President Obama this past week announced the creation of a national monument in southern New Mexico — the 500,000-acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, which contains hiking trails, Native American ruins and Outlaw Rock, where Billy the Kid inscribed his name.
Obama did so with a wave of his pen under the controversial American Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorizes the president at his discretion to set aside “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled” by the federal government — as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press and the Mesquite Local News.
As was the case when President Clinton designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah in 1996, many of the residents near this New Mexico monument are furious with the designation and fear it will lead to a reduction in grazing rights and limitations on other productive uses for the land.
Half of the land involved in the New Mexico designation is to be set aside as wilderness, meaning it would be closed to vehicles and construction and mining.
As was the case with Grand Staircase, this designation is also seen as an election year sop to environmentalists in the Democratic Party.
Obama’s action looks suspiciously like an opening round in a bid to carry out a plan — first outlined in a secret Bureau of Land Management memo in 2010 — that would lock up an area about the size of Colorado and Wyoming combined or about half of the BLM’s 264 million acres.
The Congressional Western Caucus released a copy of the 2010 memo — which is headed “Internal Draft – NOT FOR RELEASE” and labeled “Treasured Landscapes.” The memo lists more than two dozen specific areas from which the BLM seeks to lock out most human activity. Three of those are in Nevada.
The second item on the BLM’s list of Treasured Landscapes, just above the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area, is Gold Butte, Nev. The memo also lists Heart of the Great Basin, Nev., which from the description appears to be a swath from roughly Austin to Tonopah in Lander and Nye counties. Another area is Owyhee Desert on the Nevada-Oregon border in Elko County.
The Western Caucus described the 2010 memo as a plan to grab millions of acres of Western land: “The President is going down the list, and sealing off vast swaths of the West on behalf of his special interest allies, who view our states as their personal playground.”
BLM memo: BLM Treasured Landscapes Plan