Published: Thursday, 24 August 2017 16:23
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.
Published: Friday, 23 June 2017 11:23
For immediate release June 22, 2017
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.