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Advocates pushing for lands to be designated as national monuments

Along the mountains and among colorful Texas wildflowers, sits the Castner Range, near El Paso, Texas.
There are numerous wildlife that call the Castner Range home. In addition, some flora and fauna found there are considered environmentally "threatened."
El Paso, Texas is a growing city right next to the Castner Range. It’s that growth which is adding urgency here for the Castner Range to be named a national monument.
However, there is an additional challenge at the Castner Range. Much of the land is owned by the U.S. Department of Defense and it used to be a firing range. Left behind from that previous use, are unexploded ordnances now buried in the landscape. Signs warn the public to stay out. Only a small portion of the range - about 17 acres - has been cleared and opened to the public.
Posted at 1:19 PM, Sep 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-22 14:19:58-04

EL PASO, Tex. — Along the mountains, among colorful Texas wildflowers, sits the Castner Range.

"We are blessed to have this here,” said Pastor Moses Borjas. "It's still untouched and that's the way we want to keep it."

Borjas is not just a pastor, but he also works with the Hispanic Access Foundation.

“Walking these mountains, these trails, it's part of my upbringing," he said. "One of the things that ties me a lot to these mountains is my father. My father loved to go out and hike."

Nearby is El Paso, Texas, a growing city of nearly 680,000 people right alongside the Castner Range. It’s that growth that is adding urgency there for the Castner Range to be named a national monument.

"This is a unique area in all the world. You know, the mountains here have exposed strata that you don't find anywhere else in the world," said Eric Pearson, president and CEO of the El Paso Community Foundation. "You've got flora and fauna that are endangered. You've got an area within a large city that is an oasis of peace."

Janae Reneaud Field is with the nonprofit Frontera Land Alliance, one of the organizations pushing to create the Castner Range National Monument.

“The community started this effort 51 years ago," she said. "We looked into what the Antiquities Act of 1906; it was evident that this is a perfect fit."

The Antiquities Act of 1906 allows the president to designate national monuments, with no action needed from Congress.

Aside from the Castner Range, advocates are asking the Biden Administration to also consider other potential sites, including the area around Spirit Mountain in Nevada, Camp Hale in Colorado, Range of Light in California, and The Birthplace of Rivers in West Virginia, among others.

However, just as presidents can name national monuments, another president can undo them. That happened recently, when former President Trump slashed the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments in Utah, only to have President Biden come in later and restore them. Advocates for the Castner Range say the potential for national monuments to be “undone” doesn’t worry them.

"They could, but we have substantial, solid documentation showing the historical and cultural significance [here,]" said Reneaud Field.

Scott Cutler, a local historian, said the Castner Range shows a history of habitation potentially stretching back centuries.

"We even have sites that have rock art on them,” Cutler said. “So, it was a very permanent, important location for indigenous people."

However, there is an additional challenge at the site.

"It is owned by the Department of Defense,” Reneaud Field said. “It used to be a firing range from the early twenties to about 1966."

Left behind from that previous use, are unexploded ordnances now buried in the landscape. Signs warn the public to stay out. Only a small portion of the range (about 17 acres) has been cleared and opened to the public. The full site that advocates want to be protected is more than 7,000 acres.

"The big question will be how extensive is that cleanup going to need to be?" Cutler said. "It is going to have to have some mitigation work done on it, but we can proceed by designating it a national monument so that it is protected."

For nearby El Paso residents, it also comes down to equitable access to outdoor spaces in a community that is more than 80% Hispanic.

"It's so different and it's awesome being able to just go out and explore, especially as a Latina," said Emily Gomez, a student at the University of Texas-El Paso and the Frontera Land Alliance’s field operations manager for the Castner Range. "You know, opportunities like this don't arise for Hispanics or Latinos in general and to be able to protect it, not just for me, but for future generations as well."

It's protection they hope won’t take generations more to achieve.