Written by Jessica Goad
The United States is home to some of the most stunning and unique natural areas in the world, including 397 national parks, 101 national monuments, and 556 national wildlife refuges. But many more public lands—managed by the federal government and owned by all Americans—are worthy of protection for future generations. This Earth Day it’s worth thinking about the places that have strong local coalitions calling for protection that should be granted this year.
The road to protection could be a long one, though. Due to partisan gridlock Congress has not sent the president a single piece of land-designation legislation since March 30, 2009, when President Barack Obama signed into law a bill protecting 2 million acres of wilderness and 1,000 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers from development. Both Republicans and Democrats have introduced more than 20 wilderness bills in the 112th Congress, but not only has a single one not passed, none has even come up for a vote.
President Obama has slowly begun building his conservation legacy by establishing a national monument at Fort Monroe and protecting the Grand Canyon from new uranium mines. But he has the authority to do much more.
Here are the top five places that have both local community and political support, and are therefore good candidates for protection during the remainder of this calendar year:
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in New Mexico (pictured above)
Located on the very southern edge of New Mexico outside of Las Cruces in Doña Ana County, the Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks are iconic symbols of the state and its diverse heritage. Covering more than 400,000 acres, the area consists of rugged and wild mountains, high grasslands, black lava fields, wildlife habitat, and Spanish and Native American cultural sites.
The Organ Mountains could be protected in a number of ways. The fastest and surest way would be for President Obama to use his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate the area as a new national monument. Congress also has taken steps to protect them: Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) sponsored the Organ Mountains-Doña Ana County Conservation and Protection Act (S. 1024), and even right-wing Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) has shown his support for the area by introducing the Organ Mountains National Monument Establishment Act (H.R. 4334).
No matter how it happens, protecting the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks would be a significant homage to the people and history of New Mexico during the state’s centennial anniversary this year.
Photo from BLM New Mexico via flickr
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