WASHINGTON May 21 President Barack Obama on
Wednesday preserved almost 500,000 acres (202,000 hectares) of
mountains, canyons, trails, caves and grasslands in New Mexico
as a new national monument, saying he wanted to protect the
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region for future generations.
The move drew criticism from Republicans in Congress who
slammed him for going beyond a more modest legislative proposal,
and said the move could put border security at risk.
Obama - who is extolling the economic benefits of tourism
this week - took a 10-minute stroll over to the Interior
Department from the White House to sign the proclamation,
greeting tourists from Israel, China, Germany and elsewhere who
were walking on the National Mall.
Obama said the designation could double visitors to the
region and boost the local economy by more than 70 percent.
"Anyone who's ever seen the Organ Mountains that overlook
Las Cruces, New Mexico, will tell you that they are a
spectacular sight," Obama said.
"You got massive rocks that jut up 9,000 feet (2,740
meters)in the air and stretch for 20 miles (32 km), like the
organ pipes of a giant," he said.
Obama recounted how Billy the Kid inscribed his name into
"Outlaw Rock" more than 130 years ago, and said Apache chief
Geronimo is believed to have used the mountains to hide out.
The administration said the designation had the backing of
local business people, ranchers, tribal leaders and others in
But Republican Congressman Steve Pearce called the move a
"land grab" that could hurt security in the region.
House Republican Speaker John Boehner said the monument
could hurt border security.
But a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection
said that was not true, noting in a statement that the
designation would "in no way limit our ability to perform our
important border security mission."
Obama criticized Congress for moving too slowly to preserve
land, and said conservation bills have been stuck in gridlock.
"I've preserved more than 3 million acres (1.21 million
hectares) of public lands for future generations. And I am not
finished," Obama said.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)