Supporters of President Trump’s review of over two dozen national monuments argue rolling back public lands might be good for the sportsmen community and wildlife. While we agree with the premise that sportsmen should be involved in the management and planning process of national monuments, we take exception to some of the assertions argued by designation critics in The Hill, especially about the reference to New Mexico’s Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. As local sportsmen who have spent generations hunting and fishing we find it necessary to set the record straight.
As an example of problems that arise “when the monument designation limits vital land management practices,” these critics state that the excellent hunting opportunities afforded in the Río Grande del Norte National Monument (RGDN) are “no longer guaranteed by its proclamation,” and that the management plan in development will halt hunting activities. That’s simply not true. The official monument proclamation for RGDN (and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, or OMDP, in southern New Mexico) reads: “Nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to enlarge or diminish the jurisdiction of the state of New Mexico with respect to fish and wildlife management.”
To say that the proclamation removed some sort of guarantee that previously existed is misinformation. The proclamation specifically reaffirms the state’s right to manage fish and wildlife. Translation: no change in any regulations to do with hunting and fishing.
In fact, hunting opportunities have only been enhanced. The herds of elk, mule deer and antelope would simply not survive without the winter range of the RGDN and the wildlife numbers have been increasing since the designation. The monument’s designation also protects over 66 miles of world-class waters, critical habitat to native Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout, providing enormous recreational and economic opportunities.
The argument that designations hurt local communities is also a stretch. Critics claim the need for monument designations to be “locally driven, transparent …. conserve important fish and wildlife habitat and uphold hunting and fishing opportunities…. If the public, especially local communities, do not support the designations, the value is diminished in their eyes.” But the local public does support these monument designations.
The designation of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument represented the culmination of a two-decade-long collaborative effort driven by local sportsmen and women, business leaders, veterans, elected officials, tribes, land grant heirs, grazing permittees, acequia parcientes and recreational users who worked closely together to protect this iconic landscape holding major historical, cultural, ecological and economic significance. The designation process for both RGDN and OMDP was exhaustive, inclusive, transparent and led by sportsmen, who remain actively engaged in the management planning process. We find claims like the “designation of large tracts of public lands as monuments without provision for access can lead to a loss of conservation value” to be sweeping and misleading generalizations.
Focusing in on actual landscapes, we have not experienced any restricted recreational access or reduced management of wildlife habitats at the national monuments in New Mexico. Raising of hypothetical issues that a national monument designation harms these lands is not a reasonable defense against this type of protection. “If the lack of management results in reduced wildlife populations, loss of recreational opportunities and local economies are hurt as a result,” designation critics claim. What lack of management?
Local economies are benefitting. Ask the many local business leaders, like Taos Fly Shop owner and fishing guide Nick Streit, who make a living in the Rio Grande del Norte and other national monuments. Since RGDN was designated, Streit has had to expand his business to accommodate the increasing number of tourists who come to visit the area and experience firsthand the wild and natural beauty.
Critics of these designations are the waving of a red flag where no real danger is present. Built into the monument designation process is a great deal of input from a diverse array of community members before any official action happens. Before a monument is created this process ensures key issues are taken into account, including a majority of local buy-in, the health of wildlife populations, optimal recreational opportunities and the success of local economies.
We see no need for Interior Secretary Zinke’s national monument review as ordered by President Trump and we certainly do not applaud it. Based on the facts and not hypothetical “what if’s” — the review is unjustifiable. The critics, who say “national monuments are not always good for sportsmen and wildlife” must have forgotten that it is every sportman’s priority to protect the habitat of big game wildlife and game bird populations — and that national monument designations provide that crucial habitat by protecting public lands from development and disposal.
From our vantage point in New Mexico, the concerns over these designations generate unnecessary fear while focusing on things that are unlikely to ever happen. Zinke’s monument review process has been a wasteful use of federal resources that could be put to much better use for critical projects such as fire response and prevention and vital habitat improvement. Andrew Black is the director of Community Relations & Education for New Mexico Wildlife Federation, a nonprofit member-driven organization working for wildlife on behalf of sportsmen and women across New Mexico since 1914.
Garrett Vene Klasen is executive director of New Mexico Wildlife Federation.
John Olivas is the owner of JACO Outfitters, a registered guide and outfitter in the State of New Mexico.
Jim Bates is co-chairman of the Southwest Consolidated Sportsmen, a Las Cruces, New Mexico-based sportsmen’s coalition of local, state and national conservation and sportsmen’s organizations.