President Barack Obama signed a proclamation Wednesday formally designating nearly half a million acres of land in Doña Ana County as a national monument -- a move that comes after years of heated local debate over the proposal.A personal aside here. I lived in Las Cruces in my college years (cue the Beatles "There are places I'll remember...), and this description is correct. But there is more to it ...* * *"Anyone who's ever seen the Organ Mountains that overlook Las Cruces, New Mexico, will tell you that they are a spectacular sight," he said in a short speech before the signing. "You got massive rocks that jut up 9,000 feet in the air and stretch for 20 miles, like the organ pipes of a giant. And they're home to many of God's smaller creatures, as well. Deer and antelope roam -- falcons, mountain lions."
A proclamation intended to protect the area may have unintended consequences that are just the opposite.
While praised by environmentalists, the move is generating criticism from some lawmakers in the West and local law enforcement agents who see Obama's use of power as a threat to security in a region where the influence of Mexican drug cartels, human smuggling and illegal immigration are all apparent.
Doña Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison recalls the times his deputies and federal agents were shot at as they pursued suspected drug smugglers through the area that will now be known as the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. He also talked about the dozens of stolen cars that have been used to ferry drugs along pathways that lead through the desert and past border patrol checkpoints.
"If we have no ability to patrol that area, crime is going to increase. It will be akin to the Organ Pipe National Monument in Arizona. I wonder how many years it will be before we have to post signs that say 'Enter at your own risk.' That's my concern," Garrison said.