Irises in California's Stornetta Public Lands.
Credit: flickr, Jeff Fontana (BLM California).
President Barack Obama is preparing to designate New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area and California’s Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands as national monuments soon if Congress does not act, according to a Feb. 3 report in The Washington Post. The two areas may gain new protection using the Antiquities Act, a popular measure that has been exercised by 16 administrations since President Theodore Roosevelt signed it into law in 1906.
Use of the Antiquities Act is not historically rare, but it has become politically fraught in recent years. Several bills have been introduced to strip the ability of the president to set aside national monuments, and some have demanded that all monument designations be made subject to congressional approval.
The Wilderness Society believes that attacks on the Antiquities Act run counter to American conservation values and has fought to repel them whenever possible, in addition to advocating for the protection of both Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Stornetta.
Each area has already been the focus of national monument campaigns on the congressional level, as residents of local communities rallied around the special places in their midst. However, since partisanship in Washington has made it prohibitively difficult to put such plans into motion, it may fall to the president to ensure that these natural landmarks are preserved for future generations. In January, more than 100 members of Congress signed a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell supporting this authority.
Photo: Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Study Area. Credit: flickr, Bob Wick (BLM California).
The Stornetta Public Lands are part of the California Coastal National Monument just to the north of the town of Point Arena. They contain more than 1,000 acres of scenic coastal habitat harboring wildlife including shore birds, raptors and salmon, making the area a draw for tourists. Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, a geologically-diverse stretch of mountains outside Las Cruces, is prized by sportsmen and conservationists alike, and contains some of the most stunning vistas in the American Southwest.
The Antiquities Act is broadly popular—as are the national monument campaigns surrounding the two areas under consideration. California business leaders have recently come out in support of a national monument encompassing the Stornetta Public Lands, and a recent poll found that nearly three out of four residents of Dona Ana County, site of the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, supported its protection.