Every morning, residents of Las Cruces and surrounding areas look to the east and gaze at our beautiful Organ Mountains, shadowed by the rising sun. Although there are a number of beautiful mountain ranges throughout the country, residents of southern New Mexico often declare that there really is no comparison to the Organ Mountains. Something about the color at sunset seems to surpass any other mountain range.
Over the past year or so, the movement to protect the Organ Mountains and surrounding areas has picked up steam, as residents have realized our beautiful mountain range and open spaces should be free of development. This discussion among people who really love our beautiful vistas has often been passionate. What we are seeing is a deep commitment to our region.
The Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce has helped to increase public awareness of the many layers of conservation of our public lands. Not only does our area include thousands of petroglyphs, ancient sites, historic locations and cultural treasures; it also contains wildlife, outdoor recreation and hunting opportunities coveted by area enthusiasts. As many of us have experienced, people are coming from other parts of the country to bask in “our” Southwest, and they are spending money in our community while enjoying the outdoor spaces.
The economic opportunities that come from these travelers, in addition to the jobs that will be created, are why the Las Cruces Green Chamber, as well as the New Mexico Green Chamber, support the designation of the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks (OMDP) as a National Monument. There are several mountain ranges that would fall under this designation, including the Organ Mountains, the Potrillo Mountains and the Sierra de las Uvas Mountains. In these areas are found Billy the Kid’s Outlaw Rock, Geronimo’s Cave, World War II aerial targets, thousands of petroglyphs and so much more.
According to a study by BBC Research and Consulting, an independent nonpartisan research firm commissioned by the Las Cruces Green Chamber, the benefits of establishing the OMDP as a National Monument are solid. The results demonstrate that protecting the OMDP this way would have a “significant positive effect” on the local economy. Of the numerous findings, three main points stand out.
Perhaps the most notable is the amount of revenue that will help support the local economy. Designating the OMDP a national monument would contribute more than $7.4 million in additional annual economic activity. In addition, the National Monument designation would create 88 new jobs, doubling the number that these public lands support in outdoor recreation and tourism. Finally, an additional $562,000 per year in combined state and local government tax revenue would result from the National Monument designation.
The pursuit of protecting open spaces is not new to New Mexico. Most recently, we have seen the highest office in the nation agree that protecting open spaces in northern New Mexico is important. On March 25, President Obama designated the Río Grande Del Norte (RGDN) as a National Monument. This happened because of the commitment to conserving open spaces from the local community, sportsmen, small-business owners and people across the region. As a result of designating the area a National Monument, the heritage of our state’s diverse Hispanic and Native American communities will be protected. Habitat that is prized by hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts is now protected, and already, local businesses are seeing significant economic benefits.
In August, the New Mexico Green Chamber hosted a forum entitled “Land and Culture: Economic Opportunities from Conservation” in historic Old Mesilla. The forum was an opportunity to share the information learned from those responsible for the RGDN designation, in addition to sharing the results of the BBC economic study. The event featured Mesilla Mayor Nora Barraza, tourism and marketing experts and business owners who spoke firsthand about the benefits that a National Monument designation would mean for the area. Over 50 attendees walked away from the forum understanding how important the OMDP would be to southern New Mexico.
As documented in the BBC study, small-business owners and economists agree that protecting our public lands could give Doña Ana County a competitive advantage in attracting new businesses, tourists, sportsmen, retirees, students and families to the area. Permanent protection of the OMDP area is an investment in the sustainability of New Mexico’s economy and ensures that our region’s unique role as the crossroads of southern New Mexico’s heritage will continue and grow into the future.
Carrie Hamblen, executive director of the Las Cruces chapter of the NMGCC, served as operations manager for the Las Cruces Public Radio affiliate KRWG, and was the local host of Morning Edition and the public affairs program, Images. She has been in Public Radio for 20 years. Carrie@nmgreenchamber.com