As a long-time resident of Las Cruces, a former city councilman and current U.S. Congressperson for New Mexico’s 2nd District, Gabe Vasquez has seen nothing but good come out of the creation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Vasquez, an avid hunter and angler who grew up in the tradition of hunting taught to him by his grandfather, has been a driving force in the area for expanding the great outdoors to under-served and under-represented communities.
“I think Las Cruces has really been transformed in very positive ways since the monument was designated,” said Vasquez. “Selfishly, the monument protects a lot of habitat for mule deer and it’s a bird dog hunter’s haven. I can almost literally go out my back door and onto the monument and train my bird dog and get into coveys of Gambel and scaled quail.”
Before he became a Congressperson in 2022, Vasquez helped found Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project in Las Cruces, then he helped that organization launch New Mexico’s Outdoor Equity Fund to take action and get under-privileged populations into the outdoors. A similar program on a national scale is being crafted by one of Vasquez’s Congressional colleagues, Sen. Martin Heinrich, and is patterned after the state program.
Local involvement in big decisions like land protection is one of the many things that Vasquez likes about using the Antiquities Act of 1906 to set aside land for public enjoyment and conservation as national monuments. A large part of this kind of representation was on display when the locals of Las Cruces were discussing how to protect the region before the monument was designated nearly a decade ago. “I think one of the beauties of the process is that the community drives it. It’s not as prescriptive as an act of Congress and every national monument is unique,” said Vasquez, noting that the designation of Organ Mountains in 2014 was 20 years in the making with deep and inclusive stakeholder involvement. “You don’t get that with wilderness designation (in Congress),” he said.
“The great thing about Organ Mountains is that it’s a 15-minute drive from Las Cruces and it helps define the community, helps us understand who we are and helps young people understand their history, their culture, and even explore careers outside,” said Vasquez.
Vasquez has enjoyed hunting and fishing across New Mexico and has caught a Rio Grande cutthroat trout in the Rio Grande Gorge near Taos, another area that enjoys a robust tourism industry alongside excellent hunting and fishing on a protected national monument.
Congresserson Vasquez is going to the mat for fishermen in DC as well, sponsoring the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act, a bill to designate portions of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers and their headwater streams as wild and scenic, which includes most Gila trout habitat in New Mexico. The Congressman also supports a proposed mineral withdrawal the headwaters of the Pecos, which is in Leger Fernandez’s district but is supported by the entire delegation in New Mexico. That bill has yet to be introduced into this Congress but is pending.
Finally, Trout Unlimited is releasing a special report on national monuments and what that designation does to enhance tourism and hunting and fishing. Look for the report in the Summer 2023.