WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will create the largest national monument of his tenure Wednesday, making nearly 500,000 acres of southern New Mexico off limits to development.
The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region has petroglyphs from three Native American societies in its canyons, as well as desert grasslands and a petrified forest. The area is twice as big as the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico, which previously held the ranking as Mr. Obama's largest.
Many community leaders had pressed the president to protect the region under the Antiquities Act, rather than waiting for Congress to make a move. But some in the area near Las Cruces, including cattle ranchers and Republican lawmakers, oppose a presidential designation, saying it is too far-reaching and will not provide enough safeguards for border officers.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that Mr. Obama is working "to preserve the prehistoric, historic and scientific values of the area for all Americans," and that the monument will encourage tourism.
Mr. Carney said Wednesday's designation -- which Mr. Obama will sign at the Interior Department -- is part of a weeklong effort aimed at "helping businesses invest here in America" to spur job development.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., who had pressed for the designation, said it reflects the hard work of local advocates.
But Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of a House Natural Resources subcommittee, sent a letter Monday to Mr. Obama urging him not to designate the new monument, on the grounds that there are not sufficient safeguards for U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations.