Gabriella Hoffman  |  Jan 05, 2024

The Biden administration could potentially be eyeing its sixth national monument, if petitioners in New Mexico get their way.

A campaign to establish the Mimbres Peaks National Monument launched last month. Petitioners claim this proposal would “conserve” 245,000 federal land acres from multiple-use activities like grazing and mining. The area would encompass the Florida Mountains, Cooke’s Range, the Good Sight Mountains, and the “Tres Hermanas” peaks.

The effort is spearheaded by groups and interests from outside Luna County, New Mexico—namely state Sen. Carrie Hamblen, a Democrat representing Las Cruces, who also serves as chief executive officer of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce. Las Cruces, for context, sits 1.5 hours east of the proposed monument.

During a recent episode of my District of Conservation podcast, state Rep. Jenifer Jones (R-Deming) and miner Lori Coleman, owner of Spanish Stirrup Rock Shop, LLC., shared their concerns about Mimbres Peaks potentially getting on President Joe Biden’s radar.

“It was a surprise to most people, including all local and state elected officials,” remarked Rep. Jones. “Outsiders have proposed the monument and it was a big surprise. There was no public input before this went across the county as an immediate launch, which includes many untruths, and a lot of information that no one here knew about ahead of time that was really promoted from outsiders.”

The state lawmaker worries about locals, including constituents in agricultural and mining industries, losing access. Jones fears it’ll lead to economic displacement of rural folks who live off the land.

The Antiquities Act requires objects (or antiquities) of scientific, historic, or cultural significance to be protected on public lands that fall under these designations. Presidents have authority under Section II of the law to create, enlarge, or downsize monuments using existing federal lands but must limit declarations to the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” Democrat presidents, including Joe Biden, defer to wide sweeping National Park-like designations that, ironically, do little to protect antiquities yet limit public access for multiple uses.

“There are not that many areas in this 245,000-acre land grab that actually have antiquity areas on them,” Coleman commented. “As a miner, I’m subjected to pass an inspection by seven different state agencies. And one of the things that is done before I break ground is an archeological study that has to be done. And if there’s an area that I’m in and they have already documented that there are archaeological finds, then I’m not allowed by section, township, or range to be anywhere near that area. So, these areas are already protected by our New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division and the BLM [Bureau of Land Management].”

Coleman explained her business disturbs “less than an acre a year of land” and fears a potential monument designation wouldn’t allow her to “take equipment in to mine.”

Rep. Jones adds the amount of documented antiquities found in this proposed monument is “very small”—save for one petroglyph in the Cooks Range that’s remote and largely inaccessible.

“The majority of the 245,000 acres are mountain ranges,” she elaborated. “It’s not a particular place where you would traditionally think the Antiquities Act is.”

“Our area of the state is right on the Mexican border,” the freshman legislator continued. “We are so remote from Santa Fe [and] from Washington D.C. To get anything done or to have our voice heard, we just have to really be outspoken and, so, usually we are ignored.”

The ladies shared with me that two prominent members of New Mexico’s delegation, specifically Rep. Gabe Vasquez (D-NM) and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), are pressuring local mayors and city council members to “not vote on a resolution against the monument.”

National monuments are crafted to restrict multiple uses like ranching, grazing, mining, and energy development but often negatively impact hunting and fishing access, as well.

Rep. Jones said a Texas backcountry hunter, who hunts the area, conveyed his concerns to her over potentially losing access. Opportunities to pursue the sought after Persian ibex–a species introduced into the region back in the 1970s–would potentially be lost if portions of Luna County are converted into a wilderness area.

Mimbres Peaks would be the second new monument established in the Land of Enchantment in the last decade. Previously, President Obama established the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in 2014. It totals approximately half a million acres in nearby Doña Ana County, NM.

These wide-sweeping monument designations, however, aren’t isolated to New Mexico. The Biden administration has frequently invoked the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create new monuments under the guise of “conserving” 30 percent of public lands and waters” through the so-called “America the Beautiful” initiative. President Biden’s Day One Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis (E.O.13990) prioritized restoring several monuments that the Trump administration downsized in Utah. The 30-by-30 vision is a derivative of the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 while Biden’s “America the Beautiful” initiative, so far, has failed to define conservation practices it’s actually engaging in.

Debate over reforming the Antiquities Act is expected to unfold this year. Last month, the Congressional Western Caucus submitted several amicus briefs to the Supreme Court urging them to review two cases–American Forest Resource Council v. the United States of America and Murphy Company v. Biden–to limit presidential authority and prevent wide-sweeping designations that protect few antiquities.

The progressive Center for American Progress reports Biden’s 30-by-30 initiative has already “conserved” 24 million acres–with over half, 12.5 million acres, being “protected” in 2023.

That’s why Congress must resolve to tackle the Antiquities Act this year.