The creation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument would allow for tourism along designated roads, but restrict motorized travel critical to the mission of the U.S. Border Patrol, lawmakers said.
“This land will remain off limits to the U.S. Border Patrol for routine security operations, making this area a prime drug trafficking corridor as we’ve seen in many other areas along the southern border,” said Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop. “Drug cartels are highly organized operations that take full advantage of wilderness and other federal lands where the Border Patrol has limited access.”
Colorado’s Republican Rep. Scott Tipton criticized the president’s unilateral decision as contrary to local objections, and said the action signals that Obama has moved ahead with the contentious “Treasured Landscapes” project.
That blueprint, leaked in 2009, identified more than 13 million acres throughout the west including Colorado where the Obama administration intends to designate public lands off-limits to energy development and other activities by declaring the regions national conservation areas.
Targeted areas include the Vermillion Basin in northwest Colorado, a high-desert region the leaked documents said was “currently under threat of oil and gas development, which will forever alter the region.”
The plan developed under former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s watch also targeted 500,000 acres in the Dolores River Basin on the east side of the Colorado Plateau, and 400,000 acres of the Hidden Gems in north central Colorado that extends into Democratic Rep. Jared Polis’s district.
In addition, the Bureau of Land Management wants to spend $38 million to buy 25,000 acres in the Alpine Triangle area made up mostly of mining claims to add to their inventory of 200,000 acres there. Federal officials are concerned that Coloradans would construct backcountry cabins in the area.
“When the president designates a monument under the Antiquities Act without local support, he is acting unilaterally without those most affected even having the ability to comment on the designation,” Tipton said.
“This is wrong, and speaks to the urgent need to update the Antiquities Act and give the American people a voice in this process,” Tipton said. “The original intent of the Antiquities Act was to provide protections for at-risk lands facing an immediate threat. However, the lands the president is now targeting overwhelmingly have some form of protection already, and the American people should have a say in the process.”
A Customs and Border Patrol official told Environment and Energy Daily that the president’s order in New Mexico would not limit their ability to perform their border security mission.
However, Doña Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison told the Las Cruces Sun-News the presidential order would limit deputies access to patrol the border against illegal crossings and Mexican drug cartel traffickers.
“The lands they’re trying to promote will be torn up and misused by people that don’t give a flip about them anyway,” Garrison said.
Obama said in his declaration that the region is “important for the ruggedly beautiful landscapes and the significant scientific, historic, and prehistoric resources found there” and is “ripe for paleontological discovery.”