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U.S. Secretary of the Interior tours Organ Mountains amidst push for national designation

By: Genevieve Curtis

Las Cruces, N.M.--The Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks are a step closer to potentially becoming a national monument.  

President Barack Obamas cabinet member U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, toured the region Friday with New Mexico Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall.  

Friday was Jewells second day in the region. During the tour, the group scoped out areas of potential hiking trials, viewed archaeological sites and antiquities.  

As KFOX14 has reported, Heinrich and Udall introduced legislation to designate the area as a national monument.  

They said it will enhance hunting and recreational activities while protecting the area from development and vandalism.  

Additionally, the senators estimate it will add about $7.5 million in tourism and economic growth.

Jewell said national designation has proven impact. 

Monument designation means something -- it means economic activity, it means visibility, it helps puts this region on the map for what it has, said Jewell.

Dona Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison said he's opposed to the designation for public safety reasons. He said areas within the proposed monument designation have long been targets of human and drug trafficking.  

"Through frequent patrols of that area, the sheriff's department has been successful in keeping the frequency of that activity to a minimum. If that area is no longer in our jurisdiction, we have just stripped the first line of defense from the people who live in this county, said Garrison.  

Both senators said they've consulted border patrol and they believe the bill gives them the flexibility to do their job, and will improve their ability to do their work.

We've worked very closely to make it work in a way that both protects this beautiful landscape and what it means to people, but also allows them to do their job and do it really well, said Heinrich.  

If the legislation doesn't pass, Obama could possibly designate the land under the Antiquities Act.

Jewell said it's a unique presidential power but 16 presidents have used it in the past.



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