Apr 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

The push for a new national monument in West Texas

Castner Range in August 2021 after a rare rain storm as yellow plants bloom.

Castner Range. Photo: Mark Clune/Courtesy of The Frontera Land Alliance

Advocates want the Biden administration to declare 7,000 acres outside El Paso, Texas, a national monument to give Mexican Americans and others in the area needed public space for hiking and other outdoor activities.

The big picture: Castner Range, a former U.S. Army artillery training facility, sits in desert terrain, and conservation advocates for decades have been trying to preserve it for public use.

  • The 2021 Place Story Culture Report recently labeled Castner Range a Latino Heritage site that currently lacks official recognition and protections.
  • The area played an important role in the survival of early Spanish settlers coming to what is now Texas and New Mexico.

Driving the news: El Paso, a city of 679,000 people where 82 percent of residents are Latino, has developed rapidly in recent years due to its location on the U.S.-Mexico border.

  • The city lacks outdoor spaces, unlike other cities with high percentages of Latino residents.
  • That has resulted in El Paso not having a culture of hiking and outdoor exploring found in Albuquerque, N.M., Tucson, Ariz., and Denver, according to Janae’ Reneaud Field, executive director of the Frontera Land Alliance.
  • Families in the area have to drive about an hour and a half to experience White Sands National Park or an hour for Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

Between the lines: Some of the range is currently off-limits to hikers due to unexploded ordnances at the moment, but a designation would allow the federal government to assess the area and design trails.

The intrigue: Interior Secretary Deb Haaland hiked near Castner Range last month at advocates' request and heard from local community residents about their ideas for a possible monument.

  • The Biden administration has not signaled what it intends to do with Castner Range yet. The Department of Interior declined to comment.
  • U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) has introduced a bill to designate Castner Range a national monument, but advocates say the Biden administration can also make such a declaration under the Antiquities Act.
  • "Make no mistake — it is within President Biden’s authority under the Antiquities Act to take swift action to protect the Castner Range and establish the Castner Range National Monument," Mike Murray, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, said in a statement after Haaland's visit.

Don't forget: After the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black jogger in Georgia, outdoor groups and businesses across the U.S. launched campaigns and initiatives to transform how Black Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans engage with the outdoors.

  • The pandemic also drew people outdoors for safe social distancing activities, but El Paso had few options.
  • Latino Outdoors, one of the largest networks of outdoor recreation for Hispanic Americans, reported an uptick in interest nationwide during the pandemic, with chapters opening up in Las Vegas, Arkansas, and Connecticut.

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