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By Michael Coleman/Journal Washington Bureaualbuquerque-journalMay 19, 2014

President Obama on Wednesday will use his executive power to designate about a half-million acres of the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces as a federally-protected monument.

The White House made the announcement this morning.

“On Wednesday, President Obama will host an event at the Department of the Interior, where he will sign a proclamation establishing the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in south-central New Mexico,” the White House said in a statement provided to the Journal. “By establishing the monument, the President will permanently protect nearly 500,000 acres to preserve the prehistoric, historic, and scientific values of the area for the benefit of all Americans. A recent independent study found that a new national monument could generate $7.4 million in new economic activity annually from new visitors and business opportunities while preserving access for sportsmen, ranchers, and recreational users.”

The announcement comes on the heels of legislation that Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, D-N.M., introduced in December.

That bill, part of a long-standing grass-roots and legislative effort to protect the rugged mountain landscape near Las Cruces, would have established eight wilderness areas and conserve land in an area stretching across the Organ, Doña Ana, Potrillo, Robledo and Uvas mountains. The bill would establish 498,815 acres as part of a national monument. It would create eight wilderness areas, which carry more restrictive rules for use, totaling 241,067 acres.

Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., has introduced a scaled-down bill in the House that would provide monument protection to about 58,500 acres of the Organ Mountains from development.

“Protecting the beautiful Organ Mountains is important – I’ve been working closely with diverse groups of New Mexicans on this issue for years, and introduced a bill in March that came directly from their input, ideas, and concerns,” Pearce told the Journal at the time. “My proposal achieves our shared conservation objectives and ensures economic health by making sure that this national treasure is protected without threatening local jobs. I am carefully reading (the senators’ bill) with interest, but I do have concerns.”

Critics of such far-reaching conservation efforts in the Organ Mountain region have questioned whether it would preserve access to hunting and grazing areas, or interfere with law enforcement efforts along the Mexican border.

The area proposed for protection by Obama is home to game animals, such as pronghorn sheep and deer, as well as rare plants and animals, some found nowhere else in the world, such as the Organ Mountains pincushion cactus.

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