Standing and riding together for national monuments

Letter from our friends in The Santa Fe Fat Tire Society and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
By Mark Allison and Brent Bonwell Jul 22, 2017
Wilderness advocates and mountain bike groups don’t always see eye to eye. We have different ways of looking at the same landscapes, and sometimes it takes a while to find common ground.
What we do agree on is the importance of keeping public lands in public hands. These lands are inextricably linked to who we are as New Mexicans. Our history, culture, identity and quality of life are tied to the Land of Enchantment. We hike, ride, kayak, ski, fish, hunt, ride horses, camp, seek solace and relax in our diverse and beautiful public lands. We depend on public lands to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe. They also provide important habitat for wildlife.
We also agree that President Donald Trump’s executive order calling on the Department of Interior to review 27 national monuments is deeply troubling. Two New Mexico treasures, the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, established in Taos County in 2013, and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, established in Doña Ana County in 2014, are among those under threat. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke plans to visit New Mexico soon to see these monuments.
Since its designation, mountain bikers have joined other visitors in flocking to the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. There, the Monumental Loop connects single-track, sandy washes and dirt roads so mountain bikers can recreate while enjoying the natural and cultural treasures contained in the national monument.
And the treasures can be found everywhere. Spanning thousands of years of human history and use, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument holds historic sites like the Butterfield stagecoach trail, thousands of petroglyphs, and even Billy the Kid’s Outlaw Rock. You can also see incredible mountain ranges, diverse wildlife and jaw-dropping views.
The tourism and outdoor recreation that these monuments are helping to attract are contributing to Southern New Mexico’s growing economy. New businesses are popping up around Doña Ana County thanks to the monument, and visitation has increased over 100 percent in the last year alone. Lonely Planet promoted Las Cruces as one of the “Top 10 Places to Visit,” thanks in large part to the monument. National monuments are the place to be!
But don’t just take our word for it: A recent poll found that 66 percent of Doña Ana County residents are opposed to any changes to the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, while only 15 percent support eliminating or shrinking the monument. This is aligned with the years of support from hunters, veterans, tribes, businesses, local elected officials including the Doña Ana County Commission and the Las Cruces City Council, and people who recreate on public lands like mountain bikers.
Río Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County enjoys near-unanimous support, and residents are reaping the economic benefits as well.
With 88 percent of New Mexico’s Bureau of Land Management land open to leasing for gas and oil development, we don’t think it is too much to ask to keep the approximately 1 percent of our public lands that are protected as national monuments. Some places are too special for commercial development.
We stand (and ride!) united in support of keeping both cherished national monuments the way they are now. New Mexicans fought for years to create these monuments, and we’re fighting now to keep them.
When Secretary Zinke visits, let’s show him some warm New Mexican hospitality and our pride in the lands that make this the Land of Enchantment. Join us in telling him we want to keep these monuments as they are.
Mark Allison is executive director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. Brent Bonwell is president of the Santa Fe Fat Tire Society.