico Wild organized dozens of volunteers who donated nearly 1,000 hours to make the former ranch ready for transfer to the National Wilderness Preservation System by removing fencing, corrals and other structures. 

 “This is a dream come true for many New Mexicans who worked for years to permanently protect this wild and spectacular place and to secure access for the public.  I’m proud that senators Udall and Heinrich pressed Secretary Zinke to visit this area personally so he could see for himself how special it is.  I’m hopeful that the Secretary will now make the right decision to keep the Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains Desert Peaks national monuments intact as well,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild.


ABOUT THE NEW MEXICO WILDERNESS ALLIANCE: The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is a non-profit 501 (C)(3), grassroots, environmental organization dedicated to the protection, restoration and continued respect of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. Founded nearly 30 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.



Contact: Mark Allison, Executive Director, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, 505-239-0906

Public Comment Period Open to review National Monuments

President Trump signed an Executive Order April 26, 2017 that could threaten the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte National Monuments. The order “directs the Department of the Interior to review prior monument designations and suggest legislative changes or modifications to the monument proclamations.”     Save your monuments>>

Starting on May 12, 2017, the Department of the Interior launched a public comment period ending on Tuesday July 11, 2017. After the 60-Day Review, Secretary Zinke will recommend either legislative or administrative action on national monuments under review, including both Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte. Submit your comment today.

Efforts to protect these federal public lands began in the early 1970s, with community support growing steadily over decades. Legislation to protect these areas has been introduced into Congress by both Republican and Democratic Senators, with subsequent bills introduced until President Obama designated the areas as national monuments after Congress was unable to move legislation. Dozens of local government support resolutions passed during this time.

The Río Grande del Norte National Monument was designated in 2013 in response to support from local business owners, local chambers of commerce, sportsmen and ranchers, local elected officials, Hispanic organizations, Native American tribes, and countless others. The Organ Mountains Desert-Peaks National Monument was designated in 2014 with the support of a broad coalition of stakeholder including sportsmen, Native Americans, business leaders, veterans, civic groups, current and former local elected officials, archaeologists, historians, and conservation organizations.

In February 2017, legislation was re-introduction into the Senate to protect wilderness areas within both monuments. Clearly, the communities in New Mexico are rallying together to preserve their clean water, wildlife habitat, and public lands.