President Obama will declare the largest national monument in his tenure Wednesday, setting a nearly 500,000-acre swath of southern New Mexico off-limits to development.
Many community leaders had pressed the president to protect the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region — which has petroglyphs from three American Indian societies in its canyons, as well as desert grasslands and a petrified forest — under the Antiquities Act rather than waiting for Congress to act. But some in the area near Las Cruces, including cattle ranchers and Rep. Steven Pearce (R-N.M.), opposed a presidential designation on the grounds it was too far-reaching and represented an overreach on the administration's part.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president was working "to preserve the prehistoric, historic and scientific values of the area for all Americans," and that it would spur tourism. Carney added that the signing of the designation, which will take place at the Interior Department, was part of a week-long effort aimed at "helping businesses invest here in America" to spur job development.
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who had pressed for the presidential designation, said in a phone interview that it reflected the hard work of local and community advocates.
"Anytime you have a recognition of that work that reaches all the way to the White House, that’s pretty special," he said, adding it will also spur outside interest in the region. "It will be a huge source of pride for Doña Ana County."
“This designation is a long time coming, and we are excited that Doña Ana County is finally going to be able to reap the economic benefits of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument," said Carrie Hamblen, executive director of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, in a statement.
The area is twice as big as the largest national monument previously established by Obama.