Obama Unilaterally Making Swath of Dangerous Border Region a National Monument

A Western lawmaker urged President Obama from once again using the 1906 Antiquities Act to unilaterally designate national monuments, this time at the volatile U.S.-Mexico border.

The White House announced that Wednesday Obama will host an event at the Interior Department to sign a proclamation establishing the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in south-central New Mexico.

"By establishing the monument, the President will permanently protect more than 496,000 acres to preserve the prehistoric, historic, and scientific values of the area for the benefit of all Americans," the White House said. "A recent independent study found that a new national monument could generate $7.4 million in new economic activity annually from new visitors and business opportunities while preserving access for sportsmen, ranchers, and recreational users."

But Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) fired off a letter to Obama yesterday arguing that the monument lacks local support and could impede the Border Patrol and local law enforcement’s ability to conduct security operations.

"Unresolved security gaps along the border and a recent violent attack of a U.S. National Park Service (NPS) employee at Chiracahua National Monument raise serious concerns about safety and ongoing violence along the border. In light of the unresolved criminal activity taking place on federal land along the border, I am asking the Administration to abandon any efforts to move forward with new national monument designations," Bishop wrote.

"It’s irresponsible to focus efforts on new land designations rather than finding solutions to existing criminal activities plaguing the border. I am concerned that new federal land designations along the southern border will only add to the ongoing criminal activity already taking place. New and restrictive federal land designations on the border will further hamper the U.S. Border Patrol’s ability to conduct routine patrols and apprehensions, allowing drug smuggling and human trafficking to occur on our federal land," he continued. "As a sovereign country, this is inexcusable. Statistics prove that areas where the Border Patrol has unfettered access are among the safest and secure areas along the southern border. Areas with strict federal land policies that block the USBP from having necessary access are among the most highly trafficked routes."

Obama has been making frequent use of Teddy Roosevelt’s act to bypass legislative review on land designations.

In March, he declared 1,665 acres along the Mendocino coastline in Northern California protected land — an action that was already working its way through Congress.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recently led a "listening tour" of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peak area of southern New Mexico, Bishop noted.

"Despite local opposition, interest groups and the Department are pushing a 600,000-acre national monument via the Antiquities Act and circumventing an open and transparent congressional process," the congressman said.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that a coalition of cattle ranchers and county sheriffs have been expressing vocal opposition to the plan that would swallow up 20 percent of Doña Ana County -- nearly half a million acres. “It’s going to tie up a huge portion of land that is going to create an avenue of access for illegal activity,” Doña Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison said. “It’s already happening in Arizona. Why would we think it’s not going to happen here?”

"It’s time to revisit our conservation policies along the United States-Mexico border.  The current system harms border patrol agents, land managers, and environmental advocates.  The only groups that benefit under the current system are the drug smugglers and human traffickers. We can do better. Our new approach to conservation must involve local communities, Congress, and multiple agencies within the executive branch.  The Antiquities Act is not the answer," Bishop continued.

"I hope that we can work together to address the deteriorating security situation along the United States-Mexico border.  Protecting the homeland and preserving the environment are not mutually exclusive, but environmental laws cannot and should not be used to impede and limit Border Patrol activities and pursuits."