Monday, December 30, 2013

Facts about proposed monument in Dona Ana County

by Jim Harbison

The environmentalists are ecstatic that Senators Udall and Heinrich have introduced SB 1805, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument Act. Their bill will put more than 498,000 acres of public land under the more stringent control of the federal government.

Our TVs and airwaves have been inundated with ads touting the many virtues of this act and how it will suddenly make Las Cruces a tourist Mecca. These ads are well done and have convinced the public that restricting 25 percent of the county land is necessary. Who paid for these high-priced ads still remains a mystery since the sponsoring organizations don't appear to have the financial resources to fund them.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the proponents of this national monument have omitted some of the relevant facts about its impacts. They claim that 88 new jobs will be created even though they cannot define them; add $7.4 million in new economic activity; add $562,000 in new state and local tax revenue; and increase tourism by 40 percent. I will not dispute these fairy-tale claims even if I doubt their validity.

While they all sound fantastic, unfortunately the proponents have not been totally honest with the public and provided them an accurate picture of what the monument will do to Dona Ana County and our local economy. They failed to tell you what this monument will cost the county in terms of jobs, economic activity, and tax revenue.

There are currently in excess of 4,000 jobs in the natural resources, mining, and agricultural sectors in the county. Over 82 percent of the county land is for cattle grazing and we are ranked No. 5 in the state for cattle inventory and No. 3 for market value of livestock, poultry and their products. Livestock represents 57 percent of the agricultural products sold in the county.

This monument will directly impact 41 BLM grazing allotments valued at $19.46 million and over 14,000 cows and calves valued at more than $12 million. The destruction of the majority of the county's beef cattle industry alone will result in a potential loss of over $31 million in economic value, cost hundreds of ranching related jobs, and adversely impact the local economy and tax base.

Proponents of the monument claim grazing rights will be maintained. My comment to that is "If you like your grazing permit, you can keep it. Period". This represents another government promise that has routinely been broken.

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