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Growing Support in NM for Enhanced 2018 Antiquities Act

In 2017, New Mexico's Rio Grande del Norte National Monument avoided an acreage reduction during the U.S. Interior Department's review of 27 national monuments. (conservationslands.org)
In 2017, New Mexico's Rio Grande del Norte National Monument avoided an acreage reduction during the U.S. Interior Department's review of 27 national monuments. (conservationslands.org)
August 27, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico's U.S. senators, two of its three U.S. representatives, plus tribal, conservation and community leaders have gotten behind a bill that would strengthen the Antiquities Act of 1906.

The enhanced Antiquities Act of 2018 would declare congressional support for monuments established by presidents of both parties since 1996. Specifically, it would prohibit any of the nation's 51 national monuments from being reduced in size without an act of Congress, and also provide resources for managing newly established monuments.

Susan Torres with the New Mexico Wildlife Federation said the current administration has demonstrated it is not friendly to public lands, and that's why the legislation is needed.

"So much of the bill focuses on cultural preservation and working with the inter-tribal coalitions to make sure that the sacred sites are protected,” Torres said.

Pressure on Congress to strengthen the original Antiquities Act began building after President Donald Trump signed executive orders in 2017 that eliminated more than 2 million acres from two national monuments in Utah. The executive orders would open both monuments to extractive industries.

The Trump administration has argued that monument designations currently include more land than is needed.

The 2018 Antiquities Act would require that monuments receive protections to ensure that no new extraction claims and grazing allotments be allowed, while honoring existing claims in those areas. Torres said without improvements to the century-old law, New Mexico's monuments will remain vulnerable.

"Ever since the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte were designated as monuments, tourism has gone up in those areas,” she said. “So all of those monument designations have been huge for those local communities."

Organ Mountains and Rio Grande del Norte have so far escaped any reduction in size since the administration's review of monuments. Torres said outdoor recreation generates nearly $10 billion a year in the state and is directly responsible for almost 100,000 jobs.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM