Hispanic leaders call for protection of public lands
January 24, 2012 by Chiara Austin
LAS CRUCES – There was nothing to dispute Wednesday among the 50 or so southern New Mexicans who were at the Monte Vista Day Use Area, immediately east of Tortugas Mountain, also known as “A” Mountain.
The view to the east of the Organ Mountains was breathtaking. For that matter, the vistas in any direction were pretty spectacular.
“AARP has touted this as a special place to live, …weren’t they right,” said John Muñoz, president of the Hispano Chamber of Commerce de Las Cruces. “Where else can you get a suntan in January?”
There was a titter of laughter from the group, and then a collective sigh. Muñoz and the national retirement magazine was right; the views of the Organs and those of the desert landscape in every direction were something to behold. And the people who were gathered Wednesday were there to emphasize that point.
Hispanic leaders from throughout the state have banded together to call for congressional leaders to enact federal legislation to protect public lands in southern New Mexico, such as the Organs; the Robledo Mountains, near Radium Springs; the Potrillo Mountains, and Sierra de las Uvas. Twenty-nine Hispanic leaders, including former governor Jerry Apodaca and former state Attorney General Patricia Madrid – both Las Cruces natives – have signed and sent a letter to Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, New Mexico Democrats, and Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., to support the proposed Doña Ana County Conservation and Protection Act, introduced into the U.S. Senate last year.
“We are writing to convey our strong support for the protection of the environmentally, culturally, and historically rich landscapes of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region in Doña Ana County,” said a portion of the open letter to southern New Mexico’s congressional delegation. “Hispanic culture and presence in New Mexico is and has always been closely connected to our state’s rich public lands. These areas provide our families and communities with recreation, hunting, traditions and so much more. Throughout time, they have also brought travelers and tourists, and with them economic development.
“As such, protecting these national treasures is an important priority to us, and to our future.”
The Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce and the group People for Preserving Our Western Heritage have opposed federal wilderness designation for the area, arguing, among other things, that it would hamper the Border Patrol in being able to secure the southern border.
Mesilla Mayor Nora Barraza, among those who signed the letter, said those natural resources within the county are also an integral part of the culture, traditions and values many southern New Mexico Hispanics have.
“I can attest to the efforts of preservation,” Barraza said. “If we lose these beautiful landscapes we can never recover them. Isn’t this why we call this (state) the Land of Enchantment.”
Madrid emphasized the need for federal leaders to take immediate action to protect southern New Mexico’s vistas.
“It is up to our generation to protect these incredible lands as both the key to celebrate our history, as well as a birthright of future generations,” Madrid said.
Retired state representative J. Paul Taylor, of Mesilla, added there is even family history to one of the county’s more notable public lands. The Robledo Mountains, just north of Las Cruces near Radium Springs, are named after Don Pedro Robledo, a descendant of Taylor’s family.
He also has a strong affinity for the Organ Mountains.
“Los Organos – the Organs, have been an essential part of Hispanic culture in this valley for hundreds of years,” Taylor said. “They were a landmark for travelers on the Camino Real, and a consistent source of food, shelter, and materials for local residents.
“Now, they are more important than ever, as we teach our youth the values of stewardship and care that other generations have learned in their shadow.”
There was at least one idea how to drive the point home to federal leaders and convince them to vote for the proposed legislation.
“Let’s invite the president, the federal legislators, to come see for themselves, to participate in some of our cultural and traditional ceremonies,” Barraza said.
Steve Ramirez can be reached at (575) 541-5452. Also, follow Steve Ramirez on Twitter: @SteveRamirez6.
Our Land – Our Future
• Hispanic leaders throughout southern New Mexico are calling for federal government leaders to take action to protect the Organ Mountains, Robledo Mountains, Sierra de las Uvas, and Potrillo Mountains.
• Most of those lands are proposed for protection through the Doña Ana County Conservation and Protection Act.
• The proposed federal legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate in 2011.
• The Act would protect nearly 400,000 acres of public land in Do-a Ana County, by designating 271,050 acres as wilderness and creating a 109,600 acre National Conservation Area around the Organ and Doña Ana Mountains, and parts of Broad Canyon.