Photo courtesy Rick LoBello
El Paso may be one step closer to seeing the Castner Range protected as a National Monument.
Shortly before Congress was forced to move to telework by COVID-19, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar introduced House Bill 6234 – The Castner Range National Monument Act.
The Castner Range is home to more than 650 species of Chihuahuan Desert plants, 33 species of reptiles, over a 100 species of birds and nearly 30 species of mammals. Over the past twenty years, a growing number of people in El Paso have supported efforts to protect the Castner Range area of the Franklin Mountains in northeast El Paso.
Two of the leading environmental organizations involved with this the effort over the past few years have been the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition (FMWC) and Frontera Land Alliance (FLA).
After nearly two decades of continual effort to protect the range, back in the spring of 2014 the El Paso Zoo was invited to a Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition board meeting at the Memorial Park Outdoor Resource Center.
At that meeting I reported to the board that I had discovered that there was the possibility that the Castner Range could be designated a National Monument. An example of military land being designated national monument status took place in California when Fort Ord National Monument was created two years earlier in 2012.
“Fort Ord” was a United States Army post on Monterrey Bay of the Pacific Ocean coast in California, which closed in 1994. Most of the fort’s land now makes up the “Fort Ord National Monument“, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as part of the National Landscape Conservation System which includes 86 miles of hiking trails.
It wasn’t long before FMWC took action on the proposal and in December 2015, O’Rourke introduced legislation (HR 4268) to establish Castner Range as a national monument.
Why designate a National Monument in El Paso?
The answer is pretty simple: A national monument will help protect this large area of the Franklin Mountains and the wildlife that lives there!
A Castner Range National Monument is about helping our community reach its fullest potential. El Paso benefits by fostering tourism, strengthening the outdoor recreation economy, and preserving the qualities that make this area a desirable location for families, and retirees and businesses.
A Castner Range National Monument recognizes a 21st Century conservation effort centered around justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. It’s also about preserving land for tomorrow’s future. On average our nation loses a football field worth a land every 30 seconds. This is about starting to preserving a football field of land every 30 seconds for our future community.
Support for the monument has come from across the borderland community and is still strong today. Preserving the Castner Range will ensure the public may continue to enjoy these lands forever! This dedication will help the borderland maintain and build a strong, diverse economy by protecting an important open space that creates new opportunities for economic development through tourism and recreation – all while helping conserve our diverse desert wildlife.
O’Rourke was unable to convince President Obama to give the mountain range national monument status, but in 2017 when he served on the House Armed Forces Committee, he added a provision to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act to ensure that there will be no new roads or any sort of building on the range.
“This is an important step toward conserving this national treasure, which includes some of the most unique cultural, historical, and natural resources in Texas,” O’Rourke wrote on Facebook in June.
In December 2017 President Donald Trump signed the NDAA, green-lighting $700 billion in military spending and which included protecting the Castner Range. It was a big win for conservation of the Franklin Mountains and the people of El Paso.
Time will tell what happens next. Will the Castner Range finally be designated as a national treasure? Stay tuned. There is a page on Facebook you can like and both the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition and the Frontera Land Alliance continue to be actively involved.
Author: Rick LoBello, Chair, Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition
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