The negative spin on the new Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument suggests we’ve thrown the door open wide to terrorists and narcotraficantes while stomping all over New Mexico’s already abused cattle ranchers. That’s easy to believe, too, if you see no good in anything Barack Obama does or only watched the Fox network covering the story.
Forget for the moment that three of the four separate sections of the monument in southern New Mexico–the Organ, Doña Ana and Robledo/Las Uvas mountains–are far from the heavily wired, monitored and militarized line separating the U.S. and Mexico. Forget the fourth piece around the Potrillo Mountains begins not on the border but five miles away north of a state highway. Forget as well that the establishing proclamation signed Wednesday by President Obama includes the 2006 policy allowing the Border Patrol off-road motorized pursuits in protected lands when necessary.
In case you can’t forget those items, Fox News will do it for you calling Obama’s action a “land grab” (with a disingenuous question mark) when most of the 493,330 acres is already public land. A Utah congressman quickly opined the monument adds to the “prime drug-trafficking corridors for violent criminals and drug cartels,” and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio chimed in saying Obama is hampering border protection. Missing from the Fox coverage and Obama’s signing ceremony was Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., who tried to play both his conservative base and what passes for the liberal part of his district by proposing a fractional version of the monument.
The only local on-the-ground source Fox quoted was Doña Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison, who at least knows the neighborhood since almost the entire monument is within his county. He complains he was shut out of the process and that the ability of his deputies to patrol the border area will suffer.
It doesn’t help that when Garrison appeared on Lou Dobb’s Fox Business show Wednesday (video player below), Dobbs thought he was talking to a South Texas sheriff and linked the new monument to immigrant and smuggler apprehensions for the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector. That would be the second-hottest sector on the border with 97,000 people busted from the Gulf of Mexico upriver 200 miles or so, not the El Paso Sector that includes Garrison’s turf and recorded only 1/10 as many collars. Garrison didn’t correct his host and agreed when Dobbs said local law enforcement would “stand back” as the wave of criminals washed over the border.
Given my experience being stopped without probable cause by Garrison’s deputies hunting drug smugglers on a county road 20+ miles from the border, I doubt his officers will let a little presidential proclamation keep them from doing what they need or want to do.
Over and above aerial and electronic surveillance covering the international border here, the Border Patrol is so beefed up now it’s almost impossible to drive the public roads near the Potrillo Mountains and Aden Crater without being quizzed by federal agents. For the record, my many encounters with Border Patrol agents out in the desert have been brief and friendly, but then I’m about as anglo as you get.
Fox also linked the Doña Ana County issues to the plight of poor ol’ rancher Cliven Bundy out in Nevada who’s been grazing cattle for free on public land claiming it’s his and surrounding himself with an armed mob when federal agents tried to enforce court orders. That’s a big stretch even for Fox. The established ranchers of Doña Ana County struggle mightily to make a living, they pay their taxes and fees, they grumble about the government as much or more than the rest of us, and if anything throws them off the land, it will be the drought and the economy, not Barack Obama.
That the monument is to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management, known in some circles here as the Bureau of Livestock and Mining, impresses Fox not at all. Its report forgot to mention Obama’s proclamation protects private land and specifically extends existing grazing permits and leases on the public land although there’s no telling how some future management plan might play out.
The only real fight here at the moment is in neighboring Otero County where the Forest Service fenced off a spring and riparian area being trampled by cattle on public land. Even though the water still flows outside the fencing to the rancher with the grazing permit, political interests are inflaming this into another rights grab by the evil feds.
My advice? Get out and explore the country’s newest national monument and take a break from the noise of news and divisive chatter. The majestically granite Organ Mountains rise, not surprisingly, like organ pipes above the cactus and scrub as a backdrop to the city of Las Cruces on the west and White Sands Missile Range on the east. The panoramic view from the summit of Robledo Peak puts the historic countryside in perspective as do the dinosaur tracks at the adjacent Prehistoric Trackways National Monument. And around the Portillo Mountains area you’ll find solitude, wildlife, volcanoes, a lava flow and a chance to make the acquaintance of a Border Patrol agent.
But be forewarned, and this is deadly serious: The real danger here is not in the anti-government, anti-Obama politics, the gleeful environmentalists or those foolish enough to attempt illegal border crossings for whatever personal or criminal reason. It’s in this wondrous land itself, which can be immensely unforgiving for those unprepared for its heat, distances, spotty cell-phone signals, venomous reptiles, rough terrain and rigorous mountain hiking.
Doña Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison interviewed on Lou Dobbs Tonight, May 21, 2014, posted to GOPTheDailyDose.com (this video player is here on FotoGrande.com):