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With its proximity to Bandelier National Monument, the great potential of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, the Jemez National Recreation Area, and adjacent National Forest lands, the opportunities for outdoor recreation and tourism in Los Alamos are unparalleled.
Recently, the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce reported that in 2008 Bandelier drew more than 200,000 visitors, accounting for $9.3 million in spending and directly supporting 181 jobs. The recent Caldera Action report underscored the local economic benefit of expanded visitation that would attend National Park Service Management of the Valles Caldera. These reports demonstrate that protecting public lands is not just about preserving habitat and sacred cultural treasures; it’s about creating sustainable jobs and attracting visitors to rural New Mexico’s communities.
But the economic promise of our protected lands is at risk.
Conservation laws that protect clean air and water, wildlife and natural areas face unprecedented assaults. While every Congress in recent memory has taken steps to protect our public lands and our ability to hunt, hike, fish, and get outside, some Washington politicians are now focused on undoing our country’s rich outdoor heritage. Sadly, the protection of public lands for future generations has become a political issue.
We should never forget that right here in New Mexico 10 past Presidents—six Republicans and four Democrats—have used the Antiquities Act to protect New Mexico’s historical and natural wonders including Bandelier, Chaco Canyon, Gila Cliff Dwellings, Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands. These protected places serve as economic engines for rural communities and the state as a whole.
Thankfully, President Obama has begun to act more boldly – and take a page from his Democratic and Republican predecessors on public lands issues.
Where Congress cannot make progress, President Obama is going directly to the American people and employing a collaborative approach built from the ground up – resulting in three recent decisions that show a commitment to conserving national treasures.
Last September, in response to widespread support in New Mexico, the Administration approved the establishment of the 570-acre Price’s Dairy as New Mexico’s first urban national wildlife refuge. The Middle Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge, within a half-hour drive of nearly half of New Mexico’s population, will be a place for people to connect with the natural world and for wildlife to find protected habitat.
Last November, President Obama became the 16th president to use the Antiquities Act when he designated Fort Monroe in Virginia as a national monument. As a result, our nation will never forget our history of embracing and then rejecting slavery.
And most recently, the President and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar enacted a 20-year moratorium on new uranium mining claims on one million acres of public lands next to the Grand Canyon. This prudent decision protects fragile watersheds that millions of Westerners rely upon while allowing careful evaluation and development of existing mining claims.
What does this mean for Los Alamos and the protected public lands that surround it?
Hopefully it means that as the President turns his attention west, our very own gems – Valles Caldera National Preserve, Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area and the Manhattan Project National Park – may all see greater protection and with it the opportunity to grow our region’s tourism economy.
The President has a golden opportunity to protect more lands in the West. We urge him to continue along this path, achieving the change that has been his mantra and protecting our national treasures so that our children and grandchildren can enjoy them.
Kevin Holsapple is the Executive Director of the Los Alamos Commerce & Development Corporation and the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce.
Tom Jervis is a retired educator and research scientist who worked at the Los Alamos National Lab for more than 20 years. He is the President of the Sangre de Cristo Audubon Society.