President Obama declares a big Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

It is almost 500,000 acres near Las Cruces, NM-

President Obama began to make good on a State of the Union address promise today announcing that he will use his  authority under the Antiquities Act to declare the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. This is the largest national monument he has declared. All Presidents since Theodore Roosevelt have used this authority to protect scenic, scientifically  interesting, unique and/or wild places on federal public land.

The rugged Organ Mountains rise up to 5000 feet above the Mesilla Valley and Tularosa Basin.  In addition to the Organ Mountains the new national monument includes parts of the Sierra de Las Uvas Mountains, Doña Ana Mountains, Robledo Mountains,  and the Potrillo Mountains. Each of these ranges are dramatically different geologically and botanically.  They are also historically significant to Native Americans and Hispanic culture.

There have been past attempts to protect the area, most notably by the BLM with the selection of eight “wilderness study areas,” meant to be a holding category so that Congress can designate them full scale Wilderness areas. That, however, has not happened.  U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced legislation to designate Wilderness about the same size as the new national monument. Local Republican U.S. Representative Steve Pearce, as notable critic of federal public lands and environmental protection,  proposed only 55,000 acres.

The national monument will be in several units, both to the east and west of Las Cruces. Media are reporting that local public opinion strongly favors the monument — 83% in Doña Ana  County, Statewide, 82% support the monument. 

Here is a web site promoting the national monument — photos, facts, etc. FYI

National monuments have long been the bête noire of Western Republicans. There are bills before Congress to repeal the President’s authority to declare national monuments. The same was true with past Presidents, beginning right at the start with Theodore Roosevelt. National monuments are often hated locally at first (though perhaps not in this case). Later they are loved. The valley portion of Grand Teton National Park (once Jackson Hole National Monument) is a good example.

Other national monument declarations by President Obama are expected. For example, in Idaho many conservationists and others are asking for the designation of a large Boulder-White Clouds (Mountains) National Monument. The content of a presidential monument declaration is usually quite general, with the details worked out later with local, national, and regional input.



  1. Brett Haverstick Avatar

    In reference to a potential national monument for the Boulder-White Clouds, I am opposed to it, due to the involvement (collaboration) of Rick Johnson and the Idaho Conservation League. But hey, it sounds like a good day otherwise for New Mexico and the American people!

    1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

      Brett- I don’t un derstand why having the Idaho Conservation League involved is a bad idea. Please enlighten me.

  2. JB Avatar

    “The national monument will be in several units, both to the east and west of Las Cruces. Media are reporting that local public opinion strongly favors the monument — 83% in Doña Ana County, Statewide, 82% support the monument.”

    Three comments:

    (1) Outstanding! Now lets fund the NPS at an appropriate level so the folks assigned to work in our National Parks and Monuments can actually protect them.

    (2) Wait, I thought Obama was the anti-Christ and would not do anything for conservation–especially in the West? Ida?

    (3) The above quote nicely illustrates that conservationists do not always have bulldoze across local populations to achieve a positive outcome.

    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      LOL 🙂

      No, I’m happy whenever land is put aside for conservation. I don’t like bulldozing either, but can we trust that ranchers and hunters and state govt’s will do the right thing? Sometimes, yes.

      But I’d be really happy if Nantucket Sound was put aside as a national monument or Marine Sanctuary – in honor of Ted Kennedy. C’mon, Democrats, you can do it!

    2. Kathleen Avatar

      These are BLM lands–not NPS.

      1. JB Avatar

        Right you are, Kathleen. The vast majority of National Monuments are managed by the NPS–so I made an educated guess. In any case, the sentiment stands.

  3. Charlie Callagan Avatar

    Actually three Presidents have failed to utilize the Antiquities Act. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. Bush did not create any national monuments. Gerald Ford made one small addition to an existing national monument. Fifteen Presidents have created new national monuments and many have also significantly enlarged existing national monuments.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Charlie Callagan,

      Thank you for getting the story precisely. I thought perhaps Reagan and Bush I had declared some battlefield monuments or other minor things. I probably should have had a couple paragraphs on President Carter who declared perhaps a hundred million acres in Alaska (briefly) in order the get the Alaska National Interest Lands Act passed in 1980. This was only about six months before Reagan came to office with his Interior Secretary James Watt, who held completely contrary views.

  4. Nick Morrell Avatar
    Nick Morrell

    Clinton has the record for most monuments-19. carter created 15, all in Alaska, and probably should have set aside more-there are still several areas in that state worthy of monument status and will take longer to conserve because of the 5000 acre limit currently in place. Congress should pass a law codifying Cameron Vs Us- ie, no state can be exempt from the Antiquities act, but representative and senators from that state can ask Congress to abolish the monuments.Unlikely, because monuments and parks are very popular and bring in lots of money.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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